Meeting Report - Jun 14, 2005

On June 14, at the Linwood Dunn Theater of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, before an audience of nearly 200 people, Ralph Sargent of Film Technology Co., Inc. and Richard May of  Warner Bros.  presented a program entitled, “Progress in Film Preservation.” Sargent began the program with a film made for the SMPTE Film Conference held at Warner Bros.’ Steven Ross Theater in 1999 entitled, “Moving Images for the Future.” This served as a document of what was then current in photochemical and digital film restoration procedures and also as a launching pad for the question, “What’s changed in six years….”  

Beginning with the fact that, in spite of the common public perception to the contrary, 1) Film is still the dominant archival medium for moving images and 2) 90-95% of head-end archival/restoration work is performed in the photochemical domain. Sargent continued by giving the reasons why this was so: the time-proven physical robustness of the medium and the essential standards laid down by the founders of the SMPE, the forerunner of the SMPTE. Processes which have been given greater emphasis since 1999 and before were enumerated: The thoroughness of defect reporting and physical analysis of film originals to be used for element selection and restoration and that information’s incorporation into the film ’s historical record (metadata); mechanical and operational printing equipment refinements; the use of a combination of very new and very old printing equipment to achieve specific results; and finally, the extensive use of telecine examination of newly produced film elements for flaw detection and correction. A side benefit of telecine use is also the creation of 1-lite video elements for use during sound restoration.  

John Polito of Audio Mechanics then discussed the procedures involved in digital sound restoration. Polito reiterated the importance of a solid analysis of available sound elements for a production followed by a discussion of the care which must be taken when making the transfer of selected elements to the digital domain. Various examples were played which demonstrated the remarkable improvements which could be made when the work was performed by persons having aesthetic and technical knowledge of sound recording techniques appropriate to a given film ’s era. Finally, delivery media and their archiving were discussed with a heavy emphasis on the importance of saving original elements for the future.  

Paul Chapman of Fotokem Industries followed with a concise talk on various applications of digital scanning, manipulation and recording-out techniques for restoration and archival applications. Both the strengths and weakness of digital treatments were discussed as well as the somewhat “wild west” nature of various non-interchangeable data schemes currently in use. Chapman decried the short-term nature of current data software, storage devices and media and he also emphasized the need to preserve and protect a film ’s original elements.  

Ralph Sargent returned to the podium to wrap up the discussion portion of the evening by reviewing why the SMPE/SMPTE was founded and the relevant elements of its bylaws which made film the world-wide mechanism for top-quality moving-image interchange that it has been for the past 112 years. Sargent suggested that it was time for the digital world to adopt a similar approach for the digital archival medium, software and equipment of the future.  

The balance of the evening’s program was hosted by Ralph Sargent (for Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Entertainment), Richard May (Warner Bros.), Barry Allen ( Paramount ) and Schawn Belston (20th Century Fox). Various clips were shown which illustrated before-and-after photochemical and/or digital restorations as well as comparison sequences utilizing different film manufacturers’ product. Silent clips were accompanied on the piano by Alan Stark of Film Technology Co., Inc.  “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” from a digitally restored print of Carousel, brought this June program to a rousing conclusion. Lively discussion followed.