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CBC Digital Archives

Television: Film

Compared to magnetic audio or video tape, 16mm film is quite durable. As a result, most of the work done in the CBC Archives with old film has had to do with preservation and copying, rather than restoration.

In terms of storage, the biggest effort has been devoted to re-canning. That meant taking tens of thousands of film reels out of metal cans and placing them into ventilated plastic "cans." Slightly more care and attention was required for the several thousand reels afflicted with vinegar syndrome.

Beyond that, transferring film to digital Betacam format -- usually done when someone needs a copy for fresh use or re-sale - is a straightforward process. First, a technician reviews the films using an editing machine (typically on something called a Steenbeck). The technician then combines small reels onto larger ones and makes minor repairs to damaged splices and damaged sprocket holes. The technician also makes sure all picture and sound elements are synchronized.

The next step is washing. For this, the film is loaded into a machine with a cleaning tank at the bottom, filled with fast-drying, environmentally friendly liquid. The film passes through the liquid, over buffer rollers and Particle Transfer Rollers that help remove dirt and then through a "sonic shaker" that frees up more particles. The PTR rollers work like little "lint brushes" to remove dirt from the film.

Once film is clean, it is turned over to a technician in one of two "video transfer suites" or "scanner rooms." The equipment in here is part of a sophisticated, computer controlled system that permits the operator to do quick colour and contrast corrections before copying. Sometime the before-and-after results are spectacular. At least two digital Beta copies or a BetacamSX are made of any film that passes through the transfer suite, sometimes more (either Beta or VHS).

Next Page : Preservation: Radio