Colorlab – Preserving Film in a Digital World

Ever since Russ Suniewick and co-founder Ernest Aschenbach of Colorlab Corp. opened their doors for business in 1972, Colorlab has been dedicated to providing highly professional and knowledgeable film laboratory services to filmmakers, students, museums, and archives.  While we offer all the same services found in a traditional motion picture film laboratory such as processing and telecine transfers, Colorlab is increasingly specializing in moving image preservation.

Colorlab expanded to NY City in 2001, opening a customer service office right in the heart of Manhattan to complement our full-service lab in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

What We Do

Colorlab is a full-service motion picture film laboratory offering services ranging from 16mm and 35mm film processing, timing, answer printing, telecine transfers in standard definition and HD, and full film-to-film preservation to polyester intermediates and answer prints.  Colorlab handles complete film preservation services for all standard film gauges below 70mm such as 8mm, Super 8, 9.5mm, 16mm, Super 16, 17.5mm, 28mm, and 35mm.  We have focused on bringing the highest, best-researched standards of the industry to bear on the services we provide and we regularly work with brittle or highly shrunken film with high Vinegar Syndrome that other labs have considered unsalvageable or outside their ability to transfer or preserve.  We are also experienced in handling nitrate film and dealing with the end-of-life effects of decomposition.

As the moving-image preservation industry continues to change, Colorlab is determined to adapt to these changes by creating new state-of-the-art services such as Digital Film Intermediates and enhanced pneumatic transfer gates, enabling sprocket free transfers, custom-designed by our engineers to improve image stability.  These services are currently being employed in our preservation efforts with the New Zealand Repatriation Project in association with the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve a large collection of US films from the silent era, approximately 90% of which are thought to be the last surviving prints.

The archival film community is a growing part of our customer base, including such prestigious clients as the Library of Congress, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Library of Medicine.  We have also been privileged to be the major vendor for the US National Archives and Records Administration for over 15 years under the Electronic Intermediate Program and have performed SD and HD archival transfers for many documentarians, including Ken Burns, CC&C [Paris], the BBC, RAI [Italy], and so on.

What We’ve Done in Philadelphia

Colorlab’s offices/facilities are in Maryland and New York City, but we have made an impact in the Philadelphia market:

Many individual employees of Colorlab, including President Russ Suniewick, are members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, which held its annual convention November 2010 in Philadelphia.  During our time in Philadelphia, Colorlab was pleased to have its work in film preservation profiled on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Nov. 6th edition.

Colorlab was also responsible for preserving and transferring the archival material used in the short film Release, by Bill Morrison with music composed by Vijay Iyer.  This film marking the 80th anniversary of the release of Al Capone can be seen at Philadelphia’s own Eastern State Penitentiary, right next to the cell that housed the notorious gangster.  Colorlab preserved and transferred the film in HD from the original nitrate negative found in the University of South Carolina Fox-Movietone Collection.

Colorlab also preserved another important nitrate negative for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia—a film called Undersea Gardens, which is a collection of underwater footage from 1938 by E.R. Fenimore Johnson.  This preservation was funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation, or which we are an active partner.

Colorlab’s Philosophy

Our philosophy is to use a need-based approach to all of our film preservation work; we do not sell use of technologies not needed for any particular project, thereby keeping costs down and enabling preservation of more film.  The preservation of film is of critical importance to Colorlab.  Colorlab has been active in such organizations as the Association of Moving Image Archivists, the Orphans Symposium, and the Center for Home Movies.

Whether it’s a previously unknown original film of Marilyn Monroe or home movies found in your grandmother’s closet, Colorlab has the expertise and tools to handle it all!

Dean Plionis

Dean Plionis is the Customer Service and Public Relations Representative for Colorlab and has been with the company since 2008. Prior to that, he was the Shop Manager for two years at the Philadelphia-based video production company, Keystone Pictures, Inc.

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