Anyone who works on a production for a movie, TV or animation studio knows the story. While most things are born digital today, historically, many physical items have come out of studio productions — set pieces, drawings, animation cels, costumes, scripts, script notes, photographs and photographic negatives that haven’t been seen in years (or maybe ever) to name a few. It’s possible to find an entire treasure trove of heritage going back decades that has infinite repurposing potential. Think company or project promos, retrospectives, in-venue and experiential displays, research, reference material and so much more.
But to be useful, those historic items must make their way out of storage and into your content management system, where they are searchable and accessible by your creative teams. That means they must be digitized, just like your company has probably already done with its film, video and audio assets. And that takes a strategic effort and the right equipment.
Sometimes the same departments that will benefit from these assets are also charged with the cost of digitization. If yours is one of them, then you might be wondering where to start with such a monumental task?
Simply put, preserve the integrity of your original items by handling them as little as possible. If you do it right, then you’ll only need to take them out of long-term storage and digitize them once, but you can repurpose them forever.
Additionally, rather than scanning items for a single purpose today, think about the end-to-end content management process and the longevity of the material. Make sure your digital assets meet all the necessary standards for repurposing. It might seem obvious, but if you are going through the effort to digitize your heritage assets, then maximize your return and the longevity of the end product by using the highest possible resolution. Some digitization providers use hardware that can deliver images as high as 14K — well above the 6K imagery we’re just starting to see today — with massive dynamic range. This will cover your present and future needs. Likewise, make sure your images are consistent from shot to shot and offer a lot of latitude for whatever tone and effects might be applied to them later.
With that in mind, you have two main options: You can either digitize in-house, or you can work with a third-party service provider. The option you choose depends largely on your team’s level of expertise and how much time and human resources you can devote to the digitization effort.
If your in-house team has the required digitization knowledge and skills, then you might opt for digitizing in-house. In that case, the next biggest factor is equipment. The right equipment will not only yield the highest-quality images for repurposing and preservation, but it will make the job much easier.
Consider this: The greatest expense in any digitization program is staff (aka sweat equity). You can reduce that cost by choosing hardware that is purpose-built for heritage digitization and designed with ergonomics, ease of use, efficiency and modularity in mind. You should expect your hardware vendor to provide professional installation, system integration, workflow design and optimization strategies, as well as user training after installation is complete so your staff can immediately begin digitizing your collections with confidence. Highly-trained specialists should remain available throughout your project to analyze your files and troubleshoot issues with you as they arise.
If you don’t have the on-site expertise to execute your project, there is no need to worry; you can hire a service provider to digitize your collection for you, either at your facility or theirs. With a service provider, you’ll want to consider their expertise and the equipment they use. When choosing the right experts to support your digitization program, look for a provider well-versed in collections management, professional photography and systems integration. A team with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities can also help you offset the cost of metadata creation, which can take your internal team weeks or months to input manually. The right service provider will also work with you to determine a workflow and deliverable timeline that fits seamlessly into your organization.
Once they’re digitized and in your content-management system, your heritage assets become accessible (at your discretion) to internal and external stakeholders for a wide range of uses. That’s why — whether you digitize in-house or work with a third party — it’s so important to choose a digitization partner with a track record of creating preservation-grade digital assets and with the advanced in-house ability to apply new technologies, like AI and ML. AI and ML technologies — such as optical character, object type and facial recognition — improve the quantity and quality of your metadata on a much faster timeline with next to no person power. The big benefits are lower costs and enhanced access to your collection, which helps your stakeholders quickly uncover the right gems for their projects.
Many powerhouse facilities have used advanced equipment and specialized workflows to turn physical artifacts of all shapes, sizes and ages — posters; documents; 3D models; flat objects; and bound, loose, reflective, and oversized materials — into digital assets. As a result, they’ve been able to create new interactive experiences for audiences; inspire new films, TV shows, news stories and documentaries; develop new promotions or other brand-building efforts; generate new licensing opportunities; capitalize on the public’s appetite for nostalgia; preserve their IP, artwork and history; and much more.
Any facility, large or small, can benefit from digitization. Many organizations often have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of these historical assets. Going digital with your heritage breathes new life into your assets and gives you loads of new compelling and awe-inspiring content for your next production project.
For information on digitization equipment and services — and how to choose the best combination for your company — contact DT Heritage
. Media and entertainment companies count on our game-changing imaging equipment, decades of collective expertise in heritage imaging and preservation, and unmatched training and support to bring their analog assets into the digital realm. And some of them outsource the whole digitization project to DT Heritage through our full-service sister company,
To learn more about the hardware and service offerings by Digital Transitions, you can download our Planning a Digitization Program Guide, Heritage Solutions Guide, and Film Scanning Brochure for free here
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Peter Siegel is a co-owner of Digital Transitions, provider of high-end digitization solutions. He has developed technology purpose-built for the specialized needs of heritage collections. Before founding Digital Transitions, he led digital imaging at the Harvard Art Museums and Fine Arts Library and the American Museum of Natural History.