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It's just over a year since the National Film and Sound Archive
(NFSA) took delivery of the first Scanity in Australia. As we celebrate
our 30th anniversary, we look back on the first 12 months of operation.
Prior to procurement, we conducted extensive market-testing in 2013 and
2014, with visits to labs and factories in US and EU, to talk with
engineers and clients, and to test some of our footage on different
film-scanners. The Scanity handles some of the most shrunken and
damaged historical film, while producing excellent image quality at
higher speeds than other machines.
The NFSA has more than 91,600 16-mm films in the
collection. We need to scan film at high-enough rates to progress
through a sufficient amount of footage each year. The Scanity provides
real-time 2k scanning at 24-25 frames per second, and allows us to scan
optical or magnetic soundtracks in one pass. A significant percentage
of our films are sole-surviving composite prints, rather than earlier
production elements, although we hold a number of original negatives,
camera-reversal and intermediates. We have been experimenting with Log
and Linear scanning of high-contrast film stocks, and we are interested
in testing the High Dynamic Range options developed by DFT.
One of the first projects involved scanning the Wirth Family Home
Movies collection, approximately fifty 16mm films, mostly donated by
family members. In 1882, the Wirth family, of German origin, launched
what became Australia's largest, most prestigious circus company. For
eight decades Wirths was Australia’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, a large
travelling circus of international standard and reputation. The circus
toured Australia extensively and also embarked on world tours. It was
disbanded only in 1963.
The Wirth family's films document their lifestyle
– the grand homes, overseas travel, family, friends and parties.
Circus footage is the highlight of the collection, with performances,
animals, big-top tents and behind-the-scenes circus life. The films were
recorded from 1925, just after the introduction of 16-mm film, to
around 1950. It is believed that most of the films were taken by George
Wirth (one of the Circus' founders) and his wife Margaret.
The Collection contains a large amount of high-contrast
black-and-white, and later colour-reversal, mostly un-spliced shot-edits
in camera. As with most films from this era, we encountered plenty of
shrinkage and other damage, although the Scanity handles these smoothly
with good focus and registration. We've discussed whether the new
wet-gate option on the Scanity would be useful for reducing blemishes
from embedded dirt. The NFSA catalogue may be searched for information
on the Wirth family and the National Collection at https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/search-collection/
The NFSA continues to print and process black
& white 35-mm film, but hopes to progress to scanning 35-mm colour
film in the near future. We have a significant challenge ahead in
restoring colour film from the early 1970s, when the Australian film
industry underwent significant re-invigoration. Many of these film
elements are now around 40 years old, and hundreds of these films have
undergone significant dye-fade, shrinkage and other problems, prior to
being deposited into the NFSA's cool dry storage repositories. In some
cases, the deterioration is so severe that conventional photo-mechanical
and photo-chemical processing is insufficient to restore the quality of
the original images. A small number of low-budget or limited-release
titles survive only on 16-mm, but the majority are on 35-mm.
The NFSA preserves more than 240,000 films, within a collection of
more than 2 million items including audio, video, documents and
artefacts. We present screenings, footage-sales, and content for
broadcast and online delivery around the world.
The installation of the NFSA scanner was handled
by Future Reality, which represents DFT in Australian and New Zealand.
As a supplier of creative technology systems, software and services for
the local film, broadcast television and post-production industries,
Future Reality was able to undertake the complete integration of the
Scanity system with the NFSA’s new and existing infrastructure.
“Preserving Australia’s film history is a vital
part of our country’s culture and we are proud to have been involved
with the NFSA and DFT on this important project,” said David Edgar,
Managing Director of Future Reality.