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Behind the Scenes: Motion Film Project

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Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, motion film, environment, Chicago Film Archives, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust

Created: 7/27/2013      Updated: 9/1/2015
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The Academy’s museum collection and archives includes 1,371 motion films that were created between the early 1920s and the 1970s. These original films document local ecosystems and plants and animals in their natural habitats.

Motion film is highly susceptible to deterioration caused by temperature and humidity. With help from the Chicago Film Archives, these films are being described and catalogued, having simple repairs made, and rehoused with archival storage containers for long-term preservation. Thank you to the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust, and to individual donors for their support of this stage of the project!

After the films are catalogued and stabilized, we will embark on the next phase: to increase the accessibility of the collection. Utilizing the original films would damage or even destroy them. Creating a digital copy of the films will allow the footage to be used and the original film to be protected.

Here are some shots of the transformation of our film collection:

Old film containers

Many of the films were stored in metal canisters.

Original metal reels

Original metal reels caused breakage to the films and were susceptible to rust, resulting in chemical deterioration of the films. Some films had adhesive labels stuck to the sides, and the adhesive residue transferred to the films causing them to stick together.

stack of 100' rolls in yellow boxes

Stacks of small cardboard boxes with original 100’ rolls of film. Materials like this cause damage to films through acid migration.

35mm films with boxes

agfa 35mm films

leather bound film container used for storage and mailing

Leather bound film container used for storage and mailing.

film showing signs of vinegar syndrome

Some of the films suffer from vinegar syndrome, deterioration caused by humidity. The film exhibits warping and gives off a “vinegary” smell.

recanning process

Each film is wound onto an archival core, outfitted with a new leader, and then given an archival canister.

archived film in cannisters

Here are films that have been completely catalogued and rehoused. The new archival containers provide an inert micro-environment that helps stabilize the films and protect them from further deterioration.

Dawn Roberts
Collections Manager

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