by Blake Jones & Marc M. Batschkus


With millions of hours of film in existence, there is always the need for a high quality scan so that the material may be re-purposed, re-distributed, referenced or monetised in any way. The longer analog media are stored the higher the risk that assets will be lost forever. Risk comes from multiple directions:

  • hardware is vanishing that is needed to play specific media
  • degradation through storage time and conditions
  • misjudgement of the content, its importance and potential
  • ongoing procrastination of digital conversion.

To find out what material your films are made of and how to best treat and store them:

Find out how long your film material will last under specific storage conditions:

The cost of not converting or postponing conversion can be tremendous. There is a useful tool to calculate the cost and risk for a complete collection:

In earlier days film scanners were known to have excellent quality but were extremely expensive and generally slow. People used telecines which were also expensive. Real time transfer resolutions were limited to high definition at best.

New Scanner makes it possible
Recently the company Blackmagic Design acquired the intellectual properties of the company Cintel International. Cintel is known for making the DiTTo film scanner, C-Reality Telecine and of course the legendary Mark III flying spot scanner telecine. Blackmagic Design directed the engineers to put together a revolutionary film scanner which communicates via a single Thunderbolt 2 connection and is controlled by the DaVinci Resolve color grading software.

Designing a new film scanner from scratch allows the manufacturer to address many issues which used to plague users in the past. The new state of the art servo system allows for gentle film handling even when the wind direction switches are misselected. Film that is shrunken or warped due to a chemical reaction known as Vinegar Syndrome is handled without problems.

Even Nitrocellulose or Nitrate based film stock can be handled with minimal risk.

This new scanner named the Blackmagic Cintel 4K Film Scanner can scan film in real time in 4K UHD resolution. Its price tag is a fraction of what users would normally pay for a film scanner.

The Blackmagic Cintel 4K Film Scanner uses a diffused light source that masks dust and scratches. Additionally it contains an automatic stabiliser to correct for any horizontal or vertical film movement. These tools combined with the color grading, editing and dust busting tools in Resolve can cope with most situations.

As the film scanner is now fitting into a variety of workflows, the question of audio comes up. As the scanner scans the film frame and sound track area, optical sound track information may be extracted and automatically synced with the picture using Resolve. A new addition which will be available by the end of 2016 is a sound head that will allow the user to extract optical or magnetic sound in real time during the scanning process plus the ability to read key code edge numbers from the film.

Thunderbolt to the Rescue
Real time film scanning needs certain parameters to be in place. For starters, one Thunderbolt 2 bus needs to be dedicated to the scanner communication to not jeopardise performance. The second is a storage unit that is fast enough to keep up with the speed that the frames are being sent at. Generally a read and write speed of approximately 850 MB/s will allow the user to scan at real time to the storage. Storage size is a necessary concern as scanning an entire feature film can take up many TB of storage space. Generally between 24 and 48 TB of storage can cope with most situations.

Beyond the Scan – the Archive
Having the digitised film on disk is still only part of the process. The scanner storage is limited, needs to be cleared again and in most situations it is much more than one film resulting in one file (per roll). Collections of films need to be archived to be preserved and accessible when needed. To be able to re-purpose, reference and monetise the material in any way it needs to be archived for the long-term and tagged properly.

Archiving for the long-term needs storage media that can keep up with long-term preservation needs. Since long-term in most cases means many years, LTO tape is the media of choice. It offers certified shelf life of 30 years and a multitude of vendors for standardized drives, libraries and media to choose from. Additionally the lowest cost per TB of storage makes it attractive for large collections. With LTO-7 tapes that have a native capacity of 6TB per cartridge physical footprint of the archive is further reduced.

Archiware P5 Archive is a very flexible archive software that drives disk and tape storage of almost all kinds and sizes. Single LTO tape drives, small, mid-sized and large tape libraries can serve as archive storage. Integrated tape cloning offers maximum security by writing two identical tape sets where one should be stored off-site. Drive parallelization offers multiplication of throughput for very demanding requirements. Since LTFS export is built into P5 Archive any files that have been archived can be written to LTFS tapes to hand over or shipped to 3rd parties if need be.

Metadata is Key
Metadata plays a crucial part since it is the key to the archive. Consistent tagging of archived files adds tremendous value to the archive. Ideally, anyone involved in searching media later should be able to find them easily and restore. A metadata schema is the (unique) set of keywords, descriptions and technical parameters that enables fast retrieval later. P5 Archive offers extensible metadata fields and dropdown menus to put such a metadata schema to work.

Digital conversion of film has become much more realistic and feasible for many companies. With the arrival of an affordable film scanner that can be easily operated and connected using Thunderbolt, the critical part has become more accessible. Combine it with easy to use Archive software and converting film collections is a much more realistic project. Building a digital Archive with the same workflow offers all options for re-use and monetisation of already produced content. The easier the assets are found the higher the chance of earning money with it.

Digital Conversion and Scanning of Film

☐ Write a description of media to be scanned.
☐ Decide on metadata (available or needed to create)
☐ Ascertain the condition of media.
☐ Prepare, clean and repair any physical damage before scanning.
☐ Schedule a timeframe for your scanning.
☐ Determine staff to be involved.
☐ Allocate equipment and storage required.
☐ Set up your project budget.
☐ Make sure you satisfy all technical requirements.
☐ Scan your media
☐ Archive from scanner storage and add metadata.

Product links

About the authors:

Blake Jones has over twenty five years of experience as a Colourist, Consultant, Instructor and Writer. He grew up within the film industry and experienced all aspects of film making, postproduction and reassertion and loves to share his expertise with others.

Marc M. Batschkus, MD PhD is Business Development Manager at Archiware. He is author for IT and science publications, a board certified medical informatics specialist and former scientist and lecturer of the medical faculty of the University of Munich.


Digital Conversion of Film
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