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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Jerky movement of old newsreel film


Moonraker
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Up to the 1970s or thereabouts, old newsreel coverage of the Great War played on TV always showed troops moving in a jerky manner, and posed shots of a group of people always seemed to have them bobbing and grinning in an almost comical way. This wasn't confined to war coverage, of course, but a feature of all news coverage of the period and an effect of the primitive cinematographic process of the day.

Then someone found a way of eliminating the jerkiness, so today when we see old film on TV everyone is moving normally.

Presumably cinema audiences in the Great War saw the jerkiness, and this wasn't a feature of old film being incompatible with the equipment that played it on to TV?

And were the first feature films, often entirely filmed in studios, also jerky?

Moonraker

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I think the turning point was a lavish TV series that I remember from the late 70s or early 80s on the silent days of Hollywood that was the first to recognise that the cranking speed was important and gear down the projection speeds. It was a failure not of the primative cinematographic process ('Birth of a Nation' was hardly primative), but of the later equipment to reproduce the earlier conditions and a failure for anyone to care that much about the silent films, or any type.

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Quite simply the standard frame rate was increased (probably around the time sound came along - possibly a little earlier) as this increased the "quality". Newer projectors used the higher frame rate - hence the "rushing around too fast and very jerky". All that was done was to play them back at the older slower speed. I suspect in the modern age digital technology has helped - probably reducing the length of the "gap" between successive images and increasing the "length" of the images themselves. In essence on screen one has projected and image then a (dark) gap then another image but the gap is so short that image persistence in the eye virtually covers the gap. At the slower speeds originally used visual persistence only just covered the gap which could give rise to some "flickering". It was this phenomena which prompted the increase in frame rate. Of course it also mean that you used more film as it passed through the gate faster.

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Quite simply the standard frame rate was increased (probably around the time sound came along - possibly a little earlier) as this increased the "quality". Newer projectors used the higher frame rate - hence the "rushing around too fast and very jerky". All that was done was to play them back at the older slower speed. I suspect in the modern age digital technology has helped - probably reducing the length of the "gap" between successive images and increasing the "length" of the images themselves. In essence on screen one has projected and image then a (dark) gap then another image but the gap is so short that image persistence in the eye virtually covers the gap. At the slower speeds originally used visual persistence only just covered the gap which could give rise to some "flickering". It was this phenomena which prompted the increase in frame rate. Of course it also mean that you used more film as it passed through the gate faster.

New Zealand film director Peter Jackson did quite a lot of work on the Ashmead Bartlett footage from Gallipoli and - according to a newspaper report in the not too distant past - built some kind of software (well, his techies did!) that took the jumpiness out. I had a wee look for the article on the same, but couldn't find it. I'll have a scout around and see what turns up.

Andy M

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To transfer film to video, the footage has to be "Telecined". As part of this, a pattern/rhythm of frames is copied to video in order to make up for the difference in frame rates between film and video. There are a couple of different patterns used in this process, but the final effect is relatively smooth running video footage. After that, software can be used to enhance it and play around with it too.

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If I remember right the Daily Mail blurb accompanying 'The Great War' DVD give-away, this 1964 series resolved the problem (I'm not saying they were the first). The technicalities are beyond me :o - but doogal's explanation sounds right.

Jim

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The original crude Telecine machines comprised a TV camera pointing at the output from a film projector; however With modern scanning technology, cheap memory and fast computers, film can now be scanned (digitized), and stored easily and quickly frame by frame (I won't say cheaply though); Once this has been done, as doogal has already said, sophisticated software can be used to analyse, enhance & manipulate the images either on an individual basis, or of a whole sequence. Using similar techniques to those used in computer animation, it is possible to automatically generate and insert new intermediate frames (effectively re-shooting the sequence at a much faster frame rate) which will then eliminate any flicker and jerkiness on playback at normal speed. Similar affects can be carried out with colour with, for example, colours being assigned to an object on the first frame of a sequence and then processed automatically to add it to that object on subsequent frames; I believe, that this may be how the colour in the WWI in colour series, recently offered by the Daily telegraph on DVD, may have come about. Although I say "automatically" above there would still be a large amount of "fine fettling" required by hand - or more correctly keyboard & mouse - before the desired final results are achieved. Conversely, similar techniques can be used to convert modern footage to make it appear old, even to the extent of adding scratches and other blemishes. It used to be said that the camera never lied - today, unfortunately (and doubtless something that will have future historians pulling their hair out), nothing could be further from the truth!

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And were the first feature films, often entirely filmed in studios, also jerky?

I don't think they were - once a steady and reliable motor was in operation, I think it would have been OK - the series about "Mitchell and Kenyon", the pioneer film makers went into some detail about this, and also about the way that their discovered films had been telecined and processed in order to get smooth running picture.

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As I understand it, the "old" films used a rate of 16 frames per second while the "new" ones use 24 frames per second (television uses 25 which is close enough not to matter).

Playing a 16 fps film at 24 fps results in a 50% increase in speed. The earliest method of fixing the problem was simply to print every other frame twice.

John

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As I understand it, the "old" films used a rate of 16 frames per second while the "new" ones use 24 frames per second (television uses 25 which is close enough not to matter).

Playing a 16 fps film at 24 fps results in a 50% increase in speed. The earliest method of fixing the problem was simply to print every other frame twice.

John

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As I understand it, the "old" films used a rate of 16 frames per second while the "new" ones use 24 frames per second (television uses 25 which is close enough not to matter).

Playing a 16 fps film at 24 fps results in a 50% increase in speed. The earliest method of fixing the problem was simply to print every other frame twice.

John

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And apologies for the triple posting. I did it at work and we have the Spawn OF The Devil - sorry I mean The Consultants in messing about with out internet connection ...

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I just saw D. W. Griffith's Intolerance. This was a film he created on a grand scale, and in response to the criticism of his film Birth of a Nation (1916). It was shot during the first World War years.

A gentleman who came to introduce the film said he was from London, England, and an expert on silent film. He ran the projector for the screening. (He was Patrick Stanbury of Photoplay Productions).

During his introduction to the film, he commented on the issue of speeds. As noted in earlier posts on this thread, the jerkiness we see now is a result of running the films on modern equipment.

This expert explained that in this particular film the speed would change around 22 times, so he would have to manually readjust the equipment speed. The film was extensively cut and recut in an editing process and apparently the speed was different in each segment.

The films I saw at this silent film festival seemed to appear at a normal speed when the adjustments were made by film historians. The main "jerkiness" I saw was more from the hand-held camera. Even if someone today tries to take a hand held home movie - there is an slight jerkiness and unprofessional look.

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Thanks all for this it is something that has puzzled me too. Can I ask another related question - I don't think it takes us entirely off topic. Colour films of WW1 that have recently appeared - were these shot in colour or is it some hi-tech wizardry?

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