Digitizing Fox Movietone News
The Fox Movietone News Collection comprises more than 2,000 hours of unique 35mm film donated to the University of South Carolina by the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in 1980. Much of this generous donation came to the University on the original nitrate film stock, which poses special preservation and handling challenges due to its volatility. Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) cares for more nitrate film than any other U.S. university except UCLA.
The collection includes:
- all silent newsreel elements (nitrate) from the original Fox News library, 1919-1930, and the original paper records supporting that material;
- all outtake and unused film (nitrate and safety) from Fox Movietone News, 1928-1934, and the paper archive supporting that material;
- the exhibited newsreels, as well as all outtake and unused film (safety) from Fox Movietone News, September 1942 through August 1944, and the paper archive relating to this material.
The collection is significant as:
- arguably the single most complete moving-image record of American culture in the 1920s anywhere in the world;
- a unique set of early film-sound recordings made across the globe from 1928 through 1930 (the transition to sound period);
- a resource of such breadth that even though it is already the source for some of our culture’s most iconic images the majority of the collection remains unseen by researchers, filmmakers, and the public.
This $5 million project aims digitally to preserve and make available the entire Fox Movietone Newsfilm collection via our Digital Video Repository (the MIRC-DVR).
To be successful, the Fox Movietone Digitization Project requires:
- digitization of the analog originals in the Fox collection at resolutions approximating the information density of the originals;
- trusted storage of multiple copies of the digitized surrogates, in different file formats to provide for access as well as preservation;
- robust metadata describing the content of each title and the characteristics of each associated physical and digital object.
Thus, for each title in the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Collection, the repository will house:
- a high-resolution, uncompressed, digital preservation surrogate that will protect against loss of the very fragile film original;
- multiple “mezzanine” files for use by researchers requiring access to material at higher resolutions, commercial filmmakers who license footage, and theatrical exhibitors;
- multiple access files for web-streaming;
- metadata records that describe both intellectual content and physical properties;
- sufficient copies of each of the above to ensure digital preservation over the long term.
Considering the size of the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Collection, this is no small task. The Fox collection is:
- more than 23,000 titles;
- more than 11 million feet of film (4 million acetate, 7 million nitrate);
- 2,000 hours of moving images.
We estimate that preparing a single 15-min reel for the repository requires at least 4 hours of direct labor:
- 1/2 hour to update the catalog record and conform it to the PBCore standard;
- 1 1/2 hours to inspect, clean, and scan the film original;
- 1/2 hour for post-production, including digital color and density timing and transcoding of the mezzanine files.
We estimate that one hour of footage has a storage footprint of approximately 3.35 terabytes:
- 1.11 TB for the preservation surrogate;
- .02 TB for the mezzanines and access files;
- 2.22 TB for redundant copies.
This project therefore requires investment in several key areas.
Here is a cost breakdown for the total $5 million:
In the pilot phase, we have focused on developing a storage architecture, the MIRC-DVR website, and the workflows to create digital video files and descriptive metadata. To demonstrate the repository’s access capabilities, we are currently adding lower resolution digital video files. As the MIRC-DVR develops these lower resolution files will be replaced with preservation grade digital masters. A few examples of these preservation grade digital files have been added as tests.
Here is how we spent the first $500,000: