Second Story render for ACMI’s Media Preservation Lab - hero image
Second Story render for ACMI’s Media Preservation Lab
Stories & Ideas

Fri 13 Sep 2019

Candice Cranmer
Candice Cranmer

Time-based Media Conservator

Currently closed for a major renewal, ACMI’s Federation Square venue will re-open in 2020 with an ambitious new offer. A key feature will be the purpose-built Media Preservation Lab (MPL) we’re designing with BKK and Second Story to give new visibility to ACMI’s Collection, conservation practices and the collaborative nature of this work.


Second Story render for ACMI’s Media Preservation Lab


Through a glass Wunderkammer of moving image Collection artefacts, visitors will be privy to our once hidden conservation activities. Our digital preservation, digitisation and time-based media (TBM) conservation will be on display and on programmed open days visitors will be welcomed into the MPL to engage with our preservation specialists.

For the first time, visitors will be able to see and experience some of the most significant artefacts from the Collection which has amassed over 250 000 items since collecting began over 70 years ago. Not only do we hold the State Film Centre collection (education, government and a range of independent films) but also film and TV artefacts, an array of moving image formats (analogue and born digital), experimental films, home movies, videogames and a rich collection of time-based media artworks.


The sheer mass and diversity of this Collection makes us the custodians of a wide a range of materials and subsequently an array of conservation challenges. Some of the most pressing threats are not the result of biodeterioration in aged analogue formats (some donations of cellulose acetate film have been deteriorating in humid garages for decades!), but from newer technologies and born digital formats.

Still from Home Movie Collection suffering from data degradation

Still from Home Movie Collection suffering from data degradation

Digital data or digital artefacts are susceptible to bit-rot as well as software, hardware and or file obsolescence. Almost invisibly, these catalysts can render data inaccessible. This may be familiar if you’ve ever attempted to retrieve precious memories from the recesses of your first mobile phone, only to realise the device no longer functions and those memories no longer exist.

For a museum like ACMI, acquiring home movies has meant capturing the personal and family memories of our donors. Collectively, these form part of our moving image heritage and identity. Our grandparent’s use of safety film has ensured these memories can be made accessible decades after they were shot. Resurrecting the born digital memories of the next generations may not be so easy. Inaction will risk loss.

Complex Digital Artefacts

Over the past five years we’ve embedded digitisation processes as one preservation strategy to migrate content from our legacy, analogue film formats. Increasingly however, we’ve exhibited, commissioned and collected complex born digital artworks that push material, social and metaphysical boundaries as well as our preservation methodologies. These works include VR pieces, software-based works (some with unique sculptural dependencies)and multi-screen moving image installations. Unlike our relatively streamlined and standardised approach to digitise analogue material, many of these works require a focused TBM conservation plan and long-term digital preservation strategies.

Anthony McCall’s ‘You and I Horizontal II’ components.jpeg

Image of Anthony McCall’s ‘You and I Horizontal II’ components (fog machine, Apple mac mini and keyboard, Hitachi projector and accompanying cords delivered to Collections after Screen Worlds deinstallation earlier this year.

Activity in the MPL

TBM Conservation

TBM artworks only really exist when they are activated or switched on and offer an authentic version of what the artist intended. They are often comprised of born digital data, delivered on an external hard drive or tethered to proprietary hardware and require a suite of software to power them. The range of preservation strategies that visitors may see in the MPL necessary to safeguard them include:

  • Condition reporting of physical items and quality checking digital content
  • Embedding documentation strategies such as collecting: operational manuals, photographic documentation, contextual information, installation floor plans and trouble shooting guides
  • Artist Preservation Questionnaire: to articulate an artwork’s defining features as a means to then measure the parameters of acceptable change for the work over time
  • Cataloging, licensing and recording acquisition data for provenance
  • Obsolescence monitoring and a schedule for migration and digital preservation processes including data verification and fixity
  • Archiving, maintaining and or imaging hard drives, operating systems and software environments for continued access
Image: Still from ‘Colonial imagination down among the wild men’, 2014 Ali Gumillya Baker and metadata analysis for born digital artwork acquisition to the Collection

Image: Still from ‘Colonial imagination down among the wild men’, 2014 Ali Gumillya Baker and metadata analysis for born digital artwork acquisition to the Collection

Digital Preservation

On specially programmed open days the glass cabinets fronting the MPL will be moved aside for visitors to experience and engage with our digital preservation processes which include:

  • Storing, securing and ensuring redundancy for our digital data
  • Generating verification and fixity mechanisms such as checksums to act as a digital fingerprint and means to measure against unwanted change
  • Developing quality control processes (manual and automated) to ensure authentic transcoding and transferal of data
  • Implement migration schedule and emulation procedures to ensure ongoing access.
messages generated via Slack alerting Collections that access file derivatives have been created via the script developed in-house by our DevOps team.png

Messages generated via Slack alerting Collections that access file derivatives have been created via the script developed in-house by our DevOps team


Our home movie and independent film collection will also be on display as we continue to digitise our small gauge formats — 8mm and 9.5mm, as well as 16mm and 35mm prints and a range of magnetic media.

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Digitisation technician Ben Abbott condition checks a 16mm print at the winding bench

Film canisters from the Collections basement

16mm prints in our basement storage facility


Through major projects such as the two ARC linkage grants — ‘Archiving Australian Media Arts: Towards a method and national collection’ and ‘Play it again: preserving Australian videogame history’ innovation through collaboration will be a key goal of the MPL. Ongoing partnerships with our collaborators will also be integral to building an innovative, sustainable and inclusive space for Collection access outcomes and preservation practice.


  • National Film and Sound Archive
  • Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
  • British Film Institute
  • Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation
  • ARC partners — Swinburne University and RMIT University

ACMI will reopen with a public facing MPL and exciting renewed offer to visitors mid-2020.

A huge thanks to all of our Partners, Nick Richardson, Seb Chan and Katrina Sedgwick as well as ACMI’s Collections, DevOps and Communication teams and Ben Abbott.