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WARNING: Stop using Acetate Film!


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#1 Terry Mester

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 05:28 AM

WARNING: Stop using Acetate Film!

I just found this Wikipedia Article on Cellulose Triacetate Film regarding the serious problems of decay -- similar to that suffered with Nitrate Film. Although I was fully aware of the extensive problems with Nitrate Base, I must say I was taken aback to find out about the extent of problems with Acetate Base. I have however been recommending for years to switch to Polyester (ESTAR) Base, and I would strongly urge everyone to now switch to Polyester Base which is completely durable essentially forever. The concerns about a Camera getting damaged in the event of a Filmstrip 'jamming up' are ridiculous and even idiotic. The Camera will not get damaged in the time it takes to turn it off after a jam. Your film project is quite frankly more important than the Camera. Below is the HTTP Link, and also a quote of the most important parts of the Article.

http://en.wikipedia....iki/Safety_film

---------- Quote from Wikipedia Article ----------
Decay and the "vinegar syndrome"
The first instance of cellulose triacetate degradation was reported to the Eastman Kodak Company within a decade of its introduction in 1948. The first report came from the Government of India, whose film was stored in hot, humid conditions. It was followed by further reports of degradation from collections stored in similar conditions. These observations resulted in continuing studies in the Kodak laboratories during the 1960s.
Beginning in the 1980s, there was a great deal of focus upon film stability following frequent reports of cellulose triacetate degradation. This material releases acetic acid, the key ingredient in vinegar and responsible for its acidic smell. The problem became known as the "vinegar syndrome."[3]

The progression of degradation
In acetate film, acetyl (CH3CO) groups are attached to long molecular chains of cellulose. With exposure to moisture, heat, or acids, these acetyl groups break from their molecular bonds and acetic acid is released.[4] While the acid is initially released inside the plastic, it gradually diffuses to the surface, causing a characteristic vinegary smell.
The decay process follows this pattern:

* Acetic acid is released during the initial acetate base deterioration, leading to the characteristic vinegar odor. This signal marks the progression of deterioration.

* The plastic film base becomes brittle. This occurs in the advanced stages of deterioration, weakening the film and causing it to shatter with the slightest tension. These physical changes happen because cellulose acetate consists of long chains of repeating units, or polymers. When the acetic acid is released as these groups break off, the acidic environment helps to break the links between units, shortening the polymer chains and leading to brittleness.

* Shrinkage also occurs during this process. With the cellulose acetate polymer chains breaking into smaller pieces, and with their side groups splitting off, the plastic film begins to shrink. In advanced stages of deterioration, shrinkage can be as much as 10%. A 1% reduction in size renders motion picture film unusable.

* As the acetate base shrinks, the gelatin emulsion of the film does not shrink, because it is not undergoing deterioration. The emulsion and film base separate, causing buckling, referred to by archivists as 'channelling.' Sheet films are often severely channelled in the later stages of degradation.

* Crystalline deposits or liquid-filled bubbles appear on the emulsion. These are evidence of plasticizers, additives to the plastic base, becoming incompatible with the film base and oozing out on the surface. This discharge of plasticizers is a sign of advanced degradation.

* In some cases, pink or blue colors appear in some sheet films. This is caused by antihalation dyes, which are normally colorless and incorporated into the gelatin layer. When acetic acid is formed during deterioration, the acidic environment causes the dyes to return to their original pink or blue color. <END QUOTE>
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#2 Antti Näyhä

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 06:15 AM

Surely this cannot be breaking news to any film professional…?

Properly stored in archival conditions, acetate film should last at least 150–200 years before the vinegar syndrome even kicks in.
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#3 Tom Jensen

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 04:20 PM

Thanks for the heads up! lol
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#4 K Borowski

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 04:38 PM

Umm, what do you recommend as an alternative? I don't know of any current stocks available in 8mm. 16- and 35mm are only available as special orders in, I thin 500T and one other speed, 250D? There simply isn't any way to get Polyester film negative, even if you want it.

Or do you have money lying around to purhcase a special order from Kodak?
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 05:35 PM

The concerns about a Camera getting damaged in the event of a Filmstrip 'jamming up' are ridiculous and even idiotic. The Camera will not get damaged in the time it takes to turn it off after a jam. Your film project is quite frankly more important than the Camera.


If the camera jams, you are going to reshoot the shot anyway because it won't be usable at that moment whether or not it is on acetate or polyester, so in that case, I'd say at that moment that the camera IS more important than the piece of film that's going to have to be reshot anyway. And without a working camera, you can't keep shooting.

Now I admit that most cameras these days have a buckle trip so jamming immediately shuts off the camera anyway, so the concern with polyester would more be with older cameras.

I think there is also some issue with static or something as Estar stock runs at high speeds.

Anyway, it's not going to happen, film negative will be gone as an option before any industry-wide switch to Estar base happens.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 06:12 PM

I think there is also some issue with static or something as Estar stock runs at high speeds.

Anyway, it's not going to happen, film negative will be gone as an option before any industry-wide switch to Estar base happens.


I think you're right about static, or dust in general. It seems to build up on Estar prints faster than acetate. I wouldn't want to run Estar in a high-speed camera, ever, even with a trip mechanism, I can imagine a high-speed movement being totally, utterly destroyed by an Estar jam.

I like to think of Estar film base more like a thin metal than a plastic. It really does have a lot of the same properties as something made out of a very thin aluminum. The dimensional strength is great, but the inability of it to tear just creates a lot of headaches.

I can imagine in the case of a lab mishap, you'll have to digitally correct or cut around maybe a half a dozen frames. With polyester, the damned film is just going to stretch and you'll have maybe three or four feet to correct instead. Its strength is probably more of a disadvantage than an advantage.




I really wish Kodak would have come up with something else than Polyester. I'm not Polymer Scientist, but a thinner film base, that tears easily, but is very dimensionally stable, if chemically/physically possible, could replace both acetate and polyester for most applications.

As for Polyester not being adopted, you're probably right David. I think I remember seeing just a couple of SO numbers in the catalog for ECN films that were on Polyester. The switch could be made to happen before film is eliminated, but I just don't think anyone with any clout will move for it to happen.


Maybe if Terry catches the ear of Wally Pfister, it will happen, but I doubt that will happen. He's busy making movies, not analyzing them with a densitometer or under a microscope :-) For better or for worse, the care of movies after we have photographed them, is someone else's job.

Let's just hope film vault archivists place enough value in our work to YCM Archive it onto Polyester. . .
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#7 Charles MacDonald

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 08:12 PM

All most all PRINTS are on Polyester stock.

Acetate is much more friendly for editing, and will fail before the camera is damaged. Acetate can be very stable if properly stored, and properly processed. If kept in high humidity, then it can be a nightmare. Just look up some papers from the Australian Archives folks after the "Helped" some South Pacific Archives put fragile paper documents onto "stable" Acetate Microfilm.

Don't panic.
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#8 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 09:36 PM

If I were a moderator I would have deleted this thread just for the title. You are saying to stop using acetate because it only lasts hundreds of years instead of a millennia like estar? And the primary source of information is a wikki article?

This sort of shouting title and un-thought out thread is essentially noise, maybe start out with a inside voice and a better thought out synopsis of the potential lifespan and pro's and con's of material for making films and video, etc...

-Rob-
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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 12:27 PM

Rob, while I agree Terry's comment is unusual, it seems like he is coming from a home movie / enthusiast perspective, where there are 99.999% of the time no film vaults, no refrigerated storage, no humidity control, where often the basement or the attic are the only places where there is any place to put home movies.

Despite the ranting, the subject of cellulose triacetate versus polyester base is an interesting one.


You know far more than I do when it comes to printing: in terms of jamming, registration, and perforation real-world issues, which film base is more hassle-free?
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#10 Antti Näyhä

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 02:13 PM

Yeah, I agree that raising awareness about the issue in the hobbyist/enthusiast circuit is not a bad thing. Even if the film is stored in room temperature, using readily available molecular sieves helps a lot.
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#11 K Borowski

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 02:46 PM

The thing is, Terry makes it out as if the problems of hobbyists are the problems of professionals; they're not.


We're more concerned with the issues that labs, issues that Rob could better explain, affect our work in the short term.

And as David says, a jam in a camera is a jam in the camera that ruins the whole shot. It's not as if that portion before the jam will be used. The whole scene will probably get reshot and the loader will get blamed, his fault or not (ahem ahem ahem. . .).



How the film moves through a printer / 2K telecine machine and the damage that is caused by a jam THERE is of more importance than any long term or archival issues, because any studio film worth anything is YCMed and the 2K files are the master now, not the OCN anyway. . . They keep the negative to go back to, maybe in the 4K future, but in the here and now the protection of the original scans is what studios are worrying about.

There was some article within the past year I think that talked about all the hassles they have to deal with archiving digital information for major studio money-making movies. I think all of the YCMs they're making now are YCMs of the 2K files, not the OCN. But again, 200 years is plenty of time to go back to the OCN and rescan at 4K, at least the shots that don't require SFX work. In that case, it's just with SD television shows with special effects, they're pretty much limited to that resolution unless they go back and re-do EVERYTHING that involved special effects.

For better or for worse the digital finish resolution is the limiting factor now. Just as old B&W movies can't be finished in color, or 3D, or stereo sound, I think future generations are going to look back at the primitve state of scanner resolution and file sizes as an anachronism of the early 21st century.



There's nothing any of us can do about it. That is the pervue of studio executives, accountants, producers, directors to do anything about it.


But I can guarantee they aren't going to be clamoring for polyester OCNs. Whatever the lab is comfortable working with is what they'll get, be that nitrate, polyester, acetate, or styrofoam :-D
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#12 Nicholas Rapak

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 06:15 PM

Terry,

Yes, vinegar syndrome is an important concern for long-term archival storage. However, modern archivists know about the problem and are actively correcting for it. As long as you don't store your film in a hot basement in an airtight canister, your film will outlive you. Besides, even if polyester lasts for millenia, the color dyes will fade to nothing long before then.

You are also understating the problem with jams and film tear. With still film, it is one 36mm wide frame that you are advancing, and even then it can create a problem if you are using a motor winder. With motion pictures, you are exposing 24 22x16mm frames every second. If for some reason the advance mechanism on one part sticks, that part will be flying through the camera by the time you realize it.

Besides, ESTAR was invented in 1955. If cinematographers saw an advantage in using polyester as an in-camera original base, don't you think they would have petitioned Kodak?
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#13 John Sprung

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Posted 31 January 2011 - 06:57 PM

Estar is pretty amazing stuff. A friend of mine once towed a car using several wraps of old estar developing leader, and some lab splices.

As for camera damage, the big issue would be screwing up registration. If a jam did that, you wouldn't find out until dailies tomorrow. If we really wanted to use estar, it would be reasonable to drive the movement through a magnetic clutch that wouldn't pass enough torque to do any harm. Older cameras might be retrofitted with shear pins, though you'd be down until a replacement body could be delivered.




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#14 K Borowski

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 12:32 AM

John, I believe that someone towed a car with Estar, but I've seen lab splices come apart just winding or unwinding film from a platter at high speed. Of course, these were made prior to processing. If done on processed film, they're probably a lot stronger. . .


I am really curious to know what, in the case of some sort of jam or lab mishap is the worse base to work with. At least in projection, acetate moves just tear in one place, and can often be fixed without losing a single frame (although you can obviously see the tear onscreen, so that is sometimes removed). In the case of a polyester jam, you have to cut out at least a foot of film, sometimes four, five, six feet. If this were to happen to an IP or DN (worse an OCN on Estar) that could be a real nightmare to digitally fix. With acetate, losing one frame might not even be noticeable on the screen.

So, assuming they are working from 2K files on a movie and not a cut-film movie, you may have to re-record one shot, or re-dupe one shot. Whereas with estar it could be several shots that need to be re-output and pain-stakingly timed to match the rest of the movie.
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#15 Terry Mester

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 07:23 AM

If I were a moderator I would have deleted this thread just for the title. You are saying to stop using acetate because it only lasts hundreds of years instead of a millennia like estar? And the primary source of information is a wikki article?
This sort of shouting title and un-thought out thread is essentially noise, maybe start out with a inside voice and a better thought out synopsis of the potential lifespan and pro's and con's of material for making films and video, etc...

Rob,
You're thinking in terms of where you live in America. Cinematography.com is a "worldwide" Website. If you noted in the Article which you derided, this problem is worse in warmer climates like India. They cannot afford year-round refrigeration in places such as that. I believe in disseminating knowledge for those who are interested.

... Anyway, it's not going to happen, film negative will be gone as an option before any industry-wide switch to Estar base happens. ...

David, I'm not only thinking about Hollywood Studios. Individual filmmakers can make decisions for themselves. If you check the data for Kodak's MP Films, they are already available in both Acetate and ESTAR Base. It's nothing at all to switch.

BTW, out of curiosity, how many times have you suffered a camera jam, and how long does it take to discover it? A quality camera should be capable of surviving a few seconds of a jam.
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#16 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 11:08 AM

Rob,
You're thinking in terms of where you live in America. Cinematography.com is a "worldwide" Website. If you noted in the Article which you derided, this problem is worse in warmer climates like India. They cannot afford year-round refrigeration in places such as that. I believe in disseminating knowledge for those who are interested.



This does not require a "WARNING" the use of Acetate base film will not cause the Plague or the downfall of civilization. Furthermore I have had film come through Cinelab from India, Cuba and Egypt that was 40- 60 years old. Some of this film was even Nitrate and while the effects of vinegar syndrome may have been more pronounced there were perfectly intact pictures and sound which were printable or scanable. In fact I had a full feature which had resided in Cairo for maybe 40+ years that was a B&W film 35mm to 16mm blow-down with sound printed onto color stock.

Outside of my experience just look at the complete 16mm print of 'Metropolis" which was recently found in Brazil and is the only known complete edition of the film.

I just don't see the situation as being so troubling...

-Rob-
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#17 K Borowski

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 02:50 PM

Rob,
You're thinking in terms of where you live in America. Cinematography.com is a "worldwide" Website. If you noted in the Article which you derided, this problem is worse in warmer climates like India. They cannot afford year-round refrigeration in places such as that. I believe in disseminating knowledge for those who are interested.


David, I'm not only thinking about Hollywood Studios. Individual filmmakers can make decisions for themselves. If you check the data for Kodak's MP Films, they are already available in both Acetate and ESTAR Base. It's nothing at all to switch.

BTW, out of curiosity, how many times have you suffered a camera jam, and how long does it take to discover it? A quality camera should be capable of surviving a few seconds of a jam.


Terry, North America gets plenty warm in the summer too, but that isn't the point, is it? The point should be that improperly storing films is the cause of this condition, not using cellulose tri-acetate base.

And, again, I think the only two stocks I saw available in Estar bases from Kodak were '19 and '07. Do you have enough money lying around for 10- or 100,000 feet? I believe that's what a typical SO stock order minimum is. They don't just coat master rolls of this stuff and have them sitting around, in hopes that someone will buy them. I think a master roll makes 100,000 or 200,000 feet. Forget now. . .


I don't have anywhere near the set experience of someone like Dave Mullen, but whenever a magazine gets noisy, that's usually enough to cut and send the mag. back to double-check. Jams don't happen often because magazines are taken out of service before they get to that point. That isn't the problem with shooting polyester. I can certainly see, from a camera perspective polyester replacing acetate for everything but high-speed shooting.

The problem I see is with the transport characteristics, splicing requirements, propensity of polyester to pick up more dirt, gunk, and the film stretching and destroying machines before breaking.


Also, Nicholas makes a very good point: Even on polyester base, the color dyes of ECN film are still subject to fade. What's the ISO of Kodak Separation negative after running through a beam-splitter? ;-)
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#18 John Sprung

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 07:27 PM

John, I believe that someone towed a car with Estar, but I've seen lab splices come apart just winding or unwinding film from a platter at high speed.... . In the case of a polyester jam, you have to cut out at least a foot of film, sometimes four, five, six feet.


Jim used the full wrap-around and staple splices that they were using on the dark end of the machine. He may have gone with two staples in each. That kind of tow is legal on surface streets, but not on the freeway. ;-)

Polyester jams wouldn't be so bad if we drove things through magnetic clutches. Of course, on projectors, we'd have to detect the clutch slip and drop the dowser.



-- J.S.
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#19 Terry Mester

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 02:56 AM

This does not require a "WARNING" the use of Acetate base film will not cause the Plague or the downfall of civilization. Furthermore I have had film come through Cinelab from India, Cuba and Egypt that was 40- 60 years old. Some of this film was even Nitrate and while the effects of vinegar syndrome may have been more pronounced there were perfectly intact pictures and sound which were printable or scanable. ...
I just don't see the situation as being so troubling...

We'll have to agree to disagree. I view the loss of the original Camera Negatives as a cultural horror.

Terry, North America gets plenty warm in the summer too, but that isn't the point, is it? The point should be that improperly storing films is the cause of this condition, not using cellulose tri-acetate base.
And, again, I think the only two stocks I saw available in Estar bases from Kodak were '19 and '07. ...
... The problem I see is with the transport characteristics, splicing requirements, propensity of polyester to pick up more dirt, gunk, and the film stretching and destroying machines before breaking.
Also, Nicholas makes a very good point: Even on polyester base, the color dyes of ECN film are still subject to fade.

Karl, the Dyes in the Film are a whole lot more durable than the Acetate Base -- e.g. Kodachrome. The problem of "deacetylation" or "vinegar syndrome" of Acetate Base not only causes the destruction of the Base, but this acetic acid will also damage the Dyes! Acetate Base cannot be retired soon enough! The following Negative Stocks are available on ESTAR: VISION3 250D, VISION3 200T and VISION3 500T.

You're absolutely correct that North America gets very hot summers which is all the more reason to switch to Polyester / ESTAR. Modern Polyester Base won't be prone to stretching, and its strength is highly valued in projection. The reason Nitrate Base lasted so long was because early Acetate Bases were too brittle. As far as dirt and gunk, a Camera should be air-tight to keep dust out, and Developing Labs need to be scrupulous in washing down developed films. I've had to go through my Super8 Films to wipe away dried on gunk. That's the fault of the Lab -- not the Film. (NOTE my past Thread: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=40428)
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#20 K Borowski

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 09:09 AM

Kodachrome dyes, one layer in particular, forget which now, are actually the LEAST stable dyes when films are subject to continual projection.



Can you get any of those Vision stocks you mention outside of a hundred-thousand foot special order? Last I was aware they were all listed as "special order items." If it's the same based used for the current ECP films, I can assure you, it will not tear in the event of a jam, it will stretch, creating all sorts of problems and damage that has to be dealt with.
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