The Russian State Archive (GTRF) holds many film and video treasures. From footage of the Bolshoi Ballet and Second World War Siege of Leningrad to home movies of Tsar Nicholas II, the Soviet space program and rare images of the Chernobyl disaster. But this is just a fragment of the invaluable footage contained within the vaults of the Russian State Archive (GTRF). Over two million pieces of historical footage are found there, which have never before been viewed outside the USSR.
Cineimage was the digital restoration company charged with reviving the footage from the Russian Archive for their client RTRW (Russia Tele Radio Worldwide). Cineimage business owner Steve Boag explained how they came to use PFClean to bring Russia’s history back to life.
I was approached by the head of RTRW, Anthony Gould, to help restore the catalogue of footage in the Russian Archive,” says Steve Boag. “Having worked in film for most of my life, and through other work, I’ve done in the past such as my involvement with the ITN Source Archive, I knew this was going to be a huge project, both technically and commercially. The process moved forward naturally from there.
Cineimage was given the raw footage from 12 Russian ballets, and the restoration began.
Perfection Takes Time — Not Any More
Cineimage first concentrated on the performances of Maya Plisetskaya and the Bolshoi Ballet. These had been shot in various formats, from SD SECAM to 35mm Film, each posed a unique set of challenges, and all had to be restored and standardised to the same format (full HD (1920×1080) @ 25fps) for broadcast and preservation.
After an initial assessment of the footage and further investigating other titles, it became evident that much of the ballet was shot on videotape. This presented an obstacle, as video often displays unique issues on each tape, resulting in a lengthy restoration process to bring the footage up to the degree that is broadcastable.
The material shot on analogue tape and tube cameras demonstrated various issues and defects that were going to prove tricky and, subsequently, time-consuming to resolve. This is a problem that always rings alarm bells for Cineimage.
After an initial assessment of the footage and further investigating other titles, it became evident that much of the ballet was shot on videotape. This in itself presented an obstacle, as Steve explains:
Video often displays unique issues on each individual tape, resulting in a lengthy restoration process in order to bring the footage up to a degree that is broadcastable.
The material shot on analogue tape and tube cameras demonstrated various issues and defects that would prove tricky and subsequently time-consuming to resolve. This is a problem that always rings alarm bells for Cineimage.
Heavy noise was visible in the shadows and mid-tones of the images, caused by the extreme lighting conditions. Horizontal streaks appeared sporadically throughout the footage, which meant that entire frames were sometimes lost and required painting back in, we were also confronted with discolouration, flickering and on one of the more modern titles, chroma issues, which needed resampling and smoothing out.
Other significant issues in the footage, such as mistracking, servo off-locks and transverse tape damage, soon presented themselves too. Previously, to fix off-lock errors, Cineimage would have to complete the time-consuming task of re-registering and correcting the image by hand to fix the instability in the video signal that was visible across frames. Now, Steve explains,
We can use PFClean’s image stabilise and fix frame tools to correct the error, and we are done in the space of a few seconds. Most importantly we can do this without losing any imaging area or integrity of the framing, which is crucial when dealing with the ballets.
PFClean’s fixed frame tool and some manual paintwork assisted with transverse tape damage issues. As a result, the noise and rolling bands of misregistered image that appeared across the footage were fixed quickly and efficiently. Once these issues were resolved in PFClean, the projects had to go through a very tough broadcast quality control process; Steve comments,
They all passed, which is a huge testament to PFClean given the age and level of deterioration in some of the content.
Making the Impossible, Possible
The Russian State Archive (GTRF) currently faces the issue that many other archives are experiencing; the expensive and incredibly time-consuming digitalisation process. Steve explains,
In order to monetise your archive, it can’t sit there on SD tapes or reels of film. It needs to be digitised.
Despite their experience on other archive projects, the enormity of the task that remained began to dawn on Cineimage.
One of the biggest problems facing a lot of archives is the sheer quantity of material that needs to be restored and to a high standard. Quite often, the lesser titles get overlooked in favour of more commercial or significant works due to either time or budget.
In the case of the ballets, the team had to cherry-pick the titles with the most famous ballerinas and notable performances.
Is this the End or Just the Beginning?
With the imperative need to tackle the abundance of material that remained in the Russian Archive, the pair had no choice but to think outside of their established, linear workflow box. Steve explains,
We started utilising the parallel productivity features that PFClean has to offer, Introducing a fast storage server and a 10GB network to our facility enabled us to employ PFClean’s batch processing to send multiple streams of footage to our render nodes. This freed up the operator workstations, and allowed them to continue working on the more fine detailed artefacts, such as removing offlock errors and transverse tape damage.
Their revised workflow methods demonstrated immediate benefits, not only in speed but in the sheer amount of material that could be processed in one go. As a result, Steve adds,
It allowed us to spend more time tidying up titles which we would have otherwise skipped over.
With their improved workflow, Cineimage could tackle a much larger workload, which was essential in managing the extensive selection of material in the archive.
But their challenges with handling the large workload didn’t end there. The client, RTRW, then tasked Cineimage with rendering out multiple versions of the ballets for them to be delivered to different broadcasting regions worldwide. Therefore, both up and down conversions in NTSC and PAL, in addition to HD formats, had to be created, along with proxy preview files of the restored piece for the client to examine. Steve muses,
This was an intimidating task, with each restoration requiring up to six deliverables. Fortunately, PFClean was able to render out multiple versions of the restoration with ease and speed. We could set up File Outs, export them, and then continue on with our next project.
Having made PFClean the core of their restoration pipeline, Cineimage also saw the potential that integrating the software into their preparation workflow could bring. Steve says,
We are now exploring the possibility of replacing elements of our existing pipeline with PFClean, for tasks such as the preparation of screeners, the reformatting of clips and burning in time codes, as it will dramatically increase the efficiency of our workflow.
If a Job’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Well
Throughout their restoration of The Russian State Archive (GTRF), a high-quality result was of utmost importance to Cineimage. After all, they needed to be shown in their absolute best light when tasked with restoring such important historical images. Steve says,
With PFClean we feel we have achieved the desired results reliably, and consistently. On every occasion, we have wowed people with the finished product and the process of the restoration has become as much a talking point as the production itself,
Since Cineimage began their restoration of The Russian State Archive (GTRF), five performances of Maya Plisetskaya and the Bolshoi Ballet have been premiered on Sky Arts, and their revival of the archive continues, with more historic ballets due to be restored later this year.
PFClean achieves successful outcomes through an innovative approach that helps to deliver fast results within clients’ budgets and expectations when those budgets are tighter and those clients demand more for less. Large-scale restoration projects such as RTRW’s are perceived as not economically viable and fail to deliver the expected results many clients demand. This need not be the case. When executed correctly, PFClean’s extensive toolset empowers users to quickly and efficiently complete large, time-consuming projects.
Read more about Anthony Gould and the restoration of the Russian Archive:
See the restoration process of Adam and Eve: