Case Study 1:
Film restoration goes digital
The NFSA has a long tradition of restoring films. Thanks to the work of our experts and industry partners over the decades, audiences have been able to discover titles such as The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), The Sentimental Bloke (1919) and the iconic Wake in Fright (1971). These films would have been lost had it not been for our restoration efforts.
Over a period of 10 years from 2000 to 2011, new film prints were produced through our Kodak/Atlab and Deluxe/Kodak photochemical programs. The result was the restoration of 75 iconic titles that have since enjoyed a rejuvenated appreciation by a new generation of admiring audiences.
In the digital world in which we now live, digital film restoration was the next logical step.
Our NFSA Restores program delivers two very important outcomes to the national collection:
- The first is the creation of premium 4K preservation masters files for image and wav files for sound, which will be used for current and future copying.
- The second outcome is the delivery of restored full 2K cinema quality and HD files for exhibition and broadcast, noting that only a very few cinemas can now screen 35mm film prints in Australia.
The NFSA Restores Advisory Panel provides advice about which titles should be restored. The panel consists of NFSA Ambassador, Margaret Pomeranz; Director and CEO of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Katrina Sedgwick; and historian, filmmaker and distributor, Andrew Pike.
The panel’s final selection of a film is a balance of culturally significant titles and those whose original materials call for conservation and restoration of:
- popular films that resonated with the public and critics, and others that are yet to be discovered by a mainstream audience
- features and documentaries
- early works by renowned filmmakers or actors, and key titles that represent a particular time in Australia’s film history.
Appropriate source material in our national collection is identified, examined and selected. Ideally, this source material is the 35mm original picture negative for picture and the 35mm final mix magnetic film for sound.
Our Audiovisual Conservators and Audio Services team then assess and provide condition reports and recommendations of potential source picture and sound components. Each report outlines the extent of any damage/deterioration and confirms that all components are complete and the same version. This involves highly trained specialists winding through the film looking for decomposition, shrinkage, buckle and wave, perforation damage and scratches.
Necessary repairs are then completed. Conservation work may be required on the sound component as well, as was the case with the final mix magnetic film for Storm Boy (Henri Safran, 1976). This required moisture to be extracted to enable safe passage of the film through the audio digitisation process. Only then can Audio Services begin their work of restoring the sound.
Once the picture component has been determined as viable, a one-light telecine is made so that the restored audio wav files can be married to the vision to check picture and sound synchronisation.
If source materials held in the collection are not matching, we may need to do an extensive international search for the correct components. For example, the sound source for the Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982) restoration was found in the United States. Components are then prepared for shipment to our restoration partner, Frame Set and Match.
Specialised restoration software tools are used to digitally restore the film, carefully removing dirt and artefacts that have built up over time, as well as removing all kinds of scratches. Colour grading is done scene by scene to restore the colours in the film back to those seen at the film’s first release. Grading and cleaning are a mixture of automated and manual processes, and the older the components are, the more manual attention they will need.
After the initial cleaning and grading, work-in-progress screenings are scheduled for the director, producer and cinematographer to provide comments on the work.
This restoration process delivers digital files that will take their place in the national collection along with the original analogue materials from which they were derived. They will be migrated every 3 years, ensuring high-quality digital preservation and delivery as the technology continues to evolve.
Results: PRESERVING the Collection