When the next summer blockbusters come to the nearest cinema complex, all of them would be packed with dazzling arrays of digitally generated images. In fact, it will be extremely difficult to find a film without any digital post processing these days. If you sit through ridiculously long end credits for some of the recent Hollywood entertainment films, you will find large percentage of the personnel are involved in post production digital image processing. The total control of production process by digital technologies has made the business of movie industry more adapt to DVD and BluRays, flooding the markets with cheap disks in less than three months of theatrical release. It seems like descendants of Georges Melies are dominating the business in Cinema Complexes, Netflix and Amazon.
One of the most popular brands in digital film productions is Lucasfilm/ILM. Here is the video tour of the most recent visit to their facility. (Be patient for obnoxious ads at start.)
The storage capacity they use is almost a petabyte in storage, which is a million gigabytes. What is a petabyte? It has been said that if you converted all the printed materials in Library of Congress (United States), that will be 10 terabytes (10,000 GB) in size. Then, a petabyte is 100 LoCs.
Speaking of Library of Congress, this is the video tour of the film vault of Library of Congress.
(Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.)
These videos present two extremes of film/culture at present. One, completely digital, is eating up all the available resources of digital infrastructure . The other, painfully analog, but also is eating up enormous area and resources.
I wonder what happens to those films, both in digital and in analog (physical “film”) in a decade or so. You might say, all will be in digital format, stored in digital servers and you will be able to access these films from your living room. Then, what happens to those physical “films”, which cost millions to store, need extra care, and, in principle, need to migrate to new prints every two or three decades, if you want them to be pristine condition. How about those digital films? Everybody assumes digital data do not degrade over the time, but as you know, the principal reason of lost films is not only degradation but negligence. Can digital films survive the decades of negligence? How about old films which are not yet digitally restored? I am not talking about “Star Wars” or “Roman Holiday” (they have been treated more extravagantly than they deserve), I am concerned about other little films, which are to vanish from general public’s attention except few film aficionados.
I work for digital data storage industry as an engineer. Believe me, going digital does not guarantee eternal life of data. I will discuss this “future of film archeology” from time to time. I call it “archeology” rather than “preservation” because it involves more than preserving the physical media as it was originally created. It involves excavating data from vast universe of bits, if once lost. We do know how to project a print of “Intolerance” which was filmed almost a century ago. How do you retrieve data from a disc created on VAX system only 20 years ago? It requires quite an effort, knowledge, enthusiasm and money. And still you may not able to retrieve it completely.