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20 Years of Movie Titles were filmed in 4K and nobody bothered to save them

by on September 24, 2014
 

by Stephan Jukic – September 24, 2014

One of the biggest complaints so far about 4K has been the dearth of really varied content in the resolution format. Sure, there are assorted TV shows, movies and live events now being filmed in the latest 4K cameras for the sake of display and transmission but we’re still looking at meager offerings in comparison to what Full HD 1080p has to give.

Given that 4K has been around as a video shooting capability for several years even in digital, the lack of content seems odd.

Well the main part of the mystery has been solved thanks to some recent and very interesting revelations.

According to veteran film industry figure Joe Kane, who’s been working for over a couple of decades in Hollywood, 4K has been around for a long time but it just never got saved.

According to Kane, who is also a former chair of the SMPTE Working Group on Professional and Studio Monitors, the post production community has been filming many of their movies in real Cinema Grade 4096 X 2160 pixel resolution and then simply downsizing it to a much smaller 2K format for archiving without bothering to save the original real 4K footage simply because they were…. “Completely unaware of 2160p coming.”

Kane further elaborated by explaining that, “As much as we’ve been producing in the 4K format, we didn’t store it because nobody thought we were ever going to use it! We would shoot in legitimate 4096 x 2160, produce in 4K but then archive in 2K.” He claims that the post production departments of the major studios then simply dumped the original 4K shots because they never assumed the resolution was going to actually arrive on the mass market as it’s doing now.

This helps explain studios, which have been working in the digital 4K format for more than 20 years, have hardly anything except for the most recent of movies to show for it. Only recently, once it became clear that 4K display resolution might really be a serious thing, have studios also begun filming in Ultra HD and actually saving their footage in the same format.

Previous to this, storing all that massive extra pixel data was considered a waste, especially considering that cheap, powerful storage media itself has only been easy to access for a bit less than a decade.

Eastman Kodak released some of the first film scanners that were able to scan at 4096 x 2160 resolution all the way back in 1992 and the first movie to be processed in 4K was actually Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all the way back in 1993. The original film as digitized to 4K, processed, cleaned up and then downgraded back to a much smaller digital resolution that fit the technology of the time and the original 4K scan was simply erased.

This same pattern was repeated with hundreds or possibly thousands of movies since then and is only now being regarded as the mistake it might have been.

Godzilla in 4K

Older movies like Godzilla could see a major position in 4K reprocessing

Interestingly –and this is why the original 4K processing was so effective– movies filmed with chemical film reels since as far back as the 50’s and possibly before that are all naturally 4K ready, at leas their film reels are. The chemical film used for almost all older movies, particularly super 35 mm film gave a resolution that went well beyond 4k and all the way into 8k territory, but up until the last few years, the technology to actually display these features has not existed. Now that it does, studios can and in some cases already are processing old classics into beautiful digital 4K format.

Story by 4k.com

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  • Stoshy
    July 6, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Digital films are going to look like crap when they are “remastered” and rereleased for higher resolution TVs, when displays push way past 4K in the future. Bahahaha…

    I think it’s fair to assume that when it comes to film as a medium, higher resolutions will be able to be captured from source media for rereleases to be enjoyed for years to come. Digital, for the near future, will continue to be limited by the technology of its day. For those mentioned in this article, it’s cost of storage space, missing compatible playback devices, and lack of foresight for potential redistribution affected their choices for archival.

    Technology is catching up. Digital devices & mediums are already rivaling results from 35mm film and cameras. Hopefully they learned from their mistakes when it comes to filming and archival. There is simply no fun watching a VHS or DVD movie on a 1080p TV. It’s horrendous on a 4K display. Even the best upscaling software on displays destroys the quality, leaving a blocky, pixelated picture.

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  • Dan Beaulard
    October 9, 2016 at 7:58 am

    “According to Kane, who is also a former chair of the SMPTE Working Group on Professional and Studio Monitors, the post production community has been filming many of their movies in real Cinema Grade 4096 X 2160 pixel resolution and then simply downsizing it to a much smaller 2K format for archiving without bothering to save the original real 4K footage simply because they were…. “Completely unaware of 2160p coming.”

    No, this is all wrong. Nobody was producing movies in digital 4K 20 years ago. Digital movies didn’t really take of until 2006 or so when RED jumpstarted the business. What this is all about is shooting on film and then *scanning* that film. Well, they can simply scan those films again and as scanner technology has improved over the years, the result might actually be better than 20 years ago.

    Also, unlike what Stoshy says above you cannot simply keep scanning old movies on celluloid and catch up with the latest resolution. Super35 holds about 3K of information in the real world – not some ideal circumstances lab test fabricated by Kodak – 35mm will top out at about 4K and 65mm will hold about 8K. And that’s only the negative, the postive will hold only about half that. If 8K really becomes the de facto standard for television in the developed world, then both 35mm film and digital 4K originals are in serious trouble for they cannot keep up. Even if you simply rescan that 35mm it won’t give you 8K quality because it’s just not there.

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  • EthericBLiss
    June 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    I would just be happy with a 420p version of the freaking MOON LANDING… LOOOL!!! : D

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