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Old December 1st, 2006, 11:50 PM   #1
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Film vs. Digital archiving

Starting a new thread here to isolate this topic...

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Tames
I'm puzzled, a hard drive is more fragile than 35mm film since it's an electro-mechanical device, it's something we can count on to fail (no one quotes MTBF [mean-time between failures] for film, however it's standard procedure to do it for hard drives) at some point in it's life. No medium is perfect, they each have their limitations.
Yes, a single hard drive is a non-reliable device and difficult to salvage if damaged...but you can easily make multiple exact copies of digital movies and maintain this indefinitely if you choose to do so. Film starts to deteriorate immediately and there's no way to halt that process or make an exact duplicate for posterity, so it's an inherently non-durable format. Each has their pluses and minuses for archival purposes, but with care digital movies can be preserved at original quality for thousands of years...film can't offer that.
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Old December 2nd, 2006, 12:25 AM   #2
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That's fine in theory, but it's not so simple in reality.

Most film archives are not well-funded or staffed or maintained, and film, IF stored properly, has the advantage of being easily "machine readable" even if rediscovered in a vault 50 years later, and able to be copied to the digital formats of that generation. Digital archiving, in order to work, requires somewhat regularly cloning or copying data onto new data storage formats, lest you find yourself holding a deteriorated D1 videotape in 2050 and wondering where you will find a D1 tape machine, assuming even that the oxide is still attached to the tape. And that's not even a tape format that involves the use of a compression algorithm...

Digital archiving is a reality, and obviously most movies today even when shot on film end up in some sort of digital file format, so the problems of digital archiving are always being worked out and will be worked out, but clearly the safest thing is to store movies BOTH on film and digitally, hence why most studios make b&w separation masters of their color films, even from digital intermediate files, even for movies shot digitally.

I shot one of the first 24P HDCAM features back in 2000, an indie film called "Jackpot", and it was transferred by EFILM to a 35mm intermediate stock for making release prints. I suspect that Sony Pictures Classics, which bought the film, basically stuck the 35mm interneg and the HDCAM masters in some vault, with probably no plans to regularly copy the HDCAM tapes to new data formats as they evolve, so for all I know, someone doing a revival of the movie 50 years from now will probably just restore the 35mm interneg in the vault rather than deal with the obsolete (by then) HDCAM tape format.

Modern color negative films can last well-over 100 years with minimal dye fading IF stored properly at the correct temp and humidity. This has been true since the mid 1980's when Kodak and Fuji worked hard to improve dye stability in their neg and print stocks.

So there is little reason to drum up fear in people that their films are "deteriorating" from the moment they shot them. My dad recently has been scanning his slides that he took in the 1950's and 1960's and they look great; for all I know, these slides will be more "readable" in the next few decades than the digital stills on his hard drive.

The Library of Congress has the original nitrate negative of "The Great Train Robbery" (1906) and they still can strike prints off of it.

Long-term digital archiving is still mainly a theory rather than a reality, since basically there aren't 100 year-old digital data files that are still being transferred regularly. Not to suggest that there won't be, just that film has a proven track record and is hardly risky for long-term storage IF handled properly. If it weren't reliable, studios wouldn't be spending millions of dollars storing their movies on YCM's.
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Old December 6th, 2006, 05:45 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Mullen
...clearly the safest thing is to store movies BOTH on film and digitally...
That's a sensible statement given that the whole point of archiving is to try to ensure some sort of durability under uncertain conditions. Any single copy in any one format can't be considered reliable, so taking advantage of both the physical convenience of film and the easy replication of digital storage would be prudent.

I'd guess that there will be facilities capable of reading an NTFS formatted hard drive several decades from now, as likely so as anyone having a 35mm film projector lying around. Of course you can't hold a hard drive up to a light bulb and view the images stored on it, so film does have an advantage in that regard. :-)
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Old December 6th, 2006, 06:30 PM   #4
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"Likely" is a slippery term. We KNOW for certain, that we can still project film that is 100 years old... so in that sense, it is certainly more "likely" that we will be able to project it in, say fifty more years.

The speed at which digital media, drives and players is evolving, certainly shortens the 'likely' prospect of being able to play a particular type of hard drive in fifty years.

ANy digital archivist will be kept busy 'updating' the storage process.

Weird how that works. I can still go by a turntable for my LP records, but have a heck of a time finding EIGHT TRACK tapes... Sony Beta (consumer) decks... rotary dial phones.... gosh, I feel like a dinosaur already.

(Side note: n the early days of film, since there was no 'copyright' protection for movies, per se... they simply made paper CONTACT sheets of every piece of the film... and copyrighted those. When many of the old films degraded, it was the paper PRINTS of those films, that were 'rephotographed' into film once again.)
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Old December 7th, 2006, 09:28 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Alvarez
"Likely" is a slippery term. We KNOW for certain, that we can still project film that is 100 years old...The speed at which digital media, drives and players is evolving, certainly shortens the 'likely' prospect of being able to play a particular type of hard drive in fifty years.
A fairer question would be whether the digital media itself can be considered reliable over several decades. Chances are that someone will maintain a way to read the hundreds of millions of standard hard drives currently being produced, just as someone will still have 35mm film projectors long after that's a widely used format. If you want to be sure about being able to read your hard drives 100 years from now, archive a computer along with the drives...

The advantage of film is that if it is isn't physically destroyed you can shine light through it and capture the images to whatever modern format you want. The advantage of digital is that you can make multiple copies for extra security and (potentially) preserve exact original quality forever, with no worries about dust, scratches, fading, etc. The suggestion to take advantage of both options is the most sensible thing if you really want to be thorough.
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