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Activity Forums Adobe After Effects Natgeotv: JFK the Final Hours – source material?

  • Natgeotv: JFK the Final Hours – source material?

    Posted by Jim Arco on November 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Not sure where to post this question.

    I just watched “JFK: The Final Hours” on National Geographic channel and saw some incredible looking images from that era.

    According to NatGeo website, there was a White House film crew covering the president’s trip to Dallas. But the video looked MUCH better than the usual 16mm newsreel film. Since some of it looks run-and-gun, so I can’t imagine they were shooting 35mm at the time. A short example of what I’m talking about can be found at

    From just a casual look, you’d think they time-traveled a high-end video camera back to 1963.

    I haven’t found any hints on the natgeo website. Does anyone here have any clues regarding the source material and post-production enhancement tools for this show?


    Jim Arco replied 10 years ago 6 Members · 9 Replies
  • 9 Replies
  • Tero Ahlfors

    November 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    They might’ve gotten some original reels and rescanned/restored the film.

  • Joseph W. bourke

    November 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    At about :31 in the film, there’s a pretty good shot of the car with the cameraman, and it’s hand-held. Maybe a Bell & Howell Filmo 16mm. I can’t tell whether there’s a single lens or turret on it, but it’s not a 35mm. Here’s some interesting info on making 16mm look great, and it may be the process used by Nat’l Geographic:

    Apparently the Filmo was offered as a 35mm hand-held model, but the only discussions of it seem to say it was offered in the late 1920s, and maybe didn’t catch on, so my guess is (unless someone wants to blow up a frame of the camera car and prove what the camera is) that it was 16mm:

    I would think that the 16mm film, with the right processing, could have achieved the look of the clip you posted. I worked at an ad agency in the late seventies, and we shot all of our commercials on 16mm, then did a transfer to 1 inch tape. It looked beautiful.

    Joe Bourke
    Owner/Creative Director
    Bourke Media

  • Mathew Fuller

    November 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    16mm film looks great in HD. When a telecine is done from the original film.

    Seinfeld was shot on 16mm. If you’ve ever seen the reruns in HD on Tv they are very crisp and look fabulous.

    My Work:

  • Jim Arco

    November 10, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Thanks you all for the responses.

    I agree that it is likely 16mm, but I would love to have the tools and skills used in post. Remember that, whatever the source material, it is 50 years old. It is newreel film, meaning that it was intended to be quick-and-dirty and was processed as fast as possible in whatever conditions were in the lab when the film came through the door. Even film considered as important as this, stored in perfect conditions for 50 years, would show fading, stains, scratches, grain, and spots. In addition, there are some low-light color scenes in the show that would seriously challenge many of today’s cameras.

    If anyone knows the techniques that were actually used for this program, I would really be interested to hear about them.


  • Tero Ahlfors

    November 10, 2013 at 7:33 am

    [Jim Arco] ” fading, stains, scratches, grain, and spots”

    There are numerous techniques, hardware and software for doing remastering and restoration. DVNR, PFClean, Davinci Revival or painting manually in photoshop/AE/iQ/Smoke/Flame whatever.

    [Jim Arco] “…I would love to have the tools…”

    I’d reckon the most costly tool in this sort of a project would be the film scanner. Or scan the footage somewhere else with a good colorist.

  • Joseph W. bourke

    November 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I’m sure there are other sources to scan film, but here’s one which shows the choices and compares the results:

    Also bear in mind that the footage you’re referencing was not your standard run and gun stuff. There was a cameraman in the third car back in the motorcade, which says to me that this was a White House photog, and, as such, he was probably using the best portable technology for the time.

    Joe Bourke
    Owner/Creative Director
    Bourke Media

  • Ivan Myles

    November 13, 2013 at 1:39 am

    Digitized copies of the source footage can be viewed online at the Kennedy Library under the title, “The Last Two Days, November 1963: 21-22” (produced movie, A roll, B roll, outtakes). Physical media is listed as 16mm.

  • Robert Erickson

    November 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I was the producer on JFK: The Final Hours. You were interested in the footage we used.

    Tom Atkins was the White House photographer shooting 16mm on the Texas trip. His footage was edited into a 19 min film entitled “the Last Two Days.” This film is available on line at the JFK Library website. For this production we contacted the library and asked if there had been a HD transfer made. They did have an HD version on file. But further inquiry revealed that they also had the original A&B rolls plus additional outtakes from the original program. Rather than use their HD transfer we requested the A&B rolls for a new transfer. They agreed – if we would give them a copy of the HD also. We agreed.

    We used a transfer facility approved by the National Archives. It was a 2K Spirit transfer done by Video and Film Solutions Corp from Rockville, Md. The A&B rolls were cleaner than other possible film negative. We then color corrected in our normal Post production flow. The result was impressive and gave the material a fresh look. The out takes were even more exciting. They had been handled even less frequently than the A&B rolls. Their color was enhanced.

    In the early parts of the program JFK visited San Antonio and Brooks AFB. Researching at the JFK Library – they suggested we look at a film called USG-24. These images were taken by Air Force cameramen documenting everything JFK did in San Antonio. Again we requested and paid for a HD transfer. When they arrived at the lab we learned that the Air Force cameramen were using 35MM! We were amazed at the clarity and color of these negatives that had not been used much at all. As expected our new 35 MM Spirit 2K transfer had lots of color depth for our post colorist to play with.

    JFK: The Final Hours – benefitted greatly from current technology as we transferred negative footage into the digital world of 2013. I’m glad you enjoyed the program.

    Robert Erickson
    Producer, Creative Differences Productions
    Producer, JFK: The Final Hours for National Geographic channel

  • Jim Arco

    November 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm


    Many thanks for the additional details. I had never seen footage that old in such excellent shape – I was quite impressed with the program material and the technical quality.

    Congratulations on your excellent programming!


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