Michal Delost joined WFSA on a student placement in Spring 2022, and talks about his experience at the archive.
Using the film scanner to view and copy footage sent in by depositors – members of the public who share films with the archive for preservation – takes a BIG machine and a LOT of patience.
Each roll of film has something unique and personal and the scanner’s job is to unload that for easy viewing on a screen, but also to create an authentic copy of the original for archiving. The image on each frame is photographed crisply so as to not lose detail, while the take-up reel rotates at a designated speed to keep it at a steady frame rate.
Going into the placement at Wessex Film and Sound Archive, I had hardly a clue on how turning analogue media into a digital image would work, but I was always curious. Watching films on actual film is not so common anymore but revisiting that technology never felt like a step back. The first thing Katie, another student who came to volunteer, and I did at WFSA was learn how the Flashscan Nova machine works.
Meet the Cine-Scanner
A huge cuboid that stands on a table in the WFSA darkroom; along its front face there are a series of small rollers that guide the film from its original reel to the take-up reel. Somehow, the film strip meanders around all this path. At the mid-point of the film’s path there is a powerful camera lens zooming into a glass slide – like a microscope – behind which a light flashes constantly and quickly. None of it made sense at first but over the course of the next few weeks I would become quickly accustomed to how it all fit together.
First, the operator turns on the desktop computer connected to the scanner. On this computer, there is a programme called Flashscan. This programme provides an interface that enables the user to work with the film and the machine. The programme opens with a screen showing you exactly how the film should be oriented on the rollers. A line is traced from the upper large reel, around the smaller rollers and down through the glass slide, until it ends up on the take-up reel. I carefully put on the reel at the starter roll and secure it, then I follow closely the directions on screen with Zoe on hand to assist.
When it’s all loaded up, you can finally click play on the built-in touch screen on the scanner but the job doesn’t end there. The camera must be adjusted to keep the image in focus and framed properly, while in the programme the vertical and horizontal orientation can be changed, since some reels might have been loaded up backwards. There are also settings for grading the image post-scan: colouring, cropping and more but these are not important for the purpose of archiving where we create a ‘flat scan’ to authentically capture the film content.
Sometimes, you need to add leader to the film because there is not enough footage to properly load up everything in front of the lens. This involves getting a little trimmer contraption (a splicer) and aligning the actual film with some white, blank leader roll. To create a new splice you may need to trim a little excess film (only if absolutely necessary), especially if it’s dirty or broken and hard to stick together, it can be surreal to trim off what is essentially an artefact.
As the film spins its way through the scanner, Katie and I would communicate what was going on in the image. She was usually responsible for logging the details of the film so that we could accurately describe it for anyone interested in viewing the film. I would keep my eyes on the image and try my best to describe it succinctly, while she had to quickly type it up. We would repeat this with each roll of film, some long, others just a few seconds in length, until we got through all of the deposited film. Below is a video showing some of the process in action!
Michal Delost, Graduate of University of Southampton student (Film)
Michal and Katie undertook a 3-month placement with WFSA during which they had the opportunity view and catalogue original film material, help out at events and create content for social media. The film collection Michal and Katie catalogued was 9.5mm, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. WFSA offers two cohort of placement each year (Spring & Autumn).