Telecine: preparing 16mm film for television broadcast
Once the editing of a television film has been completed, it is ready to be broadcast. However, because film is an analogue medium and television is electronic, this process requires a technological transformation.
Film must now be run through a telecine machine – a high-quality optical scanner which is used to transfer analogue picture and sound to an electronic video recording medium, reading for broadcast transmission.
Today this step is rarely required: a great deal of new television material is ‘born digital’ – shot on digital cameras – and programmes shot on film are invariably edited using computer software.
Before the 1980s, however, it was still the norm for television broadcasters to receive completed documentaries and drama productions on reels of film. Telecine operators had the task of scanning these films onto tape, ready for their later broadcast.
The telecine process
In this series of videos, BBC telecine operator Tim Emblem-English demonstrates the use of a Rank Cintel Mark III telecine film scanner.
He transfers film footage that was shot by a 16mm ex-BBC film crew and subsequently processed by i-dailies.
Tim loads the processed colour negative onto the rollers of the telecine machine and adjusts it to suit the requirements of the film. Colour negative film needs more illumination than other types of film, and so he increases the intensity of the machine’s light beam.
When he is happy that the film is loaded correctly and the telecine scanner is set up correctly, Tim moves to a remote control desk from which he can control the scanning process.
With the film correctly loaded, Tim now makes adjustments to the colour balance of the pictures on the film. He demonstrates the control knobs which can be used to change gamma response and colour saturation. The settings he choses can be saved by a computer linked to the telecine scanner.
As Tim spools through the film, an audible tone generated by the Digigrade colour grading computer alerts Tim to a change of scene, prompting him to make further adjustments to the scanner’s colour balance setting.
Tim programmes these changes into the computer. By the end of the reel he has entered settings for 17 different sections of film. The computer will automatically apply these colour grading choices as the film is scanned through the telecine machine.
Tim presses “record” on the edit controller in the suite and the film runs through the telecine scanner, transferring a complete, unbroken recording of the footage to Digibeta videotape.
While this takes place, Tim watches various monitors which enable him to compare the footage the scanner sees on film with the pictures being transferred to videotape.
Now transferred to videotape, the film footage is ready for broadcast transmission – or, in this case, transfer to a computer system for sharing online.