Of course that's partially an illusion, and it's important to be aware of that. But it's still a useful illusion. It's not for nothing that many ancient ruins have been restored so people can get a better impression of what they were actually like. With ruins this is actually a lot more questionable than with film, because you actually change the original historic artifact (which is probably why nobody repaints those ancient statues that probably used to have colour). But we do restore even ancient paintings that have been darkened by the passing of time.
With that in mind, why would we not take this opportunity to create a much clearer window to the past?
I know it's silly, but I was kinda surprised the first time I saw early color photographies. I was so used to the BW or sepia old images that it had never occurred to me that, you know, people of that time did live in color too just like we do.
See these images from the early 20th century:
I think this is an important (and common) note. Especially when you look at the time-frame of most of the images and video we have being only ~100 years old (20th century). That sounds like a long time ago. B&W photos make that feel like a long time ago. But in reality, that's when your great grandma was born. That's not many people ago. In one respect it is accurate to say 100 years was a long time ago but saying it wasn't is also equally valid. While tech has changed a lot in that time, it is hard to say people have. By upscaling and colorizing these photos it makes it feel much more recent. If we accept that long and not long ago are equally valid takes, then we'd have to accept that both these ways of presenting historical information (a picture is information) are valid too. But they do tell different stories, and it is important to remember that.
There's this photo from 1901 which seems really modern: https://static.boredpanda.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/0...
The speculation is that he didn't know about the culture of looking serious.
Cameras tended to have long exposure times. If you have to hold a position for 30 seconds, it is easier to do so with a serious face than a laughing one.
I think making the past seem more real and relevant is useful in helping people to learn from and understand our history by making it more relatable. Those were real, warm blooded people with hopes and dreams, dying by the tens of thousands in 1916. The more you humanize history (rather than being a rote, soulless text or object in a book), the better. Which takes nothing away from how beautiful B&W can be, there's no reason we can't preserve that history simultaneously.
We knew though...
Paintings have been in colors since (almost) for ever.
This is from 80BC in Pompeii
One thing I didn't know is that statues were not white, they had colors (very strong ones), but time deleted the pigments of color leaving only the white marble.
It means that all neo-classic sculpture is based on a wrong interpretation.
Colorization, upscaling, etc. could then be thought of as repairing this damage, bringing the photo closer to being a lossless communication of the information it was created to convey.
(By analogy: imagine a technology that could analyze an illustration drawn by someone whose hand was shaking due to Parkinsonism, and then compute what the illustration would have looked like if the artist's hand hadn't been shaking. That would also be a kind of "repair.")
That’s quite a strong statement, and one that I think many photographers would disagree with.
Snapshots aside, this severely understates the artistic choices a photographer makes. For one thing, black & white and color read very differently to the eye, and offer different palettes for composition (although it’s not about photography, Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” has a great exploration of the effects of b&w vs color and is a fun read to boot). Basically all b&w cinematography also gives the lie to this statement: it’s impossible to honestly argue that a colorization of, say, the stark expressionism of Night of the Hunter would be a repaired version.
The extent to which a photo is, or is even intended to be, a representation of “primary-source ground truth” is something we’ve been arguing since, like, Edward Said. I’m not saying images should never be colorized, or upscaled, or whatever. Obviously that’s not the case. Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary, as another poster mentioned, is a triumph. But it’s too complicated a conversation to dismiss by declaring, in one sentence like Moses coming down from the mountain, that the purpose of photography is the “lossless communication of information”.
But most photos are not intended as art. Most photos are candids (or portraits, or photojournalism.)
Or, to say that another way: most people who take "photos"—both historically, and today—are not "photographers" by profession, trying to paint with a lens and film. They're just people who want to preserve a view of something, and have a convenient technology for doing just that.
If you want a general policy on how to conserve photos, it should be based around the idea that unless you know better, you should assume that the taker of a photo very likely wasn't an artist choosing their medium for effect; but rather a person constrained by the media available at the time of the photo's creation. Most photos that were taken in the period when B&W photos were the only photos you could take, were not intentionally B&W. If given the option, a color photo would have been taken instead. These photos are, in est, "damaged" color photos. As if the taker expected a color photo, but due to bad camera settings, a B&W photo was taken instead. The equivalent of a photo taken when there was a hair on the lens—an incidental aberration.
Just like, for example, most photos taken at 320x240, when that was the best quality a digital camera could give you, were not intentionally taken at 320x240. It was just the fact of the photo-taker being unable to afford a fancy film camera and rolls of film, but indeed being able to afford an early-2000s webcam and no rolls of film.
Or, for another example, most people who recorded mono audio of themselves onto wax cylinders, early reel-to-reel tape, etc., weren't going for the "mono audio mix-down sound." They just were in possession of only a single-track audio storage or distribution technology. Remastering the sound with source-separation more faithfully achieves the sound they wanted to record, but didn't have the technology for. (Do the surviving Beatles disapprove of the stereo remasterings of their mono albums? No; they think they're grand!)
When it comes to archival conservation and restoration, it seems to me that there are two opposed goals which both have value: restoring to the highest-quality version we possibly can, and preserving the material as it would have appeared to its original audience. So for the wax cylinder example, we definitely want to produce the best, truest to intent restoration we can, but at the same time the experience of listening to a wax cylinder recording is also worth preserving.
As long as the restoration is non-destructive (which it always should be, with digital tools), that’s great! We can have it both ways.
There’s an interesting modern twist when it comes to vernacular photography, too. The popularity of instagram filters and the like suggests that there’s something more going on now even with snapshots.
When you convert a black and white image back to color, you are not restoring the original true colors, rather you are filling them in based on your priors. It is logically impossible to "restore" the original colors by doing data processing on only the image itself. It is only possible to give the appearance of a restoration.
If there's a big hole in the middle of a painting, the painting is currently doing a bad job of being a painting, because the hole is distracting people from looking at and experiencing the rest of the painting.
If you, as a conservator, fill in the hole (in a reversible way) with, well, anything, it'll likely stand out less than the hole itself did. And, therefore, the painting will now have been "repaired", in the sense that it's now doing a better job of communicating the art that the painter intended to communicate by painting it, than it did when there was a big hole in it.
Same thought process with colorization. A B&W's medium distracts the modern viewer, who is used to color photos, from the photo's intended message. For modern B&W photos, the B&W look is part of the message; but for B&W photos taken when B&W photos were the only kind of photos (especially candid or portrait photos, rather than "art" photos), this choice of medium is mostly unintentional.
Colorizing the photo—even somewhat poorly, like with old Technicolor movies—will result in the viewer of the photo being less distracted by the photo's medium than they would by a B&W photo; and therefore paying more attention to the content of the photo itself. Which is, in most cases, what the photo's taker would want.
I'm 49 and my old school has an alumni facebook group where they occasionally post old photos. Sometimes they're from my era (ie high school in the 80's) and they post them in black and white. When I first see them, I think they're from the 40's or 50's. Then I realise they're from the 80's and I feel kind of annoyed!
I think the footage is also part of the history, so what we are doing by upscaling is to create an illusion of the original footage.
And yes, I think historians are kind of thinking of this backwards (in the same way Calvin's father explains this to Calvin).
So, leaving aside that the original is still, an interpretation technique might strictly lose a bit here or there, but it might actually result in many more bits delivered to the end user.
Having it in color with sound made the video seem much more real and relatable.
For me this just ads another facet to develop a better-rounded grasp of the era.
Inserting the extra frames seems to slow the footage down and allow more time for digestion.
I find it often difficult to track what's going on in old videos because of the off-speed of the recordings.
But for the historians who spend a lot of time with these artifacts, I'm sure this feels like a bastardization of history.
But as a lay person, it makes me want to devour more of these videos to get a fascinating and easier-to-digest look at life back in those times.
Btw, this is the video I watched: https://youtu.be/hZ1OgQL9_Cw
Personally, I don't find frame interpolation to be as effective as colorization; the artifacts it causes are often more distracting than just leaving the framerate alone. It can create a sort of artificial floating feeling to the motion- a problem that people often complain about with native 60fps, and is much worse with interpolated 60fps. Algorithms keep improving though, eventually I might find them more satisfying.
I wonder if it has to do with the fact that our vision is color.
Is there color data that the brain is using to process fast moving images that we lose in black and white?
Maybe color moving over a different color is easier for the brain to process than two similar colors moving with relation to each other.
The colorization is struggling to keep colors consistent on the costumes, walls, curtains... basically everywhere the lighting keeps changing a bit.
Many things in the scene are constantly shifting minutely between pinkish-beige and bluish-grey, often making them look somewhat iridescent.
I've noticed this sort of effect in many colorization attempts. This one does better than most.
Training data bias is obviously part of the problem, but not the whole story. It might not even be the biggest cause. Image segmentation is one way to help the colorization stabilize.
At least this upscaling "medium" is tied directly to what was captured at the time.
actually, that's how lots people get their understanding of the present, too.
For example, I'd wager most people on HN have seen more horses in movies than in real life. I've never actually seen what the ocean looks like underwater with my own eyes.
It's actually mind boggling how much of our worldview is shaped by content we consume. Think about how different your worldview would be if it were based solely on things you've experienced first-hand.
Apes can only really learn from what they experience themselves. Teaching involves some other ape guiding them through the act, at best. Humans can learn from other humans (or their artefacts like books and films etc), even when the activity in question is not performed.
(There might be some of that learning with some apes. There's some with crows. But it's not nearly as prevalent as with humans.)
The more illusions the better, I say. Can't wait for the VR recreation of famous battles WW2 battles extrapolated from grainy footage.
It uses CG, but in an interview the head of production talked about how he kept trying to get his team to push the audio and visuals as much as possible since he really wanted to get the "viewer" to understand even a fraction of what it would have been like to be there.
He wanted to make sure the viewer felt something instead of just being a fly on the wall like a lot of VR experiences.
As long as they aren't presenting their results as more real than the original images, I don't see it as a bad thing.
In fact, I think that the field in general needs to be more open about just how much this happens with history in general. Our understanding of the middle ages comes from evidence far less clear than these photos and yet its rare to see professionals admit how much of the field involves countless evolving, educated guesses.
Others may feel differently, but I find the field even more impressive with the understanding that historians are not seeing a clear picture.
My only concern would be that by the very nature of deep learning we are seeding it with simulated information from the current era so we could be injecting temporal biases. Imagine the process of colorizing -- imagine there was a dye color that we couldn't manufacture prior to year X. And we train colorization on a dataset that whether known to the curator or not includes this dye. Are we creating images that are a misrepresentation of the past?
On the other hand, "science" often does some pretty (I think) extreme extrapolation of things like dinosaur fossils, so maybe it shouldn't be such a big deal and it's just something we have to live with.
I think the might in the above is key. If you add new information to take the place of lost information, you're taking a risk that the new information does not accurately mimic the information that was lost. The more bits of new information you add, the more this risk increases.
A human restorator most likely has more background knowledge from other sources, while the AI might fill in completely unrelated details it's seen in completely unrelated training material.
As long as there's a disclaimer about the type of restoration that's been used, both approaches are fine IMHO. The audience needs to understand that both are just "projections". Similar to how we thought for a long time that ancient greece was "marble white", when in reality it was full of colors.
But our experience in school tells us that a scratchy, low-framerate video is probably from the past. We grow familiar with Hollywood representations of history. Not having any evidence to the contrary, we develop an alief  about the past that it was sepia and grainy and distant, when in truth, it was just as vibrant and real as today. No one except Calvin  would say that they believe that Gettysburg was black and white, but after looking at a lot of historical photos in a textbook that look like , if I go to Gettysburg, see , kneel behind the wall, and touch the stones I have a completely different level of comprehension and connection to the people who fought there that I, at least, am incapable of generating for myself from a black and white grainy photo.
I completely understand that upscaling and AI can invent things that aren't there, like Gigapixel inserting the face of Ryan Gosling in this photo  or Xerox copiers replacing a 6 with an 8 , as well as more subtle changes like assuming greyscale pants that might have used no dye at all or natural, local dyes were always indigo blue jeans.
The important question is whether or not the AI-invented, upscaled, colorized photos are closer or further from reality than what your brain invents without the aid of that tool. If you subconsciously invent a muted reality, or worse, your brain gets lazy and assumes it's only from a book and wasn't real at all, I think your ability to empathize with and comprehend the past would be better served by a 4k 60fps artist's impression.
That's Calvin's dad, not Calvin.
It's like if I used machine learning to double the length of the federalist papers. It would just be absurd to treat that like it was a real piece of history.
Sometimes that distortion is intentional, sometimes not.
The point being, as long as we're aware of the source of the (image or text) translation we can decide for ourselves whether that source is reputable enough to trust.
I don't think that's an appropriate analogy at all. When colorizing or up-scaling, you're making informed guesses to fill in gaps, and even if it's wrong occasionally, it doesn't matter.
Is it bad to translate Plato from Greek to modern English? That involves a whole lot more invention than this process.
Computers aren't magic time-traveling machines. If you want 4k reproductions of old films, just scan the actual film with better equipment. If you want colorization, that requires actual investigation and to figure out what colors were in use, and how to map them onto the video data. If no such investigation is possible then we're SHIT OUT OF LUCK. It happens. Move on. Stop revising history for entertainment.
A book is a tool to help us connect with others' experiences. Colorization and other techniques—done sincerely and as accurately as possible—are additional tools that can accomplish this in other ways.
Altering primary documents to make them more palatable to modern audiences is great for emotional engagement and attracting attention, but it risks creating false impressions of what history actually was like and how we know what it was like. "Hamilton" is a powerful piece of art--today--but it's not accurate history in an academic sense.
(Well, I should say it's not history of Hamilton's time. It will be studied as an important part of the history of our time.)
The folks running these upscaling operations understand the concerns:
> Antic and Kelley aren’t under any illusions that images treated by DeOldify will come out historically accurate, though their reservations are with the practicalities of training a neural network. Making sure colourised films are accurate is “a literally impossible problem,” Antic says. DeOldify uses modern images to train its AI on, he explains, “and we know that's a big weakness, because, amongst other things, it biases people to wearing blue jeans.”
The challenge is, once they create one of these films and post it for the public, the implications and effects are out of their hands.
You might have millions of people watching an AI-changed film and think that what they are seeing is more accurate than the original, since it transmits more information (detail, color, etc). But if that additional information is made up, it's actually not more accurate, and maybe actually less accurate (e.g. wrong color instead of no color). That nuance is going to be hard for a lot of people to understand.
I doubt those youtube historians could possibly do more damage to false history lessons, than all those cheaply made hollywood "historical" movies.
And the youtube historians I have seen, were very good. So mostly on the right side in battle to truth (dramatically speaking) and mostly not on the side of cheap effects for drama, or even intentional misleading for political reasons.
(seriously, there is nothing wrong with historic fiction - but it disturbs me deeply that a) most movies/books are not labeld that way, even if they should and b) even if it is labeled, most people probably do not notice)
There's a British cartoon from 2003 called Monkey Dust, where a recurring feature is completely historically inaccurate Hollywood movies ("Dedicated to all the Americans who died in the early Middle Ages").
Is it wrong to extrapolate the missing pieces to make a complete skeleton? Some experts are able to make really good academic guesses on if the dinosaur species in question had feathers or scales, the size of its lips and toungue, and sometimes even its color. Is it wrong to create a drawing or a 3D rendering of these guesses?
I suppose, to an extent, it is really important to understand how we can know these things from only a few fossilized bone fragments. But to a layperson it is certainly more interesting to see our best guess of how it looked like in reality. Just a picture or description of the original pieces of fossils in that layer of sediment certainly does not do justice to an amazing animal that once walked the earth.
I suppose you could also make the case that we can get it wrong and a false picture of dinosaurs would enter the popular discourse. But I would argue that it would probably be even worse if experts wouldn’t paint their best guess at the time, and left it to the imagination of fiction media to recreate it for the population.
They also have a good one on the history of dinosaur illustration:
But a high definition video is what we've naturally been used to "believing in" as being real.
Of course the next generation of people will grow up with deep fakes, so they will not trust anything they watch unless it's digitally signed or something.u
I feel that is the difference.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. They were able to capture the fascination of a kid by making the dinosaur look as real as a lion, and that’s really cool. It turned out their recreations were wrong, e.g. the T-Rex didn’t have any lips and no feathers in these pictures, but now we think they had both. That’s OK. Growing up I learned that they don’t know everything, and there are still things left to discover.
I bet a future teenager will be astonished to find out they didn’t have high quality color film in the early 20th century, that the films they’ve seen from that period have been colored in using modern technology. Just as I was astonished to find out that they didn’t actually know how dinosaurs looked like, but were able to guess using varying techniques.
It's possible to see recreations of extinct animals that humans have overlapped with enough to write and draw how they looked. It's even possible to see real specimens of extinct creations, such as the Oxford Dodo
You don't need much more knowledge, but definitely more than "they don't exist today". But equally with colourised photos/video: you don't need more knowledge than "this was filmed before it was possible to film in colour, so all colours are guesses".
I can confidently say there is a 100% chance that ML/AI-invented content (colours, fill-ins during upscaling, textures, etc.) already outperforms genuine historical content in every possible way in terms of outreach. Just look at any "today in history" youtube or twitter channel and compare it to any actual museum or historical society's website/channel/social media. Orders of magnitude difference.
On the tweets you see replies commenting about how beautiful and vibrant a [false colour, invented content] image is. Hell, those places will post blatantly totally false content (like.. a comedian) and say it's a historical image: https://time.com/5028121/history-twitter-photo/
They are not there for historical accuracy, or accuracy of any kind, those accounts are 100% purely to farm clicks and likes to spam with later.
I think you are missing OPs point.
Better (colours, fill-ins during upscaling, textures, etc.) is not more accurate. Any change is worse from the original because now its modified (however ugly the original is). It suddenly becomes a fake.
It isn't taking a true record and making it fake, it's taking a fake record and making it differently fake.
I would expect tech people to understand the risks here by comparison to using AI to perform image upscaling: you are inventing detail based on what the AI expects to see. For artificial works, this is often great. For, say, a police department trying to upscale grainy CCTV footage, it produces a work of fiction that has the potential to become outright dangerous.
It's fine to present these as works of art, and with the proper context, even as records of history. But pop culture rapidly divorces the art from the context, and I would expect any responsible historian to be extremely clear about the processes use here, even to the point of protest (it is analogous to how astronomers have a hard time expressing to people that false-color photography and artistic illustrations of far-off bodies do not represent reality).
I would assert that even with the errors, people get a more realistic view of the past through these reconstructions than by watching the original footage. The reconstructions drop the barrier of otherness, which greatly diminishes the value of the old footage as a historical lesson for the masses. The reconstructions make it seem like a real place that had real people in it.
Moreover... what terrible, horrible thing are we worried about with these reconstructions anyhow? People will have slightly wrong ideas about what color roofs were in the past? People might have wrong ideas about exactly how slidey people's gaits were in the past? It's not like you feed in footage about a train ride or people riding horses down the street and the AI is adding in cell phones, translating people's speech to modern slang, and changing political posters to features modern politicians. We're fighting videos that increase people's connections to the past because we're afraid they... what, exactly?
By all means keep the original and label the reconstructions, but I see no reason to start complaining about them or running around telling people "STOP! Watching these videos might give you WRONG IDEAS about COLORS! What if that BLUE WINDOW was in actuality MAUVE?" This seems more like Victorians having conspicuous cases of the vapors than a real concern.
I think you make a very important point. I watched lots of silent movies as well as historical footage growing up, and the jerky motion and slow frame rates gave them a cartoonish quality that I still find artistically endearing but which makes history less real to the viewer. For historical figures one admires, it confers a sort of mythic aura, and for ones you don't it makes them seem clownish or misshapen. This impacts written history too, where it's already hard to separate our posterior knowledge of how things turned out from the historical figures of whom we have a visually distorted mental image.
I watched a historical series on WW2 where the imagery was colorized and somewhat stabilized/cleaned up a year or so ago and was struck by the different perspective it offered without all the 'emotional blurring' that occurs due to the technical limitations of the time. It was much easier to relate to events, both good and bad, through a 'happening now' frame of reference that would have been closer to what people experienced at the time, when newsreel footage offered immediacy and accuracy that was new and modern.
No doubt in the future there will be debates over whether HD and 4k footage of today and the recent past should be given the full VR treatment, allowing people to experience current events from the point of view of the participants and so forth.
Linking derivatives makes sense. Replacing original works does not.
And the little things matter.
We will learn how much over time, and ideally we keep originals to benefit from the lesson.
Really, what we do by augmenting originals is lock in one best guess interpretation.
The point of history is for people to go back and see what can be learned, not settle on what everyone should have learned.
That's such an arrière-garde cause. It doesn't take too much time nor too much effort for any self-examining historian to understand that you can't create a "right impression" of history at the level of the general public. It will always be partial, truncated, falsified. Your cherry-picked period is misunderstood by the general public ? Too bad, that's part of the job. The best you can hope is making somebody interested enough that someday they'll have to reflex on historiography, philology and epistemology.
No one is altering the original documents. They still exist, right?
"actually less accurate (e.g. wrong color instead of no color)."
That's debatable. Why is "no color" more accurate? The world wasn't monochrome.
If that person is wearing an air force uniform and you colourise it to look more like an army uniform, or a different country's uniform, you've made it less accurate as it looks like they're in a different branch of the military.
If you've got a photo of someone whose hair was white from age, and you colourise it as blonde, you've made them look younger and maybe given them a hair colour they never had.
If you've got a photo of a famous scientist or war hero who had a Mediterranean complexion and you colourise them with more of a pale complexion, you've made it less accurate as it looks like they're a different race.
(Of course, these sorts of accessibility-accuracy trade-offs aren't unique to colourising photos - they also apply to everything from translations of historical documents, through illustrations and selecting what content makes it into books, to questionably accurate history facts shared on social media)
But what about the opposite? What if a B&W photo shows someone with white hair, but his hair was blonde. Now the colorized photo is more accurate than the B&W photo. I just don't think you can claim B&W is more accurate absolutely.
> If that person is wearing an air force uniform and you colourise it to look more like an army uniform
Do you understand that the typical consumer of this media cannot tell the difference between air force, and army uniforms from 100 years ago? Get people interested in history, then worry about the little details like the color of someone's hair or uniform.
Get out of your ivory tower and into the real world. Most people's knowledge of history is abysmal. History is boring, as it is taught in schools today.
Your ad hominem attack devalued your whole argument. Argue the merits of his points, not your preconceptions of his mental state.
That argument being that the academic approach hasn't lead to people having a more accurate image of history. It has scared them off and resulted in most of them having almost no knowledge of history. The approach doesn't seem to lead to it's intended goal.
The comment was perhaps made a bit crassly, but I think it's something worth considering.
The original films were not altered in any way. They still exist and were not destroyed or compromised by the process. They can still be studied by historians while others are free to enjoy the colorized versions.
So they want to ban textbooks and force kids to learn dozens of languages to read primary sources and to travel to places of their origins?
On the other hand, unless there was a 4K full color film those millions of people wouldn't even watch the original.
The debate then becomes -- is no knowledge better than minorly-distorted knowledge?
Yes. No knowledge is much better than distorted knowledge.
No. Academic historians are concerned with maintaining the dominant historical narrative that they themselves have created.
> "Hamilton" is a powerful piece of art--today--but it's not accurate history in an academic sense.
Sure, but academic history is no more "true" or "accurate" than the Hamilton play. The historical concept of Hamilton is fiction created by historians affected by their own biases. History is interpretation. It isn't fact. It isn't science.
> That nuance is going to be hard for a lot of people to understand.
That's true for any "history". Nevermind that almost no historical document/artefact/etc is the "original", but the "history" we know is ultimately manufactured fiction. There are facts and then there is history ( which is what is colored in between the facts by historians ).
There is Hamilton the actual person, then there is the historical adaptation of Hamilton, the play adaptation, movie adaptation, documentary adaptation, etc which are all fiction.
"History is interpretation. It isn't fact. It isn't science."
Science is interpretation. Scientists are concerned about maintaining their dominant narrative. "Facts" are very scarce on the ground. (I'm willing to act as if Mumbai exists, but I have no personal experience of it and therefore no positive reason to believe it does.)
In more serious terms, a good academic historian will point to evidence as a way to explain why they want you to believe some statement, and---because they recognize the perils of what they're doing---many of them will complain about potentially misleading modifications to that evidence.
I can kind of understand this if it was made very obvious that it was "AI generated"; that is, the colours are totally invented and made out of thin air, that spaces might be filled in with random computer generated content to support upscaling and make it look better.
I don't want a machine-generated random filler content to be repurposed for "oh, here is a source video for the skin colour of specific people back in the day" or "you see those marks in the corner (that didn't exist in the original source), those are hieroglyphs"
AI does not mean you magically get colour restored to an image that did not have any in the first place, it is invented, machine created content that potentially has absolutely zero bearing on the real world.
Additionally, stuff like this ends up ranking higher than the original source content; preference is given to HD+ videos in search, "viral cool colourised version of the past" on instagram will rank higher than "actual history"; it is potentially a large problem when you have people that don't actually know how to separate genuine primary source vs computer generated content.
Or, alternatively, back in the day there were these shows called "situation comedies" or sitcoms. One of them was "Three's Company." Many of the stories of the episodes of Three's Company were taken more or less directly from Shakespeare's comedies. Is it elitism to suggest that seeing a production of Shakespeare's plays is a better way of connecting with what he was trying to say than watching a '70s sitcom?
The play is pretending to be a Shakespeare production when it isn't, and will give people unrealistic views on the history, whereas the sitcom won't do that
I visited the Vasa museum in Stockholm a few years back. The Vasa is an amazingly preserved shipwreck from the 1600s. There ship is mostly original and looks like bare brown wood like everyone imagines a shipwreck to look like.
However, they have a model and reproductions of parts of the ship showing how they were brilliantly painted. The tour guide made clear that the aesthetic beauty and conspicuous consumption on display was as much a part of the kings arsenal as the cannons. It really changed the way i looked on the past.
The article unfortunately doesn't point out why this is a naive take.
If you upscale an image for display on a 4k display, you can:
1. Leave an aliasing artifact intact.
2. Remove an aliasing artifact.
Now, suppose you have two clients-- one making a documentary about the moon landing, and another making a documentary about moon landing conspiracies.
Pick your favorite "sincere and accurate" ML algorithm-- it cannot generate a single image that will be suitable for use by both clients.
Perhaps "straining and toiling" is hyperbole. But I don't see an alternative to careful, deliberate study of the primary sources of history.
Also-- keep in mind that was a didactic example. When you talk about colorizing films or cartoons, things get quite muddy.
If you give people black-and-white film to watch, people are guess the colors that are there based on what they are familiar with anyway, so this has a chance to be more historically accurate than that.
With respect, historians who are involved with archiving aren't grinding these historical points fine because they're 'rooted in elitism'. Even if some are elitist (some people are), that's not what the profession of archiving is all about. Snowwrestler before me aptly sums the matter up. I'd also offer the following comments but I tackle some of the reasons why archivists do what they do from a more technical perspective.
Archiving is a very complex business, especially so if historical context is to be preserved with fidelity. Moreover, as we've seen from both the article and these posts, that historical 'fidelity' is defined or set by the different contexts in which the archive material is used. Simply, people will use archived material in many different ways according to their individual requirements; furthermore, one's requirement will also likely vary depending on one's circumstances or surroundings. (For instance, a curator will likely require the highest quality of reproduction for a museum exhibit and a lower one on his/her smartphone.)
Here, I'll mainly confine myself to archived images as per the article, however these issues could also involve paintings and other works of art, and even objects (have you noticed how the value of a rare coin dramatically decreases in value if you are silly enough to remove its patina?)
Back to images: Ideally, for preservation, we'd like to replicate an image perfectly and end up with an identical clone—and the only way to do that is copy the whole physical object molecule-for-molecule. Clearly, this is impossible, so what’s next?
The limits of current technology means that essentially we are limited to capturing a planar reproduction of the image by photographing or scanning it from directly above or by projecting light through it onto some recording medium. So what are the criteria for doing this, that is if we wish to copy every trace or single bit of information from said image?
1. First we have to acknowledge that even if we were able to record every bit of information that's available from this planar view/projection (which is very unlikely), that it is not all the information that comes with the image. Being a physical object, it has thickness; it has a photographic emulsion; its emulsion is chemical and we may wish to know how it was made. Is the emulsion only blue sensitive, say a collodion emulsion, or is it new enough to be either orthochromatic or even panchromatic? What is its physical condition, has it been damaged, or scratched, or has it been repaired, and how was it stored, .etc (as that extra (metadata) information tells us a great deal more about the image and its history than just the image itself)? Clearly, those who require this ancillary physical information are likely to be different people to say casual YouTube viewers—this is an important difference.
2. Incidentally, archivists are also concerned not just the intrinsic nature of the image itself but also aspects about the way it was viewed, its environment, etc. For example, did the original film stock have a tint or was it completely neutral? Has the film changed in color since the print was made, does it now have sepia tint? When film was first viewed, what was the brightness and color temperature of typical projector lamps of the period? This information is important as it will influence how we end up viewing the film today,
3. To capture every detail of the image requires some very stringent requirements and often it's not possible to meet them. If we attempt to capture every detail to the point that the law of diminishing returns has determined it's not worthwhile going further, we'll almost certainly never get to that point. Even today, it's almost impossible to scan even 'ancient' 35mm film to the limit of its resolution and density because scanners just don't exist that are capable of doing it in any practical way. Sure, for still images, you could use a $100k+ drum scanner that uses photomultipliers but it's a very expensive and extremely tedious and messy process. For moving images, you could use a telecine that also uses photomultipliers but I've never come across one that's capable of exceeding the limiting spatial resolution of 35mm film made circa 1900 (some of this film was remarkably sharp)! (And these days, every Telecine I've seen uses lossy compression to store images.) Sure, one with suitable specifications could be made to order I suppose but I hate to think of the cost (the fact is most people just don't need to reproduce every bit of info that's on film)! That said, the film may not even be the limiting factor, the image itself could be out of focus or otherwise deteriorated (but you have to allow for best case).
4. With still images, when scanning, you need to consider the limiting spatial resolution of the film as well as consider the Nyquist limit of the film/scanning combination. For images, this can be a complex matter (especially movies) but theoretically an ideal scanner should have around double the resolution of the image (it's essentially the same reason why 44.1kHz is used in CDs to record audio that only goes to 20kHz). Again, no scanner that I know of outside drum scanners comes even close to these figures).
5. Therefore, from the outset we have to compromise. Whether current-day best performance is satisfactory for most archivists is moot. I'd suggest, given the chance, that almost every archivist would keep the original film after scanning so that at a later time a better facsimile can be made. Of course, with disintegrating nitrate film this is not likely.
6. OK, we have the best photographic reproduction we can muster, so what comes next? First this, true-as-is-possible image is the master copy and it must be distinguished as such from any later reproduction that 'enhances' the image in any way—irrespective of reason. There should be no argument whatsoever about this (I doubt you'd ever find a respectable archivist who would disagree with this logic.)
6. I see no objection to image enhancement so long as it is made clear that the image is enhanced and that it not the original or master copy. It's a big subject so I'll try to keep matters short here. Essentially, the future of image enhancement has hardly begun. In future expect to see images such as those horrible 16mm grainy WWI battlefield scenes come to life with enormously enhanced resolution as well as having accurate 'true' color—color that's calibrated to real-world object.
7. AI will make this possible by 'learning' the properties of the objects in these old movies then applying new data to the existing images. Moreover, it's already beginning to do so now. What about the accuracy of the color you ask when we had none to start with. In short, AI will scan millions upon millions of objects including thousands of items from WWI and it will do so in color and in high resolution and even in 3D. To reduce noise and film grain, it will also scan multiple instances of the same footage and compare side-by-side frames both within and across films (and also from other source material such as related hi-res B&W photos—for example, Frank Hurley's famous, wonderfully-sharp plate camera photos of WWI). It will then match and analyze all this information to provide both stunning and realistic images. But as I said, these are not the originals, and they serve a completely different purpose altogether!
There's much more to this story (such as making almost flawless copies of famous paintings including using identical paint pigments, paint textures and brushstrokes as well as keeping existing damage and crazing marks for reproduction authenticity). This technology will act as a means of insurance against damage, loss etc. but I've not time to cover more about it here.
I've tried to make that point, but I failed many times. Let's try this crowd: We know what colors human faces have, so we can nail those, but coloring a film from, say, the 1950s the way photos from that era looked, is not what the colors back then actually looked like. That's just how camera technology was able to capture them at the time.
So even if you captured color back then, it probably wasn't very realistic.
I don't think people should stop experimenting, I find these videos fascinating and loved Peter Jacksons film, but the past didn't look like you think it did. You're just used to it because all the photographs from the era look a certain way but they were limited.
Most notably the work of Russian chemist Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who took absolutely stunning color photos around 1910.
There are whole pseudo-intellectual cultures like Objectivists who think that peak of culture are statues with the paint worn off and reading scripts of plays meant to be experienced in live performance.
I watched Peter Jackson's "They Shall not Grow Old" which is a collection of restored WW1 footage. Was super hyped going in, but when I saw the footage itself, it just felt off. Like the colors maybe weren't quite right or the motion was super messed up and the whole thing just felt weird and made watching it unenjoyable. I would have prefered to see it in black and white.
My other gripe with the film was that he also loaded it up with sound effects and even added not well mixed VFX like extra explosions and shingles falling off roofs that appear from nowhere (hence why I'm pretty sure they were added in post). Dumping that kind of cheap blockbuster action elements actually felt pretty disrepectful of the soldiers that got filmed. Kind of like they were using them as action figures to tell a story that wasn't quite what happened in reality.
Finally, there's an education factor at play. Young people deserve the best possible chance they can get to engage with their history, especially when it offers such a tremendously impactful lesson. And like it or not, I think 90% of people are going to be more engaged, not less, by well-curated, well-produced and respectful recreations of the past. Jackson recorded the SFX using original historical weapons, and colored uniforms using historical examples.
"However, it’s a bizarre sight that greets us, and not just because we lose the top and bottom of each frame. The effect is initially impressive, but that soon wanes. Almost every man has a creamy, peachy skin tone, and the grass in each shot is a warm, yellowy green. The sky is blue. If it weren’t for the daubs of bright red blood, and the bomb craters, this would risk being a unnaturally prettified image of war, with remarkably consistent scenery. These are really incredible images – so homogenising them in this way does them a disservice. It’s not easy either to dispel the thought that all these colours (as well as many of the sounds) are simply guesswork: the colour of hair, blankets, signs and wildflowers having been plucked out of the air." (https://silentlondon.co.uk/2018/10/16/lff-review-they-shall-...)
That's an interesting commentary on how much technology has advanced, and how we have become so desensitized to it. Consider that when silent films first started, the movie of a train coming right at the camera scared the audience so much that they ran out of the theatre to get out of the way of the train, IIRC.
I agree on your point regarding engaging audiences. Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk probably taught more people about WW2 than many classes or books.
But in reality, those sets were bright pastels. Actual dark walls and floors didn't show up well on film. Which makes me wonder how right we are with some of our other colorizations.
You can google [what did the munsters set actually look like] to get some great examples.
Actual white guitars would look like blown-out blobs on black and white TV. TV Yellow would "look" white on TV.
eg, this blue:
24. Scotch Blue
Throat of Blue Titmouse.
Stamina of Single Purple Anemone.
Blue Copper Ore.
Maybe that's because those others are more likely to do a bad job, because they lack the training to do a good one. Sort of like how sci-fi filmmakers have taught millions of people that you can hear explosions in space and that lasers make a "zap" sound.
BTW, if you want to support some folks that actually try to get it right, check out the expanse.
Also, we still have the techniques and materials used to make old paints. New batches can be whipped up (assuming they aren't too toxic) for comparison. Lead based paints obviously are more problematic, but modern technology is really good at replicating paint colors.
Um, do we really?
So if you were to recolor a film you can take skin colors from today. But an advert, car color or fabric is incredibly difficult, even if you have the original, since the material will have degraded. Even if you repaint it with the original paint it will look different, since the paint will have changed, or if you use new paint the process to manufacture the paint (->led).
It might as well be another universe.
Unless there's also a way to accurately extract the specific hue, you will never get anything accurate.
Anyone that ever wore foundation can tell you that human skin has tones, undertones, different reflective qualities, etc.
Just look at https://www.temptalia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/summer-... or https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0009/0000/5932/files/Shade... or this https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B_zp3U1XAAAk4Iz?format=jpg&name=...
I think some of it comes down to the fact that convnets are really good at recognizing human "shapes" (faces, silhouettes, etc) and also the valid color space for human skin tone is pretty constrained if the photo was well lit and you have the luminance value for a grayscale image.
The network was particularly bad at getting the colors of balloons in a picture. I don't know what the real colors were, but the network was trying to tell me 4 of the balloons in a picture were pale yellow and beige while one was a super saturated red.
The process flow goes from converting the full spectrum lights in nature into color filtered photons captured on a camera sensor with an artificial color profile, it's own resolution and pixel arrangement, and its own lens specifics, then converted to another limited color palette with another artificial color profile and it's own resolution and pixel arrangement that is the display, in order to simulate the colors of nature as detected by yet another set of filtered detectors with it's own color profile, resolution, neuron arrangement, and lens specifics that is the human eye. There is already no such thing as objective truth when it comes to photography, every step involves heavy interpretation.
The colorization, of course, is lies. The upscaling and interpolation, however, is harder to argue about. Sure, if you were to freeze a frame and zoom in, you are looking at data that may not directly correspond to what was recorded. But it didn’t come out of thin air either - its upscaled and interpolated. I have read the arguments and some of the comments on this page and I still cannot figure out how this isn’t just rationalizing elitism.
Of course we need to keep the source material, but nobody is suggesting to not do that.
It's kind of like the concept of "significant digits" in science. If your experimental apparatus can only measure a value with precision plus or minus one tenth, it's inappropriate to report your results with digits out the thousandths. Doing so would make it seem more precise to the reader, but the additional precision is an illusion.
In much the same way, using software in 2020 to guess what things "really looked like" can give viewers a false impression of how much we actually know about what things really looked like.
I find it hard to believe these academics would criticize Paul Philippoteaux for the Gettysburg Cyclorama despite it going far beyond the limits of the source material.
It is like the difference between a film adaptation of a text and the original text. If you see the film first, it will permanently colour your reading of the text, taking away from you the opportunity to draw your own meanings from a blank slate.
It's not about correcting the image to match what their eyes see, it's an artistic and creative act because a photograph/movie can never represent what the eyes see, and photographers/filmmakers have to interpret the image to get their message across.
What does it mean for something to be "old"? What does it mean for something to be "well-preserved through time"? All of this is information that may not be significant to you, but it may be significant to a historian and their audience.
The way these photographs look is as much part of history as what they portray - whether intentional or not. These enhancement processes will remove that part.
But for historical documents, the creators are usually hamstrung by technology, not embracing it. If they could have had 4K HDR, I'm sure they would have.
Van Gogh would still use oil on canvas to execute his vision.
With regards to Van Gogh, seeing how he likes to make his paintings three dimensional (if you ever had a chance to see his paintings in person) in additional to his sculptural works, I wouldn't be surprised if he became a 3D graphics or VR artist had he lived in modern times.
It’s a great way to get a better idea of what things really looked like which is hard to do with choppy grainy footage. Historians should be doing everything they can to help us be more connected with the past, so being all curmudgeonly on this doesn’t make sense.
No, Historians have the job of creating an accurate account of the past, their job isn't to connect you to anything, they're not Facebook for the past or the history channel.
Trying to turn everything into entertainment is a race to the bottom, because people will more and more demand that their scientific education is 'engaging'. That's actually how the history channel went from well, actual history to ancient aliens
The type of approach you suggest feels like the arguments about how people should just learn the CLI or low-level computer operations. The "We shouldn't bother with GUI's", "it's not important that we expose functionality with pretty UI", or "if people cared they would learn the CLI and be happy about it".
Making history/art/computers/etc more accessible is not a bad thing.
"Alter things to make them more popular" is fine in some contexts, but if everyone starts confusing that with the original study of factual knowledge... that's a huge problem.
There is a balance that can found that drives engagement from the public that fuels that historical work needed to be done.
They may not care that I redirect more funding towards more understanding of what happened. Or they may. Either way they are not in control. I am.
Interpreting the past is literally a subjective process. Previously we used a human neural net - famous for assuming relationships between individuals that do not exist and for denying ones that do.
In time I will use an artificial neural net and I won't need a gating human. It will paint me a picture of a place and time and its best possible interpretation of the evidence.
After all, knowledge that does not adjust my actions is worthless. So if there is truth somewhere that I cannot access and some less accurate information that is well accessible and which will move me closer to the truth then the latter is superior every time. I'll just multiply it appropriately with my prior probability on how accurate an ANN reconstruction can be.
You may have more understanding of something, but you have to be very careful to remember that it's not "what happened". Adding another layer of inaccuracies does not make something more accurate.
"In time I will use an artificial neural net and I won't need a gating human. It will paint me a picture of a place and time and its best possible interpretation of the evidence."
I wouldn't bet on it. In fact, if you do get an "artificial neural net" to do that, you might want to start worrying about what impressions it wants you to take away.
And as for what’s happened, it doesn’t matter that it’s less precise. Every piece of information only moves my belief tensor in some direction. It only has to move me in the direction of what’s happened and it’s already superior to an exact description of what’s happened that doesn’t move me in that direction at all.
You overvalue inaccessible truth. And you overestimate historians’ propensity to tell the truth. They have every incentive to lie. And they do. And it works because I suspect you value precision over accuracy. The net result is you have lies told to you by people with a vested interest in you believing a thing.
And I, I have a machine that I can make that makes mistakes. But you know what, you take your approach. I’ll take mine, we’ll see who wins in the marketplace of ideas.
Yep. That's the job of writers of popular history books and school history textbooks, which historians themselves sometimes write, and creators of historical entertainment such as novels, plays, movies, and TV shows.
Make your choice historians.
If these "enhanced" videos proliferate, then as a side effect there will be less desire for the original "source of truth" videos in grainy B&W and low framerates. I.e., this scenario: the original, primary-source video, based 100% on reality, gets 100 views on Youtube while the same video artificially manipulated to look better gets 100k.
Eventually the enhanced one has replaced the original, and possibly even the original gets lost, and in the future historians will only have our grossly-artificial reinterpretations of the video instead of the source of truth.
(but then again, YT is not exactly a historical archive, I'd imagine the originals should be archived properly to prevent this)
If the "improved" version didn't exist, how many Youtube views would the original get? 110? 200? 1100? It sure wouldn't be 100,100. On what basis would you assert that 10 or 100 or 1000 people viewing the original was better than 100,000 viewing the enanced version?
And eventually the original gets lost? What it if eventually gets lost anyway, and we don't even have the enhanced version?
It's not, though. It's a great way to get an idea of what a few people today think things looked like.
Enjoying the videos is fine, but it's not great to think they are more accurate just because they look better.
I cringe at colorized films for the same reasons. If you can't take B&W you should consider that make-ups, costumes and all settings were chosen according to how they would look in B&W. In the same way that Technicolor forced you to have one of their color advisors supervising everything. At some point some audiences decided that B&W was boring and the aesthetical appreciation of that whole graphical universe was lost, as a result the expectations are that everything has to look in a very definite way or else it's unwatchable. I find such way of thinking the most narrow-minded by far.
The movie represents a directors vision, and how it looked in B&W was part of that vision. I agree, they should not colorize old movies.
But historical films are in B&W because that's all they had, not because they wanted to depict it that way. I'm sure if the creators of those films had the option of 4K HDR, they would have used it.
So the colorized versions are a Fantasy, but the original b/w versions were already a Fantasy.
When colorizing, sometimes they have color photos from the filming. You can try to match those, but that may not match the intent of the film. But you might not know the intent either, so you have to guess at that too. It might be easier to convince people to watch colorized films, but it's important to realize it's not really the same film.
Maybe other people are different but I can't cross the imagination gap with b/w footage but this did it instantly.
10/10 best possible ad for these services.
But that's the problem. Is it what things really looked like?
I am a curmudgeon, so presumably I don't count, but I think you should feel free to enjoy the modified photos and videos. But don't forget that that is not what it really looked like.
This feels like what happens when someone with technology tries to merge it with another discipline that has failed to utilize the technology: gate keeping and stubbornness about the right way to do things.
Erm, not reconstruction ;-)
So when we see an upscaled, colorized image ... maybe it's not an accurate reflection of the past. But we're no longer used to seeing an accurate reflection of the present, so of course we don't balk at the plausible-but-perhaps-mistaken color choices or interpolations.
If more people knew of how the past looked like, and could relate to it, and understand - they would be shocked at the world we have today.
Especially since most people can not relate to black and white videos/photos because they don't have the context required to expand on that thought. They just see an exposure, thats a photo, enlarged and think "that's it."
Even, ironically, there's the expression/meme that kids/younger generation thought "the past wasn't in color." I remember hearing this when I was a kid in school, during the 90's and 00's.
From the article...:
"That’s not a view many academics hold, however. Luke McKernan, lead curator of news and moving images at the British Library, was particularly scathing about Peter Jackson’s 2018 World War One documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which upscaled and colourised footage from the Western Front. Making the footage look more modern, he argued, undermined it. “It is a nonsense,” he wrote. “Colourisation does not bring us closer to the past; it increases the gap between now and then. It does not enable immediacy; it creates difference.”
But on the flipside, this argument does bring to light why it may be bad, but still - I don't think it's good enough to be up in arms about someone upscaling archive footage.
"For Mark-FitzGerald and other historians of photography tools like DeOldify and Neural Love might make pictures look amazing, but they risk obscuring the past rather than illuminating it. “Even as a photo historian, I look at them and think, oh, wow, that's quite an arresting image,” she says. “But always then my next impulse is to say, 'Well, why am I having that response? And what is the person who's made this intervention on the restoration actually doing? What information has this person added? What have they taken away?”
This really makes me wonder. How does it increase the gap, in comparison to B&W pictures? How is the difference not there already? And why is that bad?
So I checked the source of that quote, and there is no argumentation. None.
And (IMO), the whole point of "They shall not Grow Old" is that something like WW1 can happen again, and you, yes, you personally, will suffer if it does. Everyone has to realize that the people in that old footage are just like you and me, and Peter Jackson's film manages to effectively bridge the gap that blurry, jittery, B&W footage has, precisely by making it look recent.
> This really makes me wonder. How does it increase the gap, in comparison to B&W pictures? How is the difference not there already? And why is that bad?
Probably because the colorization can be misleading. With a B&W images, it's clear the color data is missing. With a colorized photo, a red building could be shown as blue or gray, and someone could leave with the false understanding the the building was really a different color than it actually was.
Yeah, these quotes all seem like ad lapidem, just unsupported vague claims. I'm not even sure I agree people can be "closer" or "farther" from the past when looking at an image, it's a poetic way to look at the difference but not precise, and seems like it would evaporate if we tried to find any quantifiable measurable effects.
It increases factual distance and reduces emotional distance. When just "distance" is used, some people assume one, some people assume the other, and everyone values each differently.
You might say you're not looking at the (probably) only reliable source of information for that particular scene, but that's an entirely different proposition.
That bit is quite relevant. These upscaled videos are interesting, but most people watching them won't know what was there originally and what was added through interpretation and extrapolation. The colours in particular are tricky and not likely to always reflect reality very well, and any sounds added seem to be an amateur's best guesses using what's available in audio libraries mostly.
But it is not just the present-day processing of the material; as Mark-FitzGerald notes, photographs and videos from that age were taken with an objective in mind which may not be as neutral as one might assume. It's not always straight-up propaganda, but whoever took the pictures (or paid for them) had their motives as well. That is part of the context that you need to fully understand what you are seeing (and what you are not seeing), and which is understandably missing from Youtube.
The only corner-case I can think of is the erasure of obvious signs of faking, but that does not seem to be the issue that people are getting worked up over. Is anyone even wasting their effort on upscaling faked film?
A layperson does not care about the exact color of a building or a jacket or a hat, and if it is really that important then it’s probably documented somewhere.
It might be important to historians and that is ok. But they are not the intended audience of these type of upscaled/colorized clips.
And viewing old film at the wrong speed is the opposite of an authentic experience.
Can anyone expand on this sentiment? I’ve heard it expressed, especially around movies, but it’s always been incomprehensible to me. What is it about being black and white that makes it unrelatable?
You'll immediately will understand how your senses help "add" thought, context, feelings, emotion behind it.
It can be anything, a road w/ houses, a car, a portrait of a person at a famous sight.
That. That's the sentiment.
I wouldn't call it "unrelatable" as such, but adding colour – even if not completely accurate – certainly gives me a better impression of how people at the time saw things, and it becomes more relatable.
Black and white can certainly be used for fantastic artistic intent in e.g. movies, by the way. But for these kind of historical records that's not what was going on; it was just a technological limitation at the time.
1) historians have no power over random people colorizing, upscaling and frame interpolating some old videos for fun
2) it's not "historians", it's actually a tiny minority of vocal historians who want this to be a problem