Digitizing and Reassembling the 183 Interviews from Eyes II

The 183 interviews from the second series of Eyes on the Prize were digitized and reassembled thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH awarded the Washington University Libraries a Humanities Collections and Reference Resource grant for $226,392 in the spring of 2019. Preserve South, a media digitization lab outside of Atlanta, scanned the original camera negatives and audio reels. Jim Hone, the Libraries’ Film and Media Digital Archivist, edited together the various film rolls and audio recordings into the finished access copies. The grant project was finished in the summer of 2022.

The workflow for digitizing these 183 interviews was based on a previous project to preserve and disseminate the 75 hours of interviews from the first series of Eyes on the Prize. The Libraries finished that project in 2016 thanks to financial support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Those interviews can be viewed here. Libraries staff – Jim Hone, Irene Taylor, and Nadia Ghasedi, along with Emily Halevy of Preserve South – published an article on that project in the Journal of Digital Media Management called “Eyes on the Prize: Preservation to Dissemination” if you’re interested in learning more about that work.

While the basic steps were the same for this second phase, there were a number of important differences.

First, Eyes I was shot and edited entirely on film. That meant that the original camera negatives of the interview sessions were cut to remove the sections of the film roll that appeared in the final broadcast episodes, physically separating them from their original film reels. To allow for the entire interview to be reintegrated into a coherent version, the individual interview negatives and the episode negative were digitized. Jim Hone then painstakingly pieced each interview back together, rejoining the segments that had been physically removed during the editing of Eyes I in 1986.

However, while the interviews for Eyes II were shot on film, the episodes were edited on video. As such, the original camera negatives were not spliced and the same degree of reintegration was not necessary.

While that fact meant it was easier to reassemble each individual interview, a new challenge was caused by the significantly larger number of interviews produced for the second series. The 183 interviews made for Eyes II represent a 46% increase over the number of interviews in the first series.

Those 183 interviews were spread across 242 reels of 16mm negative and 281 reels of quarter-inch audio. They total almost 102 hours in total. (Start watching them now, and if you don’t sleep or get up to eat then you can be done in just over four days of continuous viewing.)

The second difference between the two projects is the resolution at which the film reels were scanned. The interviews from Eyes I are HD quality, partially due to file storage constraints of the time. For the current project, the Eyes II negatives have been scanned at 2K, which results in about a 98% increase in the number of pixels per frame. However, this improved capture quality results in a commensurate increase in the size of the files. With the use of an open-source tool, RAWcooked, Hone was able to losslessly compress the DPX files made by Preserve South into FFV1 files, which decreased the project’s digital storage needs by around a third. Still, the total size of the project is still close to 68 terabytes.