Can Artificial Intelligence Revolutionize Heritage Film Restoration? Industry Experts Weigh In
The potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance and transform the restoration and preservation of heritage cinema was a topic of heated debate at the Classic Film Market, held alongside the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon. A panel of experts delved into the possibilities offered by AI algorithms and their ability to archive and identify elements within vast catalogues of audiovisual content.
Barbara Mutz, from France’s National Audiovisual Institute (INA), highlighted the benefits of in-house AI algorithms in indexing and locating images and sound. This makes it easier for both INA and its users to access the vast catalogue of content. Mutz also stressed the usefulness of AI tools for the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication in studying gender parity.
In the realm of film restoration, AI algorithms can identify common imperfections found in damaged films, such as scratches, dirt, and flickering, using extensive databases. Rodolphe Chabrier, co-founder of French VFX powerhouse Mac Guff, emphasized the potential of AI to not only restore damaged images but also interpret and improve them. This means that the quality achieved through restoration can surpass the original expectations of filmmakers like the Lumière Brothers.
However, the debate also raised questions about the limits of correction and the need for transparency. Institutions like INA aim to preserve heritage and promote accessibility to archival content. They focus on enhancing the quality of poor-quality archives, rather than attempting to reconstitute films. It is vital to maintain traceability back to the original material.
One application of AI technology discussed during the debate was the resurrection of historic and deceased celebrities. Mac Guff’s César-winning generative AI tool, Face Engine, was used to bring back legendary French actor Jean Gabin for an interview on a television show. While the technology raises questions about the use of original datasets to develop AI algorithms, Chabrier believes it is the responsibility of film producers to navigate clearance rights.
The discussion highlighted the potential for AI to offer new perspectives on filmmaking and images of the past. By working as an artistic partner, AI can bring a fresh approach to the creative process. Film journalist Julien Dupuy referred to Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old as an example of using AI to present original World War I footage in a new and immersive way.
The opinions of artists themselves on the role of AI in filmmaking vary. Lumière laureate Tim Burton expressed concerns about the technology, describing it as sucking something from the soul or psyche, implying a loss of humanity. However, others view AI as a tool for inspiration rather than replication, similar to visiting a museum as an artist seeking inspiration.
As the field of AI continues to evolve, the potential for its application in heritage film restoration is significant. While there are ethical and creative considerations, AI algorithms have already proven their ability to enhance and revitalize old films, breathing new life into our cinematic heritage.
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