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FILM RESTORATION

By Brad Hinkle 7/31/2019

VCE's Optional Services Compared To Industry Standards

When you come to Video Conversion Experts, you'll be offered a comprehensive list of film conversion and restoration services. We can convert your films as they are, and we offer optional services to return them to their original state. In some cases, we can even make them look better. 

Our option services are:

If you want to have the best film possible, it's a good idea to take advantage of all of our services. They can correct damages that have accrued over the decades since your original 8mm films were shot, and they can even correct mistakes that you might have made when you first filmed them. 

We do things differently at Video Conversion Experts, and we outperform our competition at every turn. To give you an idea of how our services differ from industry standards, here's a comprehensive guide on the techniques used across the industry to perform each of our optional services.

Color And Exposure Correction

Correcting the color and exposure balance of an old film can be a difficult process, and there are a lot of different methods that can be used to do it.

However, each different method produces very different results, and you can even see differences between two companies using the same method. So, it's important to work with a company that you trust, and you'll want to take into account that each method has its own drawbacks.

Our Color Correction Method

Over the years, we've developed our own method for correcting color balances and exposure balances. We use the best technology available for the initial scan, and then we go back to the film and add an additional step that we'll get into in a moment. 

We start the correction process by using professional scanning sprocket-less equipment to scan your films properly. This isn't the same as using a camcorder like other companies do. 

Our machines correct your films as they're being scanned with an on-board scope. The scope corrects minor discrepancies in the image's overall color quality, and it works to balance out the amount of light in the image at the same time. 

This removes a lot of the quality-control issues that are common when a regular camcorder is used. However, it's not a perfect system, and it won't correct films properly on its own. 

So, we add in an extra step to ensure that everything is balanced properly. We take the partially restored film's new scan, and we use software to manually correct anything that our scanners might have not completely gotten right. For example, a frame of film can be color balanced but the skin tones can still look too red or too blue. We would correct this in our second step. 

To do this, we'll start out by finding reference points such as skin tones, colors in the sky, and other common colors in the image, and we'll balance the image's colorization with those reference points by hand. 

That's a fairly time-consuming way to correct film, but it's necessary if you want to have the best image quality possible. When companies don't go back and correct an image by hand, you end up with a film that has unnatural looking colors, and the film might not look right. 

We've used what we've learned about color correction to help other companies improve their own methods, and we're confident that it provides the best quality film restorations possible.

How Other Companies Correct Color And Exposure

Not all companies will use the following method, but it is a common way to do things in the restoration business. This is an extremely inconsistent method because of the differences between cameras, and you can't expect to get the same results between different companies that use this method. 

Companies will often set up a regular camcorder with a white-balancing function, and they'll use that to scan your films. This can provide results that are relatively decent, but it will never look as good as what you'll get from professional-grade scanners. 

This is because of the massive amount of differences between different cameras on the market, and the way a company sets up their white-balancing setting impacts the quality of the results a lot, too. 

While we like to go back to correct a film by hand with our method, most companies that use this method don't go any further than the original scan.

This can be a major problem because of the cameras used. Even our advanced scanning method doesn't correct a film perfectly, and we have to go back to make some manual corrections. When companies use camcorders, the initial scan is often worse, and since they don't go back to make manual corrections, you're pretty much stuck with whatever that initial scan provided. 

That doesn't mean that this method of color correction is completely pointless. Professional scanning equipment isn't cheap, and the labor costs involved with manually correcting films can add up quick. 

When a company uses this much cheaper method, they can pass those savings down to customers. They don't always do it, but they can realistically offer a substantially lower price for their services. You'll just get a much lower-quality film from the deal. 

We recommend having anything important scanned professionally. The initial savings aren't worth having a messed-up film, and that's especially true when you're dealing with professional reels or cherished home videos. 

You can use this method for less important videos that you don't really care about, though.

How Grain Removal Is Performed

If you've watched an old film, and it looked like a blurry 1950's movie, it's because of film grain. Film grain is a series of little dots that aren't supposed to on the film. There are ways to remove that grain, and they've been used for decades, but we've developed our own method to give our customers unmatched quality of service. 

Grain removal services differ between each other just as much as color correction services do. There are a lot of different methods that individual companies can use, and each one produces drastically different results. 

For the purposes of this article, we'll go over our own method, and we'll cover how it differs from the method that most other companies use. Keep in mind that other companies have probably worked on their own methods, and they'll produce drastically different results than either of these examples. And to be complete, most companies don't even offer a grain removal process at all.

How We Remove Grain From Your Films

When we perform our grain removal services, we like to use a method that we developed in-house. There were already several methods available, but we weren't happy with the substandard quality that they produced. 

Unlike other companies, we don't try to adjust an entire picture at once, and we don't simply blur the pixels in an image. That often lowers the overall resolution, or it just makes a decent film look worse. 

When we remove the grain from a film, we target individual areas of a frame, and we use our own technology to properly remove it. This allows us to not only remove the grain properly, but it also allows us to remove nearly 95 percent of the grain on a film. You'll have a hard time finding another method that can match that. 

Our technology allows us to use a customized tool to select individual sections of grain in a film, and then we cut the grain out similarly to how someone would use PhotoShop. That's not the end of the process, though. 

So, we added in another step that isn't used by other companies. After we remove a section of grain from the film, we use the information from surrounding areas on the frame to repair the corrected area. 

That adds a lot of the detail back into the image, and it makes old films look a lot clearer and more natural. Your eyes can't even tell that the image is doctored while the film is playing. 

Our method is more in-depth, and it takes more work to do than what other companies use, but it makes your films look better, and it guarantees that your restoration project is finished in the best way possible.

How Others Remove Film Grain

If you want the short answer, most other companies simply blur the pixels in your film. It's a little more complicated than what you're probably imagining, but that's the basics of it. 

This is one of the first methods film restoration experts used to remove film grain, and it has become a bit obsolete. That hasn't stopped many companies from using it, though. 

When companies use this method, they'll usually try to find areas that are grainy, and they'll use a smudge tool in their editing software to blend them together. Small details at far distances aren't too affected by this, but it makes a huge difference in larger details, and even those small details look blurry.

This is because they're not really removing the grain. They're just trying to hide it. It's generally accepted in the film restoration industry, but it's not very effective, and it's not something you want done to important films. 

It's also not a great choice for films that are too grainy. You can't expect to blur large portions of a frame without major drops in quality. 

If you want your films to look as high-quality as possible, you want to have the grain actually removed from the film.

The Different Methods Of Stabilizing Film

Stabilization is fairly complicated. When 8mm films were shot, they were usually shot with a handheld recorder, and we can't blame anyone for slightly wobbling while they carried a heavy recorder around. 

Sadly, that means that some films can't be stabilized. There's simply too much movement to stabilize it properly. However, our method of stabilization can stabilize images that have less than 10 percent movement in any direction. 

Here are some of the ways that stabilization services can be performed.

Cropping

Cropping all of the frames and adjusting them can take copious amounts of time, and it often makes the film look like it was edited by an amateur. However, it is a valid way to somewhat stabilize a film. 

The problem with this method is that it relies entirely on the editor's ability to eyeball images accurately, and slight mistakes can make the film look even more jittery. 

We don't recommend using this method unless you're desperate, and most professionals wouldn't even attempt it. It's simply too much work for a low-quality result, and the cost of the labor involved would make the service inaccessible to most costumers.

Professional Stabilization

Making a film more stable isn't something that amateur methods can do perfectly. Professional film restoration experts have to use programs that utilize complex algorithms to pinpoint the exact parts of the film that need to be stabilized, and they do their best to remove as much movement as possible. 

The algorithms generally decide which objects are simply background objects, and then they determine which objects are moving. Once they figure that out, they can realign the moving objects with the mostly static background to make a more stable image. 

Some problems arise when this is done, though. If the camera was panned during filming, it can be difficult for the algorithms to determine what the background is, and the results might be sub-par. 

Some professional programs even allow an editor to manually place tracers on parts of an image, and those tracers can help align the film in a more pleasing way. However, this is time consuming because of the sheer number of frames used to create films, and it's not practical for home videos. 

This is why we can't stabilize any film that has an absurd amount of motion in it. There simply isn't anything capable of doing it properly with today's technology, but some methods help alleviate the issue.

Basic Video Editing Programs

Believe it or not, you can use simple editing programs to alleviate some stabilization issues. Programs available to the general public don't have the same advanced technology as professional equipment, but they can do a decent job when they're set up properly. 

Most amateur editing software has some form of stabilization software included, and pretty much any popular option is guaranteed to have a decent stabilization feature. If you're unsure if your favorite editing program has a stabilization feature or not, you can usually find it on the toolbar. 

Most of the stabilization features are automatic. That means that you won't have much control over how the image is stabilized, but they tend to do decent enough jobs on home videos with only a little bit of movement. If you do decide to go this route, make sure to make backups of your converted file. 

This isn't a great option for high-end film reels or really important memories, but it will usually suffice for things like random home videos. If you have any home films that you want professionally converted, it's best to have us use our stabilization method to ensure that your film is as good as it can be.

Types Of Scratch Removal Methods

Scratches are another type of damage that is difficult to fix properly without charging customers an arm and a leg. 

Most 8mm films are decades old, and it's not uncommon for scratches to form each time they're lugged around in a box or ran through an old projector system. When you go to view a film with scratches, you can clearly see the wear and tear that the film has been subjected to over the years, and it can make the viewing experience less enjoyable. 

There are 3 main ways that different companies remove scratches, and we'll cover every detail of each one in the following sections.

Our Professional Scratch Removal

This is the method we use. It's the most cost-effective method that produces acceptable results, but it's not perfect. Scratch removal is such a complicated task that the only surefire way to perfectly correct scratches is only accessible to studios with budgets exceeding one million dollars. 

However, our method works great for home videos and indie films. We use a Teranex VC300 box to automatically identify and remove the vast majority of scratches.

The machines aren't cheap. They come in at around $500,000, but we bought them second-handed to help pass our savings on to you. 

The machines do an excellent job. They outperform the vast majority of our competition's efforts for reasons that we'll detail later, and they allow us to keep our restoration services affordable to average customers. 

However, they can cause a slight amount of flickering. As the Teranex VC300 goes over a video, it picks up anything that looks like a scratch. It's usually good at distinguishing between scratches and sharp edges such as windowsills, but it messes up sometimes. 

When it identifies an edged object as a scratch, it will remove that edge from the frame entirely. It's somewhat difficult to notice, but you'll see the edge remove itself and reappear in the blink of an eye.

Wetgate

Wetgate is the old-school way of repairing scratches, and it's still used today. You should be cautious about using a service that uses Wetgate technology, though. Its negative effects weren't very noticeable in the 80's and 90's, but our 2K and 4K transfer recorders don't handle it very well. 

When a company uses Wetgate, they pour a liquid formula over the film as it's scanned. The process was fairly successful when everyone viewed videos in 240p and 400p, but we've advanced beyond that resolution quite a bit. 

As the formula is poured, it soaks the film, and it fills in the areas around the scratches. When it fills the scratches, it helps the film to appear unscratched when you view it. 

Wetgate is fairly inexpensive, but there are some major drawbacks to using it. First, you're soaking the film, and that can cause damage to the original film that can't be repaired. That might not be important if you know you'll never use it again, but some people want the original copies for sentimental reasons, and original copies of blockbuster films can be very profitable. 

Second, the liquid reduces the quality of the resolution pretty dramatically. That's to be expected when you consider the fact that the liquid is a translucent layer of goo all over it. 

In the old days, it wasn't such a big deal. Films were recorded in such a low resolution that the Wetgate formula didn't reduce their quality too much. However, it's the 21st century, and we can render things in more than ten times the resolution, now. The Wetgate formula just doesn't work anymore. 

This is a cheap and effective way to fill scratches on very old films, but it'll look horrible if you scan your films with 2K or 4K recorders. 

What's worse is that a lot of experts won't tell you that. They'll take your beautifully scanned 4K film restoration, and they'll pour Wetgate all over it. When you get it back, your 4K film suddenly looks like it was recorded on a potato. 

We don't use Wetgate, and we certainly won't be dishonest with our customers. If you take your films to someone else for scratch repairs, make sure you're dealing with an honest company, and make sure you understand the drawbacks of using Wetgate.

Manual Correction

Manual scratch removal is the most accurate, but it's also the most expensive. In fact, it's so expensive that the only time it's really done is when multi-million dollar studios are trying to restore old blockbuster hits. 

The actual equipment required to manually remove scratches isn't expensive, but it requires so many hours of work that labor costs skyrocket during the process. It also requires expert-level craftsmanship to pull it off properly. 

This is because manual scratch removal is exactly what it sounds like. A film restoration expert goes through each individual frame of a film, and they use software to manually remove each and every scratch. 

One second of 8mm film contains 18 frames. You can imagine how many frames are in an hour's worth of film. 

We don't recommend this type of scratch removal to anyone who isn't trying to restore major cinematic films. It's just not practical to do so because it's so expensive. If you're wanting a home video restored, it's much more practical to use either of the two methods we talked about previously.

Come To Us For Film Restoration

Restoring film is a process that can be done several different ways, and there are many different tasks that have to be done to fully return a film to its past glory. 

When it comes to color correction, exposure correction, grain removal, and scratch removal, there are several different ways to do each task, and most companies are still using methods developed in the 80's and 90's. 

At Video Conversion Experts, we like to use the best technology available to us, and we often add manual correction techniques to the process to ensure that you receive the highest quality conversion services possible. We've even developed our own methods for handling some of the restoration tasks. 

Here's what we offer:



The next time you're looking to have your favorite memories restored or converted to a modern format, trust the experts. VCE has the knowledge and equipment necessary to restore your films to the same quality they were 40 years ago.