Digital Projection of Archival Films

Even before the advent of digital projection, the presentation of silent era films entailed substantial difficulty. Conversion to the conventional sound speed of twenty-four frames per second produced woefully inadequate results. Simply speeding the projection from the teens to sound speed distorted the cadence or “temporal ambiance” of the scene (though this was sometimes precisely what was intended for the original production!). Optical step-printing, while correcting the “pace,” introduced visual artifacts, which were accentuated when films intended for 16, 18, or 22 frames per second were projected at standard sound speed (there is an additional problem introduced when silent film is transferred to video at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second). None of the available options, from frame interpolation to virtual scene reconstruction yield acceptable results. Although some 16mm and 35mm projectors are capable of projecting 18 frames per second, the end of the film era is upon us, and film projection will generally not be an option. It is certain that most viewing of silent film will be in digital media. In addition to these critical weaknesses in the display of fixed-frame rate films, we understand the speed of capture and projection sometimes varied within a single film, and none of the available techniques address that factor. Therefore, The Digital Projection of Archival Films Project was created as an ad hoc special interest group with the goal of facilitating the digital projection of archive films in their original frame-rates and with the inclusion of projector shutter periods as appropriate in each case.

The video below is a clip from the 1907 film The Dancing Pig. When released, this film would have been projected with a three bladed 60 degree shutter. For the vast majority without HFR compatible monitors, we have a version with an emulated 90 degree shutter embedded below. If you select 1080p60 or 720p60 in the YouTube quality menu, you can see the 60fps shuttered effect. The 60fps version below is too slow to be an accurate depiction of Pickfair’s shutter emulations, but it should serve as a good preview.

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