Restoration Project Mania (Filmoteka Narodowa)

MANIA. THE HISTORY OF A CIGARETTE FACTORY WORKER [1918]

Pawel Smietanka,
Head of the Digital Restoration at Filmoteka Narodowa (National Film Archive)
www.nitrofilm.pl

Reconstruction

Mania was acquired from a Czech collector and added to the archives of Filmoteka Narodowa (National Film Archive) in 2006. The film was chosen for full reconstruction because of its advanced deterioration. The film largely lacked perforation, contained a number of old and thick overlap connections and had shrunk in places.

The first stage of reconstruction consisted in restoring the tape. Before it could be scanned, we conducted a manual reconstruction - we disconnected all the connections; where possible, we also restored the perforations. We mechanically removed all dirt from the tape. Then the tape was divided into segments and scanned with a specialist scanner designed specifically for old movie tapes. In general, there are two ways of scanning film tapes: "dry" and "wet". We usually begin by "dry scanning" the tape, avoiding any damage to its delicate structure. Then we test whether the tape is suitable for "wet scanning". In the case of Mania, it was. The method involves covering the tape with immersive liquid, which spreads across both sides, reducing light refraction at the meeting point of the liquid and the (emulsion) surface of the scanner as the tape is moved through the machine, which makes tiny imperfections invisible. Working on such specialist equipment - the first of its kind in Poland and one of three in the world - makes us feel like pioneers in the modern technology of digitalising damaged movie tapes. Every scanned frame of the movie was treated as a separate photo. The 87 000 frames of Mania were recorded in DPX (Digital Picture Exchange) format before being sent for reconstruction, montage, conforming and colour correction.

During the digital reconstruction process, each shot is analysed by a program containing film stabilisation and tape shake removal tools. This way we can restore the picture to its original stability - that from the camera. During the next stage we remove specks of dust, and stabilise the connection points and cracks. In places where larger parts of a frame are lost, we interpolate, using the picture from neighbouring frames to fill in the gaps. The most common distortions of the tape that we encounter are scratches: horizontal (resulting from the tape getting rolled improperly) and the more troublesome vertical ("line scratch") caused by the film projector or other devices scratching the tape along its length. Such damage results in lines on the movie: white (if the damage was copied from the negative) or black (if the positive tape was mechanically damaged).

The reconstructed film material then undergoes density correction (for black and white movies) and colour correction (for colour movies). The density correction gives the film the right saturation and optical density of black and white. Prepared this way, the film material undergoes "line montage" which examines how the scenes should be ordered in the completed movie. By collaborating with movie experts, and using source material (such as subtitles) we can restore the movie to its proper chronology. Fortunately, the copy of Mania had not been fragmented, so we didn't have the problem with shots being out of order.

Finally, the "closing process" takes place - a template copy of the movie is created. This is done with DI (Digital Intermediate) technology, involving processing of the picture through digital methods. As a result, we obtain a digital copy on popular data storage devices, such as Betacam digital, HDCAM, HDCAM SR and a copy for digital movies, so called "DCP" (Digital Cinema Package). After being digitally secured on storage devices meant for use in cinemas, TV and Internet, a separate copy in DPX format is made for archive storage. The picture considered the template, containing both the negative and positive of the movie, returns on the tape - this time non-flammable. So, after a long process (digitalisation, reconstruction, density and colour correction) the movie is subject to cutting edge 4K+ laser technology, which puts every frame back on the tape. This in short is how the painstaking process of digital reconstruction of the movie Mania looked. Taking into account that the film was thought lost for years and that the copy belonging to Filmoteka Narodowa (National Film Archive) is probably the only one still existing, we believe that by using the newest digital technology we have restored a work from almost a hundred years ago. This is symbolic of the contribution that Filmoteka Narodowa (National Film Archive) has in one of the most important tasks of the United Europe, which is the preservation of its cultural heritage.