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.

Printers Propellers and Platters Oh My!

When we decided to start R&D on a new way to inspect films, we gave ourselves a blank slate. All we knew for certain was that we would take advantage of the latest technology including computer vision, computer controlled motors and transport, and the latest in materials science.

One of our pivotal choices was whether or not to use 3D printing 🖨️. There are pros and cons. Traditional methods for making metal and plastic parts are very precise. Precision is a good thing. 3D printers have a head that moves in four dimensions, melted plastic that comes out of it, and a platter to hold that plastic as it hardens, and that platter slowly moves as the plastic grows. It can’t be as precise as a laser cutter, as you might well imagine.

But speed matters too. Mostly in experimentation and trying out new ideas to make something work just a little bit better. So we chose 3D printing for some of the elements on the outside surface of the FI-16, things that we could continually improve and mail out to our customers.

Surprise!

If a film inspection station holds the film horizontal or nearly horizontal – FI-16 is about 15° off of horizontal and that’s enough to give a small amount of vertical force – then that raises the question of whether or not the film needs a platter on both sides. Gravity holds it down to one platter. So do you need a top platter?

Well the answer turns out to be – sometimes. Archival films do what they want. They don’t obey orders. So, does the top platter need to be the same as the bottom platter? The answer turns out to be – Yes or no. Sometimes.

So we ship an FI-16 with three bottom platters because the third one can be a top platter on the take-up reel if you need it. You rarely do but when you do, it’s just the thing. Then we kept experimenting with different kinds of top platters using our 3D printer.

Some of them are just like the bottom platter but made of plastic and therefore lighter. Easier to handle. Cheap to replace if you break it. Some of them have a gradual curve on the side that faces the film because the take-up reel film may want gentle nudging in the beginning and then not need it anymore after the film gets going. We call that one the UFO!

Then came the propeller.

Sometimes you want to nudge or wind the film by hand. You want to rotate the film on its platter and you want to see it while you do. So we started cutting away more and more of the UFO until it was just two straight bars in either direction. Then one of our film inspection operators said it was finicky to place her fingers on the thin plastic. Rather than make a thick chunk of plastic, we curved one edge of the bar upwards. Then we curved it upwards more. Now she can get a really good grip and she can see all of the film. And it still does its job as a top platter to keep the film winding nicely.

When we took it off the FI-16 and looked at it by itself, I swear it looks like – a propeller. With the spindle hole in the center it looks like you could stick it on your model airplane and send it off in the sky.

Printers, propellers, and platters, oh my! Hey, have a little fun while you work.

Mail Order at the Speed of Radio

“You’ve Got Mail!” is the title of a 1998 movie that highlighted our enduring fascination with near-instant connection. We can hardly imagine what life would be like without it now. 

Moving image archives still live with both kinds of mail. Email plus what we now lovingly refer to as snail mail. If a film has to go somewhere in a can, it’s going on a truck at the speed of roads. The conversation about that same film goes at the speed of radio. 

What if that truck brought you a film inspection system in a box? What we used to call mail order. Open the box, set the device near the films, run the films at their favorite frames per second and do everything else electronically at the speed of radio.

 Truck drivers and shipping companies might prefer the old way, the snail mail way. Ship the films to a device where they can be seen. Then wait for the trucks to bring something back. 

Archival films don’t really want to spend their time on a truck anyway. Let’s bring back snail mail with a modern twist. The film inspection bench that you can get by mail order anywhere in the world. Like we used to buy film projectors by mail order 📩. 

Let’s leave the films safe in their cans on their shelves. Truck the film inspection bench to the films and set it up on the closest table. Send the results around electronically at the speed of radio. 

Why not?

Is this Blog for You?

Only if you work around archival films. I can think of a few reasons why this might not be for you though.

  • Perhaps you don’t have responsibility for knowing what condition your films are in. Maybe you just take good care of them until someone calls for them.
  • Perhaps you don’t need to see what’s on those films. Maybe you have a cataloging system and that’s all you need.
  • Perhaps you only want video of what’s on your film if that video has been color restored, stabilized, cropped, edited, and professionally prepared for public consumption. Maybe a work print video wouldn’t do you any good.
  • Perhaps you have a very substantial budget. Maybe you can afford to send your films to the best film restoration service providers in the land.

If those four scenarios don’t sound like you, maybe you’d like to come along with us. We think archival films are important. We think they should be seen no matter what condition they’re in. We think the people taking care of them want, in their hearts, to know what condition they’re in.

Some of us have devoted our careers to archival moving images. We care; obviously we’re not in it for wealth and fame. We are technologists. We like to invent things. Things that make life better for the moving image archive community.
Right now we think that technology in general is at a fascinating point in history. Things that were unimaginable when we started our careers are in our pockets today.
When we think of film inspection we think of a system that plays the film on any office table, you can get it by mail order to anywhere you are, and you can see the work print video and the inspection results on that amazing computer in your pocket.
Are you with us?