June 20 - Old films may be nostalgic but they also play a significant role in cultural preservation. Digitizing them however, can cost thousands of dollars so a New York designer has developed an open source tool that makes transforming film affordable for anyone. Sharon Reich has more.
"The strange case of Dr Manning" may not be everybody's idea of a classic movie, but it was shot on a classic medium - film, whose look and feel many people believe is irreplaceable in a world now dominated by digital media. Designer Matthew Epler in among those people, but he's found away to use one medium to preserve the other. Until now preserving old movies has been a costly process, unaffordable to many individuals and institutions. But Epler has designed a digitization tool called Kinograph, that makes digitizing film affordable and scaleable. Kinograph uses all open source material that anyone could obtain. SOUNDBITE (English) MATTHEW EPLER, DESIGNER AND GRADUATE STUDENT, SAYING: "Cultural memories should not be dependent on money or technology. It's worth it for everyone to share the technology and this machine so that we can find that cultural memory." A few years ago Epler was working with a non profit organization in Jordan when he discovered more than 450 cannisters of 35 and 16 mm film from the 1960s, some of which contained images of Jordan's King Hussein. He looked into digitizing the archive material, but found that the processing would cost upwards of half a million dollars. That inspired him to create Kinograph. The system uses a consumer level camera, parts made on a 3D printer and several components that are available on the internet. SOUNDBITE (English) MATTHEW EPLER, DESIGNER AND GRADUATE STUDENT, SAYING: "Machinery that was used for projecting movies like this and capturing movies like this is really precise and metaled. I can't afford that and no one can afford that so I needed 3D printing to give me the parts that accurate enough but cheap enough to give me the parts needed for this. The nice thing is I get to reinvent the wheel. So I invented a roller, a series of rollers that can take 35, 16 and 8mm film so you don't have to switch out any parts." What Kinograph does is take pictures of pictures one at a time. The film moves on the 3D printed rollers and each time a new frame appears, the camera snaps a picture. The pictures are then strung together and the data is processed by a software program Epler created that will stabilize the image, color correct and crop it and extract the sound. SOUNDBITE (English) MATTHEW EPLER, DESIGNER AND GRADUATE STUDENT, SAYING: "So the machine itself runs on a microcontroller and it reads a switch and that fires the light in the camera. All the image processing takes place later in a program called Processor. I use open CV which is Computer Vision to find the frame and some open source software from the University of South Carolina to get the sound. All of that is rolled into Quick Time and you get a movie file." And this is what it looks like, before and after the extraction process. Being open source, Epler says anybody can buy the parts for Kinograph on the Internet, and adapt a camera themselves about a thousand dollars. And for those who don't want to build Kinograph on their own, Epler will digitize it himself for a small fee. But he's not in it for the money. He hopes that open source systems like Kinograph will help get gems like this out of the dark and on to a screen.