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.

Copyrights in the Digital Age

Did you know that if you make a video workprint of a film, you own that video?

I don’t think that was the intention when the US Congress wrote the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They were thinking about video games and word processors. Then downloading happened.

Film archives don’t want to infringe on the copyrights of others. I don’t recommend it to anyone in any context. But that video workprint? Who has the rights to that?

Consult a copyright lawyer if you like but the answer will probably be a long one. It’s complicated. It’s getting more complicated all the time. A couple years ago I spoke on a panel addressing an assembly of copyright lawyers and government ambassadors from around the world. I stuck to what I know but the real surprise for me was how little anybody knows about what’s next. They’re working very hard and diligently to figure it out. One core problem is that the internet is global but copyrights are local, WIPO notwithstanding.

I don’t know what you want to do with this information. Copyrights are a fascinating subject. But that video workprint you made with your FI-16 isn’t a copy. It’s a new work. It’s video assembled from still photography aimed at a film. If you make a film copy of a film, copyrights cover that pretty clearly. If you digitize a film to make a digital copy of its content, decades of law practice cover that pretty clearly. But a video workprint made on a FI-16 isn’t the copyrighted movie. It’s photography of the plastic. It’s meant for the archivist, to help them do their work well.

What is that?

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

You can Google that title and you’ll find plenty of experts telling you all about it. I’d like to comment on it in particular for the preservation mindset and film inspection.

Cinequal’s FI-16 and Waypoint system isn’t perfect. We’re not trying to make it perfect before we ship it. We’re going to perfect it, speaking as a verb, for as long as our fans and customers need us to.

One thing needs to be as good as we can afford to make it at the outset. The photography is paramount because these photographs can persist forever. Even if the film is photographed again later, it will be older. So we spent most of our research and development on the camera, illumination, rollers, and motors.

There is software on the FI-16, and Waypoint is all software. We can perfect those and update them endlessly. And we will! We can add features and functions and tweaks and bells and whistles and with your help, really useful stuff.

It’s no secret that it’s human nature to judge the quality of our system based on the video workprints. Please don’t judge them too harshly yet because that’s misleading. They’re just video made from the photography. On board the FI-16 they’re made as quickly as possible because the machine operator has work to do, lots and lots more films to inspect. Their time is of the essence.

The photography is high-resolution, brightly lit, exposed and white balanced to suit the best that the camera sensor can make. You can make many more videos from that photography, ad infinitum. Craft editors can enhance video to be as pretty and perfect as you like. That photography isn’t meant to be pretty, it’s meant to be accurate and feed the best possible photographs that we can afford to make for video editors.

But that’s not all that film inspection is about. It’s about knowledge, and how you can interpret what you know about the films. Here again, perfect is the enemy of good.

Inspect the films now, as soon as you can. Waypoint will make a condition report the best that it can right now. It’s pretty darn good. Next time you run a condition report on that same film, using the photography and not running the film again, the condition report may be more perfect. That’s the magic of software.

Some years down the road you may inspect that film again, taking new photography of it, feeding that new photography to Waypoint for a new condition report. The difference between old and new condition reports is good information too. What changed in the intervening time? That’s a kind of film condition speedometer.

Software, software, software. It’s called soft because it’s malleable, improvable, perfectible. Join us and tell us what you think perfect looks like.

Real Doesn’t Always Equal Pretty

When we run a film inspection on FI-16 we’re not looking for pretty. We’re looking for real.

The photographs are meant to capture the reality of what that film looks like if you held it in your hands. In really good light. So the photography software has an automatic exposure and an automatic white balance. It’s not as pretty as what you expect to see from an iPhone.

Video editors know that you can turn blacks into grays but you have a lot of trouble turning grays into black. You can dim the brightest whites but you have a lot of trouble making the brightest white out of gray. Why? Because the video editing computer doesn’t know which parts of the image are meant to be gray so they get turned to black and white also. The same is true for colors. Instead of contrast we call it saturation. But the limitations are similar.

When you’re inspecting a film on the FI-16 you see video on the computer screen. That is the actual photography shown to you. Moving at whatever speed you set the film to run. It’s not meant to be pretty, it’s meant to be accurate. So you can see what the film really looks like, what it really is.

Here’s a fun experiment. Next time you’re sitting around a table with some friends ask everyone to pull out their phones 📱. Laptops and tablets too if they have them. Then everybody play the same video on all the screens at the same time. See how different they all look!

We live in the digital age and it’s not going to unwind itself, so to speak. Manufacturers of smartphones, tablets and laptops aren’t trying to make all the videos look the same on all the screens. They’re trying to please you. They’re trying to make their screens prettier than everyone else’s. That’s not reality in video, that’s the reality of commerce.

When you’re inspecting your film, photograph its reality. Pretty comes later.

No-prep Workflow

Traditional archival film handling is a workflow. There’s a lot of preparation involved. What if there wasn’t?

  1. First you set up a space with winders and splicers and synchronizers and a light table and a magnifying glass and gloves.
  2. Then you open a film can and load it onto a reel, and another real onto the other winder.
  3. Then you wind the film slowly and take a lot of notes. Footage, frame numbers, visible damage, measures of shrinkage perhaps, edge codes, soundtrack type or none, credits, etc.
  4. Then you wind the film to a specific heads out orientation and put the film back in the can.
  5. Then you carry it to the scanner to make a video of it. Take the film out of the can again, thread it again except this time the rollers and film path are complex and finicky.
  6. Then you turn on the scanner and set the controls (expertise required).
  7. Then you put the film back in the can and take it back to the inspection station and wind it for archival storage again.

What if…

  1. You open the film can and set the film on a platter. Thread it around a couple of big and airy rollers to the other platter.
  2. Type or barcode scan a reel ID and click your mouse to start the photography. Punch a button to start the film rolling.
  3. Watch the video on a computer screen and your mind is free to think about what you see. Maybe take a note or two if you see something remarkable but otherwise just let it run. It doesn’t matter if it was heads out or tail out because the video can be edited later.
  4. When the film is wound to the other platter, simply lift it back into its can, still on an archival hub. Close the can and put it away.

Done. No prep. Open the film can one time, spool it one time, put it away.

Let computer vision measure everything about the film and produce an automatic condition report. At your leisure, or someone else’s leisure, watch the video workprint. Watch it in the comfort of your own desk or on your own phone.

Sound like a good idea?

Tiny Desk Concert

When I started in the music recording business  half a century ago, nearly everything we did involved logistics and heavy stuff. The instruments were big and bulky. The recording studios were insanely expensive and had to be purpose built. They even had special doors and ramps.

Musicians today assume they can do their work anywhere. They’ve got computers in their pockets and in their backpacks. Recording studios are still nice, but not required. They just find a desk and go to work 🎶.

Some musicians can give an entire concert from a tiny desk. What can you do at your desk?

You can inspect films at any desk, and you can choose the one most convenient to the films. Bring your FI-16, pull up a chair and start the show.

We normally imagine the film inspection to be a solo endeavor and the output will be video workprints and condition reports. To be viewed later, like a music recording. Or…

It could be like a tiny desk concert! Everybody is online these days. You could share your screen with viewers near and far at the same time that you’re inspecting. It could be a community event. Or colleagues could join you from their own desk wherever they may be.

Sounds like fun to me.

The Trim Tool

When you first see our trim tool you would probably call it a gate. It looks like a film gate. I guess it is a film gate. Except it’s not meant for that. It’s meant for trims. Some films are stored in an archival can along with one or many short segments of film that have been trimmed out of it. There can be many reasons for that.

  1. Maybe they are highlights.
  2. Maybe they are segments taken out for certain showings.
  3. Maybe they were censored.
  4. Maybe they were just in bad condition and got tangled up in the projector too often.

You could splice them back into the film. Assuming you know where they belong! Assuming you want to wind the film backwards and forwards enough times, spooling it out to make the splices over and over again. Or…

You could just inspect the film and make the video workprint and then run the trims through the trim tool. A foot of leader on each end, a couple of small film tape pieces, and pull them through.

You could append them all to the main films video workprint, or you could make a separate video workprint of just the trims.

Next!

Run the Darn Film

Sony introduced the digital video recorder 📹 in 1986. The USA introduced its Telecommunications Act in 1996. YouTube introduced online video to the world in 2005 and Apple introduced the always-online computer in your pocket in 2007.

It’s 2020 and analog isn’t how we share anymore. Film inspection changed accordingly. We don’t inspect films so that we can ship them out again. We inspect them for health and longevity. We don’t keep lots of film copies for shipping around to projection theaters, we keep the best or the only.
What do we know about a film in a can? It’s safe, cool, and catalogued. But what’s really on it? What does it look like? How is it surviving the test of time?
Film inspection should leave a digital video record. We should let computers measure every inch and centimeter. Our records should be digital; we can print paper backups if we like.
Film inspection is an important part of providing access to what we spend our time and money preserving. Film inspection records need to be accessible by that computer in your pocket, shared the way you share information today – digital.
Access video copies for public viewing are a different matter and that’s a different post. I’m talking about professional and behind-the-scenes access.
So if you open that film can for any reason whatsoever, run the darn film and capture the video, and let a computer look at the images too and do what computers do best.
Run the darn film and make what you saw accessible. 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?