It’s a bit like what wafers are to digital photography: chemicals and mechanical processes, the heart of the production of photographic film, are a kind of analog photography’s wafers. Just like the production of wafers that push the bounds of image sensor quality, making a good photographic film is a highly complex process involving a series of steps that will determine the quality of the film. You might remember Italian kickstarter project Ferrania. They’re about to restart production of analog film, with a high-precision piece of industrial machinery they call Little Boy. And boy, the machine was decommissioned nearly 10 years and is dirty. As contamination (oxidation, dust, residues from past usage) is film’s biggest enemy, they need brushes, sponges, good soap and strong backs to get dirty Little Boy going again.
You can follow the process on Ferrania’s dispatches. The steps to produce photographic film involve the following:
- Acetate: The standard base for both photographic and motion picture film is Cellulose Triacetate (CTA). To start a coating run, large spools of CTA are threaded through the machine.
- Emulsion: The emulsion consists of many layers of sensitized chemical compounds and gelatin. Each layer in coated in precise thicknesses onto the CTA base.
- Extruder: The extruder deposits layers of emulsion in the proper order. Tolerances are in the range of nanometers (1mm = 1,000,000nm) and even the slightest miscalibration can ruin the entire coating run.
- Chiller: For a few moments, the fluid layers are separated only by laws of rheology. As the film moves through the chiller, this separation is reinforced, “gelling” the layers as they continue into the drying tunnel.
- Drying Tunnel: Before the coated film can be spooled, it must be completely dry. The roller system serves to lengthen the tunnel to provide appropriate drying time based on the specific speed of the film through the extruder.
- Final Coated Mini-Jumbo: Little Boy can produce a single “mini-Jumbo” in about two hours. The mini-Jumbo is approximately 23cm wide and 750m long with a usable area of 20cm x 660m. Ferrania needs 10 to 12 mini-Jumbos to produce their first ASA 100 Primo Lotto film.
The philosophy of the Italians behind the project is simple. They aim for nothing less than fundamentally changing the way we buy, use and process film today. Most importantly, they aim to restore confidence in the future of analog film.
Ferrania’s two co-founders Nicola Baldini and Marco Pagni say:
We are people who love film, you are people who love film, and people have the power. So let’s do this!
+++ For everything about Film Ferrania, visit www.filmferrania.it.