Cinepaint Digital Film library

Cinepaint
The creators of Cinepaint maintain an online library of digital image sequences preserving archive film.
At the present time, there is only one production available, “Tom Tight Et Dum Dum” (1903), but nonetheless, this remains an important project. If you are able to contribute archive film, or perhaps even scanning time, check out the site.
Tom Tight Et Dum Dum

CinePaint Digital Film Library

Significance of the CinePaint Digital Film Library

It has been said that nothing significant once placed on the Internet can ever be lost. Digital film doesn’t rot and can last forever! To preserve motion pictures indefinitely the surest way is digital film on the Internet.

None of the world’s traditional cinema archives are online. Even internally, very few archives have any digital film content yet. The Library of Congress doesn’t. The UCLA film archive doesn’t. Practically nothing in film archives has been digitized to the standard of digital film. Lower resolution video telecine doesn’t count. For motion picture restoration technologists or film historians to have actual digital film frames available freely online from real movies is not only unprecedented but almost unbelievable!

Most new movies exist as digital film. Digital cinema in theaters is just getting started, but Hollywood film production has been digital for years. Studios scan negatives to create digital film masters to facilitate adding special effects using computers. Later the digital film is printed back to regular film stock. The extremely high fidelity of digital film makes this possible without loss. Digital film supports a higher quality standard than what is projected in theaters.

Older movies are still on film stock, not digital film. Some are on safety film. Many old films are on highly flammable nitrate. Under perfect conditions, even nitrate film can last for thousands of years. Unfortunately, due to cost, few films are kept in perfect conditions. Once film starts to rot the process becomes irreversible.

Many films in archives are not being rescued, but simply disintegrating. A race is on, to convert movie archives to digital film before more film heritage is lost!

Preservation (conversion to digital film) is only a first step. Next comes restoration, repairing and enhancing damaged film.

Although common in Hollywood, digital technology is today virtually unknown in film archives. As they have for years, archives rely upon photographic optical “wet gate” print transfer to create a new “safety print” from a deteriorating film. But, as anyone familiar with photocopying knows, each generation loses something. The copies aren’t as good as the original.

Making a film safety print can cost $100k. It isn’t any cheaper to scan a movie to digital film, but once safely digitized at high resolution and high bit depth it isn’t necessary to do that again. Once in the digital realm it is easier to remove scratches, frame register, re-time, correct lighting and color, and so forth.

Many corrections and enhancements are only practical when done digitally. However, because film archives seem to be always chronically underfunded, little technology is available for digital film restoration. Companies that sell proprietary film restoration tools often fail because the market doesn’t support the expense of R&D.

Frank Wylie, Lab Supervisor of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory, suggested that CinePaint could become an open source platform for film restoration. That way everyone could pool their efforts and film archives wouldn’t be saddled with expensive orphaned proprietary systems as so frequently happens.

The idea of CinePaint as an open source restoration tool led to the CinePaint Digital Film Library, so that researchers would have digital film content to test CinePaint film restoration features.

Film archives today are fighting a losing battle. The analog preservation/restoration process is too much labor and expense. Archive film content is degrading much faster than the rate it can be restored and permanently preserved. A public digital film archive with CinePaint an the open source film restoration platform can be the best chance to save the world’s film heritage.

A vital requirement for developing tools for film restoration is to have actual digital film scans at cinema-grade 2k horizontal resolution. Such scans, even of public domain movies from before 1923, have not been available anywhere. Producing such scans uses a special $1M film scanner with a typical charge of $1/frame.

The significance of a public library of digital film content is that it can enable image processing researchers to operate on real movie content when developing open source film restoration tools. Without us, most researchers have no real motion picture content to work from.

Posted: May 29th, 2005
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