What’s in your Vault?

What’s in your vault?

Obviously that’s a play on the funny television commercials from a bank that asks “What’s in your wallet?”

If you’re joining us on our mission to make better and faster film inspections and condition reports, then we know what’s in your vault. Films. Lots and lots of films.

You have a cataloging system so you know a lot about those films. But what do you really know? Do you know what condition they’re in? Every foot and frame of them? Do you know what they might look like on that computer in your pocket?

When those films were put into cans and stored in your vaults, there was paper money in your wallet. Times have changed. Now there’s an electronic credit card in your wallet, and maybe not even that. Maybe you’re like me and you use the computer in your pocket.

What’s in your vault? Let’s find out together. With all the powers the computers offer us today.

To AMIA and Beyond

Maybe you heard about our new film inspection tools at AMIA this year or last. Maybe you heard about them afterwards. Maybe you discovered them on our website first. Anyway, here’s the story of our AMIA exhibition and beyond.

In October we delivered our 16mm film inspection system to Northeast Historic Film in Maine. Cataloger Emma let us observe and she talked to us about the experience. We call Northeast Historic Film our beta site. The whole point of the exercise was to learn from its use in real life. Get out of the lab.

We brought the FI-16 to AMIA and rented a conference room where we invited moving image archivists to bring their own films and try it out. That was fascinating! In addition to all the wise and experienced commentary, we got to see a remarkably varied range of films in all kinds of conditions. Sorry we couldn’t do that on the AMIA exhibition floor where we had a booth, but we figured that the people who brought their films to us deserved their privacy. Hey, when it comes to film inspection you don’t always know in advance what’s going to be on that film!

We learned from our friends at Northeast Historic Film and at AMIA that there were two areas of improvement that we could implement immediately. First of all, the films we inspected were larger than we thought people would be storing and carrying. Second, people have a lot more ideas about how to do film inspection than you would think. Some like to go really slow, some like to start slow and speed up, some like to just set and forget. Some like to look at the edges while the film is running, some prefer to look at the video workprint later when they can scrub and pause and so on. 

And perhaps most interesting, we built our system for photography and video to support the film inspection workflow for humans and for computer vision analyzed condition reporting. But you know what? Sometimes film inspection just means winding. Winding loose, winding medium, winding tight for shipment, or just winding so the other end of the film is outside.

So we brought the FI-16 device back to our lab in Baton Rouge and implemented those improvements. Will be sending it back to Northeast Historic Film soon, because they’re renting it for a year. Yippee 🎉!

While programming those motor control improvements we also discovered that with a little tweaking around the rollers, we no longer needed top platters resting on the films. At least most films. We’ll still ship top platters but hey, if you can remove that step from the film inspection process every little bit helps. It’s all about workflow and efficiency.

We also programmed in those new controls I mentioned. All the winding functions, film speed cruise control, manual and automatic controls, and a menu system right by your fingers so that you don’t have to look up at the computer screen because the film is right there by your fingers too.

Thanks to Northeast Historic Film, AMIA and beyond, today we’re building a production run of film inspectors. Our dreams are coming true. We hope for you too.

Object and Facial Recognition for Film and Images

No, we don’t do that. But we know that someone will.

We’re living in a time when computer vision tools are exploding in power, popularity, and use. Sometimes we know it, sometimes it’s in the background and invisible to us. That computer in your pocket already does it.

We made a list of computer vision object recognition facial recognition softwares, just the highlights that we think are most relevant to film archives. Just ask and we’ll give you a copy. We made it for our own education and we’re happy to share what we learn.

Our film inspection products, FI-16 and Waypoint, take photographs of your films so our computer vision tools can analyze their condition and produce condition reports for you. Our products also make video workprints.  This means that if you choose to send to recognition software or online services, you have video and still images to choose from. Or send them both, or send them to different softwares and services. Fun, eh?

There isn’t one best software or service and they’re probably never will be. It’s a Pandora’s box and that’s a good thing. Try them and see how you like them. Keep using the ones you like best.

We can tell you this about some of the key differences that you’ll encounter.

Some of them are optimized for video. Knowing that the source is video let’s the recognition software infer important things about the images in sequence. If a face is recognized in one frame and repeated for many more frames and then begins to turn around showing the back of that person’s face, video optimized software can figure out that it’s still the same person. If you feed thousands of still images to a recognition software and it finds a face, it won’t know that the back of that person’s head is the same person.

Video optimized recognition software can also use the soundtrack. Take the interview format for example. The camera may be on the interviewer when they ask the question but when the shot cuts or pans to the interviewee, the interviewer is still there. Humans know that intuitively. Video optimized recognition software is figuring that out too.

There can also be benefits to recognition software analyzing each frame separately. For example they could take a quick first pass through a long sequence of images and take note of which frames it can analyze the best. This will depend on computer vision factors like edges, exposure, and remember that some edges are contours of colors, not black or white, not contours of contrast.

After identifying the faces or objects in those key frames, the image optimized recognition software can then use those as a base for getting better results from all the other individual photographs.

So if all of that makes sense to you, there’s a third approach. A hybrid approach. Start by analyzing the video, but first break it out into thousands of individual still images. Then use all of the first two approaches, and compare the results to learn even more.

If it sounds repetitive, complicated, or even mind numbingly boring, please remember that that’s what computers are good at. That’s why we invented them. To do that work for us. Preferably while we are doing something else more interesting to us, things that computers simply cannot do. For example, computers don’t have social skills or empathy. That’s what humans are good at.

And that’s why we employ video everywhere in our products. Humans are incredibly sensitive to body language, motion, anything that moves or relates to human behaviors. During a film inspection the machine presents the photographs on the user’s computer screen and it looks just like video. It’s really still images going by so quickly that your brain will interpret it as video. Then your FI-16 can make a video work print, compressed so you can watch it on your computer in your pocket or any computer as far away as you’d like to send it. Waypoint overlays computer vision measured analysis in graphic form on copies of the still photographs and in video workprints that it makes from them. Again with the computer in your pocket and the computers as far away as you’d like to send them.

Object and facial recognition are wonderful tools and humans will always discover things they don’t. Work together on this. The important thing is to inspect your films, know what condition they’re in, use your judgment to apply your resources to preserve them and make them accessible. Let the computers do the boring parts.

Storage Wars

I wonder why there’s no storage device or cloud storage named Pandora’s box? Moving image archivists study storage of all types. They need more of it than most people. They need more kinds of it than most people. Film in cans in cool vaults. Digital storage of every conceivable type and price point. And they’re not just thinking about storage for convenient retrieval, some of them are thinking about storage for centuries and beyond.

There’s no single right answer and even if there was, it would change by the time this blog post reaches your eyes. But I can tell you a few things about what we are throwing into the mix.

FI-16, our film inspection device, has some storage inside of it. Not a lot, just enough to capture the photographs it takes of your films. That is stored in non-volatile RAM, about a terabyte of it. After a few hours of film inspection you’ll want to move those photographs and the video workprints that FI-16 makes from them onto their next storage.

Waypoint, our film inspection computer vision and condition reporting online tool set, is hosted on Amazon Web Services. Waypoint only needs the photographs long enough to analyze them with computer vision. So that leaves a lot of options to the user.

You could connect your FI-16 to the internet and upload the photographs and video workprints directly to Waypoint. Waypoint makes more video workprints to illustrate the film condition on a frame-by-frame basis. We’ll keep those for you on Waypoint along with the inspection data that Waypoint makes for you.

You can download all of that to your own storage. You can copy it to some other cloud storage if you like. Just do that thing you do.

Or you could connect your FI-16 to your local area network and move the photographs and video workprints there first. We have an uploader program that you can install on your own server to copy the photographs to Waypoint over the internet.

After Waypoint has analyzed the photographs you could pay us or Amazon to store them very cheaply in Amazon Glacier. Or not, that’s up to you.

How many copies do you need? You could take the belts and suspenders approach and keep all the copies ever made. You could take the efficiency and preservation approach and keep the photographs and video workprints where you keep all your other digital files and backups.

Sorry for opening Pandora’s box but moving image activists are used to it by now. All we can do is make it easy, reliable, auditable, efficient, and as fast and cheap as possible without giving up those values.

And we will keep staring into Pandora’s box for as long as you do. Film inspection and moving image preservation and access is a long game. In fact I would say it’s an infinite game, the kind that gets better the longer you play.

Co-Working Spaces

What’s the first thing you see when you walk into our office? Coffee tables made out of 70mm film reels. Media production awards. An ancient film projector and display shelves of film and television devices from every era.

None of those things belong to us but they make us feel at home. This is a co-working space in Baton Rouge Louisiana. It was built by a local entrepreneur and he’s proud of his town. Lots of moving image entertainment has been produced around here.

So what’s it like building a company in a co-working space?

We’re a small company, at least here in Baton Rouge. Half of our company lives in other cities and towns and they work remotely. They’ve all come to visit from time to time. And when they do, it’s a special day.

The other companies in this space are either video production teams or administrating educational programs in the area. We’re all startups, or at least young companies. That gives us a lot in common, lots to talk about at the water cooler.

What are the things that makes life good is social interaction, particularly with people for whom you can have empathy and they for you. So we’re a happy bunch here. We think that helps us to make better products too.

We started this company to serve moving image archivists. Startups and archives and make an interesting juxtaposition. The young and the old. I don’t mean the people, I mean the newest technologies and the longest-preserved films. I might be the oldest person in this co-working space but there are people here of all ages and I love the diversity. It reminds me of my other favorite places, libraries. Retired volunteers, children just learning to read, and every stage of life in between.

I suppose we could have least a warehouse in the industrial zone so we could set up equipment benches, wire cutting benches, 3D printers and so on. But we like this social life a lot better. There’s a video production studio in the back and I love it there too. we rented one corner of it behind the curtain and set up our storage shelves and soldering bench. Some days there’s a video shoot going on and we can’t get to our shelves but hey, that’s a minor inconvenience. With a wink and a smile we can always get to our stuff in a pinch.

How did we get to Baton Rouge? We started research and development in New York. Our CTO’s partner graduated from NYU’s moving image archives program and got a job at LSU. So we’re here, with no grand plan other than making the best of it. And the best of Baton Rouge and a co-working space and the ancient trees on the lake with the egrets and ducks and turtles, well, the best ain’t half bad.

You know what I really look forward to? Our products are designed for mail order. They’ll go all over the world and they’re shipping address is:

Creative Bloc, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.