Rescuing the Hitchcock 9

Having invested in a 4K ARRISCAN film scanner with 16 mm and 35 mm Wet Gates and the Sprocketless Film Transport, the British Film Institute (BFI) is putting these state-of-the-art ARRI restoration tools to use on the earliest surviving films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Curators at the BFI National Archive, which is the world's largest film and TV collection, have identified the nine silent films as being in desperate need of restoration. A fundraising campaign has been launched, called 'Rescue the Hitchcock 9,' with the goal of restoring the films for audiences today and also preserving them for generations to come.

"The restoration project is now underway," says Charles Fairall, Head of Conservation at the archive. "Scanning is taking place both in-house and on ARRISCANs at the facilities of our framework providers, Deluxe 142 and Deluxe Digital. Having our own scanner gives us the flexibility to maintain complete control over particularly delicate material."

We have to matrix our approach so that we maximize use of the collections.

At the controls of the BFI's ARRISCAN is Image Quality Section Leader Ben Thompson, who recently attended an advanced user training course at ARRI's Munich headquarters. Thompson has been dry scanning Hitchcock negatives and making decisions about whether to use the Wet Gate or Sprocketless Film Transport on a reel-by-reel, even shot-by-shot basis. "If we get a really bad section then we'll put it through the Wet Gate," he says. "Often the worst shots are at the beginning and end of each reel, because they've been handled the most."

 

For the majority of the Hitchcock films, the masters comprise dupe materials, but for certain titles original nitrate camera negatives still exist. One of these is being scanned by the BFI, but another has been entrusted to Deluxe 142 in London because the facility has considerable experience with nitrate. "We've done more nitrate scanning with the ARRISCAN than anyone else in the UK," says John Palmer, Digital Film Bureau Manager. "Some of the Hitchcock material is in a bad state, with flare and distortion and shrinkage, but some of it looks utterly fantastic and the quality of the images is phenomenal. I think you can really tell the difference with nitrate; the blacks are just incredibly sumptuous."

Although the BFI is using ARRISCAN accessories designed specifically for restoration applications, Deluxe 142 is taking advantage of the fact that the ARRISCAN already has built-in software, configuration options and design attributes that make it suitable for archive work: the registration pin can be disabled and the LED illumination means that highly flammable nitrate materials are not exposed to any heat during the scan. "For this project I'm utilizing the archive options within the GUI," says Palmer. "I'm running pin-less on everything and I've adjusted the racking to compensate for the fact that it's not an Academy frame position."

The Hitchcock 9 project will see restored versions of the films being released in cinemas next year. "We have to matrix our approach so that we maximize use of the collections," says Fairall. "In the case of the Hitchcock restorations, that's nine titles done at the highest possible quality for a cinema experience, with new music scored for each film; it will be a big extravaganza for 2012, forming part of the cultural Olympiad. Not only are we generating material for audiences now, but we're also protecting the original masters and creating new preservation elements, which will be stored in our sub-zero vaults for future generations to enjoy."

As well as forming the basis of its approach to this ambitious project, the ARRISCAN archive tools will expand the archive's restoration capabilities for years to come. "Previously we were pretty much limited to 2K, but we've got the capacity now to scan at whatever resolution we want," says Thompson. "We might down-res and work at 2K for a restoration, but the preservation scans can be at 4K. Another advantage of the ARRISCAN is that it widens the range of materials we can consider using for a restoration. For example with a print displaying a magenta bias - which doesn't have much status in the archive world - we can now offset the LED to cancel out that bias in the scan, allowing us to use an element that might previously have been written off."