Project Description

Approached by award winning natural history production company, Off The Fence, the team at Nulight Studios were asked if they could digitise and restore historic 65mm film footage of the volcanic eruption of Mount St Helens for a brand new archive documentary for National Geographic.

Historic Eruption Caught on 65mm Film

One of the deadliest eruptions in U.S history, this year marked the 40th anniversary since the famous volcano Mount St. Helens exploded – flattening the surrounding 135 square miles and killing 57 people. Amazingly captured at the time on 65mm negative film by giant screen cinema production company, Graphic Films, the only surviving copies were a worn projection print and the camera original negative split across 20,000 ft of A and B rolls.

After the film makers, Paul Navros and Ammiel Najar, agreed to license the film, Nulight had the mammoth task of transforming these huge rolls of film that were originally intended for IMAX projection over 40 years ago.

Film Digitised to 6K Resolution

With each reel over 2000 ft long and weighing 7kg, the first challenge was to transport the precious film safely from the United States to the Nulight scanning facilities in Bristol. Accompanied by a media transportation specialist, the team received hourly updates as the unique reels made their way across the Atlantic.

The restoration started with the painstaking process of close inspection before scanning; looking carefully over every reel for tears, loose joins and any other damage that needed repair. Fortunately, apart from some minor age-related wear and water spots, the film was in great condition. However plenty of loose dirt and dust needed to be removed from its surface with careful ultrasonic cleaning.

The next step was then to begin the film scanning using our Golden Eye 4 film scanner – one of only a few film scanners in the UK capable of scanning IMAX film. Digitising at 6K resolution meant that the film had a level of detail that would have not even been possible during the original cinema screening, revealing details in the film never before seen. To achieve optimal exposure each reel was scanned at 2 frames per second – a process that took a total of 10 days to complete.

Rare Volcano Footage Aired in New Nat Geo Doc

After each of these meticulous processes were completed sections of the film were selected by producers at Off The Fence for digital restoration and inclusion in the documentary.

Amy Twomey, production manager at Off The Fence said:

‘We were extremely pleased with the flexible, attentive and high level of service from Sam and his team at Nulight Studios. They handled the very precious IMAX negative with great care; from the initial inspection of the film, overseeing the ultrasonic clean and then doing a very impressive job on the 6K best light transfer.’

“Surviving The Mount St Helens Disaster” was broadcast on National Geographic in the US on 9th July 2020, and in the UK on 2nd September.