Preserving UCA’s Film Heritage

The archive has inherited the student film collection from UCA going back to the early days of the Guildford School of Art whose film unit produced some impressive work with the expertise of tutor KN Singh. As a Film Archivist this is great news for me and I have been enjoying delving in to the collection much of which dates from the late 1960s – 1990s.

filmcansArchive film is a very fragile medium requiring careful handling. Many of the films have suffered from poor storage and have become warped and their colour has faded. The archive is keen to secure the future of the films by storing them correctly and is working with partners to ensure the films are kept in optimal conditions for their long term survival.

I’ve begun cataloguing the films using a steenbeck and so far the films have covered a wide range of topics. “It Could Happen to You” made in 1981 to mark the international year of disability looks at the everyday lives of a variety of individuals with disabilities either from birth or due to accidents. “The Patient” made in 1977 follows cancer patients and the medical staff who treat them and shows various medical procedures in graphic detail. In contrast “The Day of the Mounties” records the 1969 Surrey County Show with images of Guildford high street and Stoke Park during that period and “The Other Day” circa 1970 is a tale of young love. It’s fascinating to look back at the fashions, lifestyle and viewpoints held during that time.

The collection comprises some 700 reels of 16mm film and it is our hope that some of the material can be digitsed so that it is made accessible for students and staff to view. It is important that collections like this can be preserved for future generations. Not only do they show the work of past students of UCA but they also capture life in a different era and are in themselves historical documents which if preserved correctly can leave a lasting legacy.

I’ll be posting regular updates as I work my way through the collection.

Carryl Church, Assistant Archivist


Preserving the Collections: The Challenges of 2D Animation Preservation

The Bob Godfrey collection comprises several different media from acetate animation cels, paper drawings, storyboards, scripts, dope sheets and occasional audio tracks. One of the big issues we are facing is how best to preserve a multi-media collection of this kind, and more specifically how best to preserve acetate animation cels.

Acetate is a highly volatile format which is prone to deterioration if it is not kept in conditions which provide a constant level of temperature and humidity, ideally the colder the better. Coming from a film background I am very familiar with the issues surrounding the preservation of acetate films. The challenge with acetate animation cels is that not only are we dealing with the acetate itself which is prone to vinegar syndrome, curling and folding but in addition each cel can be seen as a piece of artwork, carefully painted by hand, usually with acrylic paints. Quite often the paint will stick to the paper used to separate the cels and then we are faced with how to separate these without causing paint transfer and the loss of the image.



The second challenge is that the preservation of acetate cels is an under researched area. Due to historic storage issues some of the cels have been folded, quite often right across the picture. Here the problem we face is how to flatten the cels out without causing the acetate to crack as acetate tears easily and can be quite brittle.


We have actively been looking for answers to these challenges, undertaking research and seeking advice from our archive colleagues. Since so little research has been carried out in this area it is an exciting opportunity to find a way forward. Both Disney’s archives and Cinematheque Francaise have undertaken most work in this area. For more information follow the links below:


Preservation in the Archives

After attending a Care and Display of Archives workshop at the Natural History Museum, it seems timely to look at why  preservation in Archives and Special Collections is so important, and what can happen if correct environmental controls and correct packaging are not adhered to.


Preservation: Ensuring that material will not be damaged in the future, by controlling external influences

Conservation: Treating material after it is damaged. Conservators must try to make sure that the treatment is reversible.

Causes of Deterioration


  •  Incorrect handling (the greatest cause!)
  •  Incorrect storage, including staples and paperclips which rust, and make the paper vulnerable
  •  Fluctuation of temperature and relative humidity, which  causes material to expand and contract
  •  Heat – causes paper to be brittle
  •  Light – fading and discolouration
  •  Pests – including mice and woodworm, which cause holes and damage. Pests will be attracted by food and drink, and often the damp
  •  Humidity – high humidity causes mould and low humidity causes brittleness
  • Security


  •  Acidity – high acidity comes from lignin present in wood, which  breaks down the paper. Paper today is much more impure than earlier paper, which is far more likely to last the test of time.
  •  Foxing. Foxing are the brown spots that you can see on paper. This can be caused by the acidity of the paper, and outside conditions. As long as the material is readable this does not have to be removed.
  •  Iron gall ink – this ink causes degradation leading to browning. It is chemically unstable and can eat through paper. It was widely used in 20th century artwork

Ways to combat deterioration

  • Following environmental condition recommendations (13C-20C and Humidity 35-60 RH)
  • Acid free packaging
  • Brass papers (which do not rust) and melinex(chemically stable and inert) sleeves
  • Correct handling, including not leaning on the document and supporting the book by the spine
  • Use of pencils only
  • No food or drink
  • Ensuring books are correctly supported by book rests, of ideally inert foam