FIRST LOOK DEAL
The first creative activity I recall witnessing as a child was that of my grandfather sitting alone at home in front of a Moviola-type 8mm film editing system. Home movies were a new thing – we didn’t know many other folks with movie cameras, let alone edit machines on the prairies.
He showed me how to cue up the small plastic reels - watch the scenes he had shot, shuttling back and forth to make notes and judgements. Next step was to slice the strips (with a razor blade in a diagonal guide) minus all the unworthy shots. He would then splice the shortened strip onto the end of the big master reel – thus in chronological order.
How could this poor old German refugee be so advanced in his interest and knowledge about making movies? He was technology studious – could build or fix anything, but then how could he also be creative?
My father picked up the camera eye and creative hat as well, so our family was fortunate to have several hours of our early lives captured in motion activity. Yes, this pales to how much video you can blow through today - be grateful for anything.
THE ONLY REAL MEMORIES ARE CAPTURED
Those moments on old film always seemed happy – families fooling around, laughing silently and nobody crying loudly. Those unlikely actions while the camera was rolling would have been cut.
Without film or video, we could never otherwise remember most of what happened in those minutess, as happy as they seemed. They are but a tiny percentage of all the hours of our life to date.
Unfortunately the filming fad wore out at our home long before videotape usurped film – the great cost of stock and processing was likely the culprit. There is a long but understandable gap in our family history movie collection as a result.
When home video showed up, I made sure I always paid up for the latest half-assed technology. Early home video was stupidly expensive, but bloody lousy in playback quality.
Editing a “mix video” at home yielded eye-bleaching tape-head roll glitches – always a torture to watch. The very unfortunate result of no home “Videola” machine meant that nothing in the 80s and 90s home video space got properly edited.
Sharing unedited tapes or clips should be a crime - a waste of life foisted upon polite but undeserving people. Depending on the camera operator, much recorded footage is by nature redundant and not very interesting. You need to let the camera roll to get the good moments, but you need to make the bad moments go away.
"Hey – wanna come over and watch videos from the trip?"
"Uh, maybe another day – thanks." (repeat)
Our finely edited family reels of film have been sitting in the dark - undisturbed at my parents’ house for over a generation. The last time we fired up the big projector and painted the wall with old light, it was way fun to watch.
There was no sound recorded, so we all ad-libbed what we might have been (or not likely) saying on screen – like a skit on “Whose Line is it Anyway?.” We had never laughed so hard.
GAPS IN TIME, AND TIMING
Attempts were made to record the wall flashings with a video camera, but the results were always bad. The (motion) picture frame rates between home film and home video are not compatible.
While your brain can easily adapt to 12, 16, or 18 frames per second, forcing them into a 30 fps or 29.97 MHz video brain means that some frames are going to be Frankensteined (assembled with different frame parts). Motion will be ghosted and frame strobing and flicker will be pronounced.
Today of course, motion pictures are in a whole different way – all digital video stuff just happens on all the devices held by my descendants. My well-experienced brain can hardly compute that I can edit 4K video with professional software with an off-the-shelf $269 laptop (if I have to). The experience is much better on my new 200x faster neon desktop jobbie, but the point feels good to make.
The cost of creating today is cheaper than many other habits of history, ever. To modernize your film and videotape library – digitize. Those deteriorating assets may be able to transferred to a digital format such as 1080HD.
OLD IS NEVER NEW
I have owned most of the following video formats, unfortunately:
Every surviving tape was digitized in the best practical manner, because I had the equipment. I do not have any film apparatus - yet.
As old home film quality is already poor and low resolution, there is no advantage scanning to 2K or 4K formats. That may change with Artificial Intelligence Upscaling. Make that - WILL change.
Now that technology is cooperating, how much of your future life are you going to consume editing improving your past life (so the rest of humanity doesn’t have to watch the junk)? Perhaps our ancestors will appreciate the sacrifice made; maybe they will waste part of their lives watching prior wasted lives.
GENE, GENE, MADE A MACHINE
Having worked at a real but extinct 35mm film processing and telecine lab, I have often wondered why there are not more surviving film companies prospecting the million feet of 8mm film socked away in closets and basements across the country.
It is possible to build a professional level scanner that captures and saves each individual frame in the best possible RAW quality. The frames could then be photo-retouched individually to eliminate dust, scratches and other defects, then assembled into a master video file. Sadly, I have yet to discover the company that takes old home movies to this extreme.
Some professional film service bureaus offer 8mm 16/18 FPS telecine capture into 24 or 25 HQ ProRes files – each film frame recorded on one whole video frame. Playback is then a matter of slowing down the file to the correct speed percentage.
Some experimentation with editing software will help determine which math, processes and steps will yield correct FPS rendering and playback results.
A more cost and time-effective plan would be to purchase a consumer film to digital converter and run the film collection through; post haste. The expected picture quality will be only as good as consumer-grade 1080.mp4 capture can provide, but projected light will no longer be a requirement (projected electricity will).
DON’T ALWAYS TRY THIS AT HOME
The near real-time digital conversion will be (by far) the fastest part of the restoration process. Once the picture is in digital form though, all the modern video play tools come in to play. As with all motion picture projects, many x multiples of the video runtime will be needed to complete a full makeover.
Taken to an entertainment extreme, a restoration project could take forever. One hour of content might take from a 0.5:1 to 20:1 time ratio to each line item of the possible restoration services:
Scan Film, Digitize
Creative, Subjective Options:
Upscale to 4K Resolution
Zoom and Crop
Distribution File Rendering
Posting for Distribution
TWO GENERATION CYCLE
Our 50-70 year old film reels awaits a reunion with light to reveal several hours of silent, but happy content. My grandfather could have built another house in less time than it is going to take for me to do all the production tasks on the list, but I cannot think of any content I “own” that would be more worthwhile to put an effort into. There is pain to gain, but I can learn a lot and cannot get fired for missing a deadline.
The ultimate plan is to teach MY grandchildren how to do this creative video restoration work, based on MY grandfather’s original creative work. If they want to be “YouTubers” it is going to helpful to know things if they want to be the best.
7-9 year-olds can do some of this with guidance and focus - perhaps they may also develop a personal connection to the family content they helped recreate. Who knows what they will be able to learn in their lifetime and pass on to THEIR grandchildren upon their turn.
Now if I can just pry their little fingers off the game controllers and big eyes off the Tallyvision, we can start this conversion conversation before another generation passes.
Randy Berg xyz digital inc.