The Tale of the Tapes

Posted by on Nov 29 2012 | Student Work

The climate-controlled vaults in the George Eastman House archive and the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center are home to the Motion Picture Department’s collection of over 24,000 films.

But there is one shelving unit that holds important moving images in a non-film format: analog tape.

The department holds over 200 videocassettes in varying standards, with most of them in the obsolete three-quarter-inch (or “U-Matic”) format. The tapes contain things such as television recordings from the 1970s to the 1980s, interviews with filmmakers and actors, archival footage, and early video transfers of films from the collection. While not ultimately as critical to the collection as film material, there is still an urgent need to examine the content on these tapes and digitally preserve what is deemed important.

This urgency stems largely from risks to the physical materials themselves; most of the tapes are at least twenty years old and suffer from increasing levels of decay due to the shedding of the magnetic oxide recording layer on the surface of the tapes over time. Also, the obsolete broadcast-quality decks required to play the cassettes are becoming scarce and more difficult to properly maintain. Time, technology, and the looming potential for a zombie apocalypse are therefore driving the need to preserve the analog tapes.

The students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation are assisting with this ongoing project. As part of their training in digital preservation, students are using the video capture equipment in the department’s digital lab to convert many of these tapes into lossless digital video files. These “digital masters” will then be tagged with metadata, cataloged, and stored in the vaults on archival-quality LTO-5 tapes.

One interesting subset of tapes – the original BetaMax cassettes of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation raw footage – are on extended loan to George Eastman House by the filmmakers and have recently been digitally preserved. This process will be examined more in an upcoming post by the Selznick students who preserved the materials.



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Nitrate film inspection happenings with the Selznick School of Film Preservation

Posted by on Oct 10 2012 | Student Work

The new school year is in full swing, and this year we have nine new students in the Motion Picture Department, learning the finer details in archiving and preservation. One of the greatest prides of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation is the ‘hands-on’ experience given to each student during their time at George Eastman House.  Even if the student has never handled film before, or comes to us with years of experience, it is important to always start with the basics.  Recently three of our new students, Almudena Escobar Lopez, Amber Bertin and Shannon Fitzpatrick were able to sit down on a work bench and begin their student careers with nitrate motion picture film. Each of the students were given various elements from the collection to inspect, catalog, label, and of course, each found unique conservation issues to address during the inspection process.

Almudena Escobar Lopez is attending the Master’s Program in conjunction with the University of Rochester.  Originally from Ourense (Galicia) Spain, Almudena started her first week of archival studies cleaning film with a slight mold problem.  Using the approved cleaner and taking proper care the area she was working, Almundena cleaned the edges of her film and the inside of the film cans to reduce the mold spores stored with the film.

While it may look like a lot of films needing inspection, Amber Bertin was able to meet the tasks assigned with inspection of a duplicate negative and part of a fine grain master.  Her detailed work help clear up one record incorrectly marked from the wrong country!  A native of Houston, Texas, Amber is also enrolled in the Master’s Program here at George Eastman House.

Shannon Fitzpatrick, our Master’s student from San Antonio, Texas found quite a problem in two of her reels-mechanical damage.  This film has been torn previously by a machine or from poor handling, and in this case, it was never correctly repaired.  Shannon began by peeling off the old tape, cleaning the damaged area, and applying new tape correctly to prevent further damage.  Although the frames will never be perfect, they are greatly improved.

The Nitrate Vaults currently houses more than 23,000 reels of nitrate film, making it necessary to have clear and concise records for each and every element.  Learning and understanding the location and retrieval system is important to prevent misplaced reels or lost paperwork.  At the end of the first week, these three students were able to pull and retrieve materials, continuing the conservation process for the rest of the Selznick School class as they too will be spending time over the next few weeks here in the Nitrate Vaults.





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