First – the news on the Thunderbean front: work of course continues on the various sets; I’ll be doing a little traveling this week to do some scanning, both here and in Toronto. Dubbing is continuous on the special sets still, with a huge batch going tomorrow and Friday. Thanks to all who supported these sets!
I wanted to talk a little bit this week about film restoration and preservation related to this exact moment in time and history. I know that this is a path well-worn in this column in some ways, but at the same time, I think what is happening now- and what *can* happen now should be viewed as positive and less of a source of frustration. Certainly I have my share of frustrations related to my attempts entering this particular world, but its also been a time of expanding opportunities.As a producer working to create collections of vintage animation, my concentration at first was just to make sure all the films looked good enough in the mostly older, standard film transfers I had already done. There was no need to think further than that. At that time, I had *no* idea that at some point I’d be lucky enough to have this evolve into working with original materials on series of cartoons, or be able to pick through things and find the best materials. I think I’m incredibly lucky to have these as opportunities, but as the well-worn fortune cookie saying goes (in barely legible red ink) Luck is the residue of design. There’s a lot of luck involved, but if its possible to line certain things up and work in certain directions, its sure easier to find what doors to knock on and what luck does manage to happen.
Considering the current state of technology as part of the picture of restoration and preservation presents similar problems to what has always existed: What to preserve, why these ones first, and what is the best way to do it? This of course is true with film or any other material.
In thinking about films still owned by a larger company:
The foresight of a company to preserve their history beyond just being motivated by the possibility of future profit from this material either relies on a companies overarching mission to include such a provision, or, if not there, an almost personal dedication to help the wheels of the major missions of the company to somehow allow this to happen in one way or another.
Countless bungles have been made by large companies relating to their own legacies, both in their various sorted histories and, sadly, even today. As observers of this its frustrating in that decisions are made that seem unimaginably short sighted. Its important to understand that, as an observer, you are only seeing a small piece of the large structure that allows those seemingly short-sighted decisions to stand.
As a company, Disney’s care for their original nitrate elements is excellent – far beyond most. As you are reading this, chances are reels from well known (or not as well known) film they produced are being carefully checked for any issues. There’s a lot more film that is stored at the same facility and owned by large companies – with sparse chance of having their cans opened in any rotation – there are just too many of them to accomplish this without the resources put toward it.
Several years back I was amazed to find out that one large studio has stopped worrying at all about any of the scanning of their nitrate material; they has switched almost entirely to scanning all materials stored in New York in the 50s through the early 60s (and some in California). These materials, even though they were on safety film stock and had been stored well for the last 20 years or so, had not been stored well earlier in their lives, and this earlier lack of proper care was causing the material to de-gass much faster (acetate decomposition, sometimes known as vinegar syndrome as weve talked about). This studio decided (I think correctly) to scan *all* materials stored in that archive under the assumption they were all in peril. Having the archives be able to make an expensive call that that is what drives the ability to not lose the material.
This current top scanning technology is quite remarkable, and easily beats the older way of making a duplicate master by contact printing. This version of preservation was effective of course and saved many films. Of course, the current technology (scanning) would allow a much finer reproduction back to that same 16 or 35mm material, removing the loss of a photographic generation as well as the mechanical play. Digital technology is amazing in this regard, especially with older, shrunken materials- but I think there still is a need to preserve back to film, even if this is considered a backup. In some ways, this functions as a protection master, just as making a master positive did.
I may privately rail against certain things at certain times, but just the fact that things are getting preserved in any way makes me happy. The mistakes being made now are, honestly, similar to the mistakes of the past, but if were lucky what were doing now will hold out long enough to make sure the quality is preserved in a technology that will be as good as film; in many cases, that decision has already been made.
There are plenty of people that will both agree and disagree with my own thoughts of the best ways to preserve right now, but the key is to preserve, period. Why? For future ability to enjoy, understand and inspire. Our ability now to support these efforts with positive energy is important, because positive movement by large companies often allows a smaller company and archive the ability to afford the technology to at least perform some of the steps in the direction of preserving films.
We did 4K (and some 5k) on all the Iwerks’ Willie Whoppers. We certainly didnt need to in producing a Blu-ray/ DVD set, but because the demand for the technology drove the ability to use this technology much more affordably, we have excellent scans of the best materials that exist on this series. The same is true for the Flip the Frog’s. Some of the nitrate on these films is now nearly 90 years old; the new scans are done now and can go back to film regardless of the original element conditions should interest be there to do them. It’s just one studio of course, but Its a start at least.
Have a good week everyone!