The films themselves are sometimes spectacular, especially for their vintage.
A still from one of the microcinematography efforts
Maybe you saw them in a kid at school—time lapse color microcinema footage of biological processes like plants growing and flowers blooming, shot from 1967 to the mid-1970s with $20 million from the National Science Foundation, part of the nation’s science education race against the Soviet Union.
Post Logic Studios, a Hollywood-based division of Prime Focus Group, is now completing restoration of more than 80 one-of-a-kind short films developed by world-renowned scientists.
They were originally intended to be archived at the Library of Congress, and are even listed in the catalog, but were never delivered after the NSF funds became depleted.
Ranging from three to 20 minutes, the films were shot in the late sixties by a team led by British natural history filmmaker Joseph V. Durden, and produced under the direction of some of the world's leading scientific experts, many of whom are now deceased.
One film provides view of Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini, who turned 100 this year, and her pioneering work with nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein substance that attracts regenerating nerve cells. Another depicts the live meeting of sperm and egg in ferns, exemplifying plant sexuality. One 14-minute film narrated by Durden displays all six developmental stages of the population explosion potential of a flatworm, Cryptocotyle lingua, which is similar to a parasite that causes liver fluke disease in humans, and is invaluable to researchers and students of parasitology.
Evolutionist and distinguished University of Massachusetts professor Lynn Margulis has been using a selection of the EDC films each semester since she first began her Environmental Evolution course at Boston University in 1972. The prints eventually became faded and discolored, and were retired to the non-book section at the Smith College library, while the film masters, thought to be lost, languished in a Massachusetts warehouse.
"These films are timeless national treasures, and even with funding equivalent to 100 times the original National Science Foundation grant they could not be recreated," Margulis commented. "Evolution is a slow process, and the cells and tissue interactions of organisms do not change, even over millennia. I consider the restoration of these films for delivery to the Library of Congress to be my most important contribution to the world of science."
Working on a Spirit DataCine film scanner, Post Logic colorist Alex Berman cleaned and digitized the 16mm films, painstakingly balancing the black, white and mid-range tones to achieve the final look of the source material. "The important thing was to maintain the integrity of the original prints," he said. "We wanted to make these films a pleasure to view without changing any of the natural coloration. The goal was to push a little more light through so everything looks vibrant and sharp. The Spirit captures so much detail, which is great because it really highlights the features of the cells-the particles inside are nice and clear."
"The biggest challenge working with these microscopic images was the lack of any external references," Berman said. "If you see a car, you know that the tire should be black, but there are no visual references like that for a cell. This makes it much more difficult to know for certain that the colors have been balanced correctly."
Post Logic Studios www.postlogic.com