‘Digital Vision is a company that has gone through big changes over the past few years,’ says newly-appointed Managing Director Kelvin Bolah. ‘The company has grown tenfold since 2006. With an annual net revenue of 10 million euro, it’s now an established brand in the small world of audio-visual production. The company’s success has spread from its home base in Stockholm, Sweden to epicentres of the film industry such as London, and Hollywood. At the end of a two year Eurostars research project in 2011, Digital Vision had greatly diversified its portfolio and is now offering a variety of imaging services.’
Apocalypse Now remastered
The company’s main activities still focus in film and television. Eurostars, the first European funding and support programme to be specifically dedicated to research-performing SMEs, allowed it to maintain the position it has in the business. One of the company’s leading products is Phoenix, a software application used for the restoration of old movies. ‘The Eurostars VIDEOSTAR project, which was led by Digital Vision, was the occasion for us to fine-tuning Phoenix for video restoration,’ says Bolah, making it ‘the best tool of its kind currently available.’
An impressive list of movies has recently been restored thanks to the Phoenix technology, including Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Killing, Apocalypse now, The English Patient and the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. On the client front can be found a number of the world’s most prestigious studios, such as Telson in Madrid, which used Phoenix to restore all the reels of Almodovar’s early works, Éclair in Paris and Criterion in New York. And the potential market extends well beyond refreshing a few golden oldies: European and North American broadcast archives contain some 100 million hours of professional material on videotape.
The company has grown tenfold since 2006.
The findings of EU-led research published in 2001, and in which project partners Studio Hamburg and CubeTec also took part, were troubling: most audiovisual materials deteriorate after 20-30 years and an estimated 40%-70% of existing material is in danger of disappearing by 2025. The sheer scale of the demand for video restoration makes it a very lucrative business and revenue expectations are high: for the three partners the total additional turnover expected in three years as a result of the project is 12 million euro, more than ten times the initial public funding allocated to the project by Eurostars.
Reaching new heights
For CubeTec, a small company specialising in restoration of old tapes and vinyl, it was also the opportunity to break into the image business, as audio-only restoration became saturated over recent years. Dr. Joerg Houpert, CubeTec’s Technical Director, explains the purpose of the project: ‘The technology developed in VIDEOSTAR addresses a specific need of the film and audiovisual industries - the rapid restoration of video-archives.’ Even though they can stay untouched for years, nowadays the time-span between the commissioning of a restoration job and its actual broadcast is extremely short, it’s hard to keep up with demand.’
This was not achieved as much by the development of new technologies as through the adaptation of existing ones to the needs of the broadcasting industry, and combining the research results in different fields. ‘The VIDEOSTAR team for the first time developed a single workstation that restores both audio and video. Although this sounds simple, it had never been done before,’ says Peter Stansfield, an independent consultant to the project. ‘In the past, image and audio restoration was performed separately, by two different and very specialised operators. Now both processes are included in a single software for the first time, which is why we’re ahead of state-of-the-art,’ adds Dr. Houpert.
Eurostars helped us to do what big companies do.
Another aim of the project was to adapt old movies to meet the tastes of modern audiences. We have rising expectations in terms of media quality, due to our experience of HDTV and the higher quality images that are provided by today’s television screens. Beyond restoration, VIDEOSTAR was, ‘about remastering the work of the greatest film directors,’ Houpert tells us. Consequently, the project also had a more purely scientific side to it, ‘a large part of the research was dedicated to the way the human eye and ear process signals,’ he says.
Small businesses going abroad
The project was particularly successful as an international undertaking, a difficult step for small companies to take. ‘The project was the start of the excellent relationship that we now have with Studio Hamburg, a major post production and broadcast services provider that supplied video material for the research,’ says Bolah, ‘Studio Hamburg was the point of entry to reach new markets at an international level.’
VIDEOSTAR was in fact a test for the company’s capacity to develop international R&D activities. ‘Before the start of the project we acquired Nucoda, a British company. VIDEOSTAR has been a perfect test bed for the capacity of our Swedish and English engineering teams to work together on a common project, not to mention the collaboration with German partners,’ says Bolah. ‘Eurostars helped us to do what big companies do,’ concludes Houpert. ‘Bring research to product level, work internationally and get industry recognition.’