By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The computer industry is making rapid progress in data compression technology, which would make digital archiving of visual information somewhat more economically feasible, and bring the future a bit closer. But all the data compression systems developed so far involve some degree of approximation. "We don't understand all the aspects of what a film image is yet," Michael Friend points out. "We literally don't know how much resolution there is on a film. And then how does a computer read, and rewrite, and re-allocate that information? You hear things like, 'People can't see more than 2,000 line pairs of resolution, so we don't have to achieve any more than that.' But you have to have more resolution in the original than you have in the print, and if you impose artifacts in your digital original, you might have a problem."
Technicians speak hopefully of establishing a "1:1 correspondence of digital pixel to film grain," but the fact is, nobody really knows exactly what a single film grain represents, or rather, how much image information it contains. Friend hopes to learn more when a planned new preservation center, a joint project of the UCLA Archive and the Academy, opens in Westwood in a few years. The facility will contain both state-of-the-art refrigerated storage vaults and a real laboratory for research into some of the profession's basic issues.
"My overall project," Friend explains, "is to find out how to capture the characteristics of an image. The image is an object. It is a surface. It is not three-dimensional, but it's also not a language or a code. You can encode anything, but our task is a little different, a little more Faustian. It's like capturing all the atoms or molecules of that object. It is perhaps like capturing a DNA code. It's a tall order, and it is right at the edge of what we can imagine today."
And it is, everyone agrees, a precarious edge. Increasingly, librarians, computer specialists and even futurists are sounding yet another alarm: Storing digital data on current technology presumes that the technology required to read the data will be maintained in years to come. A few years back, the original two-inch master videotapes of a pair of Fred Astaire TV specials from the 1960s were discovered festering in a musty vault. "These are the first nationally broadcast shows shot on color videotape," UCLA's Robert Rosen says, "so they were of major technological as well as aesthetic interest." Trouble was, the tapes could not be watched, because not one specimen of the requisite playback equipment survived. Luckily, a set of blueprints for the lost hardware was eventually located, in the garage of a retired engineer in New Jersey, and from these the long lost tape deck was rebuilt. We will not always be so lucky.