National Library of Scotland – Moving Image and Sound Collections


The original film was shot on 3rd October 1896 by W & D Downey who were known as one of the Queen Victoria’s favourite photographers. This is the earliest film shot in Scotland held by the archive and it was made only 10 months after the Lumiere Brothers first publicly screened their films in Paris on 28th December 1895. Unfortunately as this was a brand new technology to Mr Downey we believe he loaded the film incorrectly in the camera as the resulting image is very unstable due to a severe vertical jumping motion and blurring of the picture. As this was an original camera fault nothing could be done with the film until the development of digital restoration techniques. The Library decided to undertake a project on this film so that it could be digitally enhanced to correct the camera fault to create a more visually palatable version.

To complicate matters the 35mm print held by the Library was not pristine as the decomposition from the original nitrate was present. The original nitrate is preserved by the British Film Institute and we consulted with them to acquire a digital copy of their print. Through our research we also discovered that another print existed at Movietone and we were also granted a digital copy of that print for the project. As each individual print is damaged in unique ways due to age and projection we were able to combine the two prints digitally to present the best image quality of each frame. With over a thousand frames this was painstaking work as each frame had to be compared by the technician to determine which one was the best quality. The method we used was to assess which of the two digital copies was in the best visual condition and to use that as a base from which we could replace frames from the other print if they were of superior quality. The next step was to stabilise the vertical jumping motion from the original camera fault.

Each frame had to be stabilised manually so that the x and y axis position was fixed to the same location to eliminate the vertical jumping motion. The frames were then restored as close as possible to what they would have looked like in 1896 by removing damage marks caused by years of running the original print through a projector. This detailed work was very time consuming but also satisfying for the technician as previously unseen detail in the film emerged once the work was complete.

This digital film was made from copies of prints preserved by the BFI National Archive and Movietone News