DIY: Digitizing Tru Vue at Home

In my last post, I presented some compelling evidence that Tru Vue rolls can be digitized – in the form of a properly digitized Tru Vue roll. Here I’ll present a walk-through for how to do it, so that you too can make proper scans, stereo pairs, and anaglyphs of your Tru Vue collection with a standard Epson flatbed scanner (this should work with any model capable of transparency scanning). I already figured out the method yesterday, but for today, I picked a new example roll (since I don’t need another digital copy of the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert):

The New York Aquarium would be a 20 minute commute from my flat, if it were still located at Castle Gardens.

A number of methods crossed my mind whilst considering the problem. Of course it would be easiest to chop the negative into manageable portions, put these into one of the trays which came with the scanner, and scan each slice individually – they’d be properly flattened (since these ~80 year old rolls tend to be wound quite tightly). It would be easy enough. But of course, this would ruin the roll for proper Tru Vue purposes.

Then I realized that, instead of treating it as 35mm film, I ought to come up with a klurge that allowed for the scanning of portions of the strip at a time – scanning entire sections before moving on to the next. I tried simply stretching it from bottom to top on the scanner bed, but to my dismay, this somehow interferes with the scanner’s ability to function, and I got a mess of color blobs instead of recognizable imagery. Finally I settled on laying it across – this would get me less frames per scan, but I’d not mess with the software to the point it would be useless.

This worked – sort of. But the images were blurry in places – clearly, the tension in the film, and the space in between the scanning surface and the overhead glass, was such that it was still warped in between the new surfaces. I left it to stew a little while, and then looked over and noticed a picture frame in which I have a lovely photograph of my grandparents. It was time for them to make my life better once again – I pulled the glass out of the frame, cleaned and buffed it with a microfibre cloth, and placed it atop the film strip on the scanner bed. It held the film much better than my “hold it in place with my gloves, and curse a lot” method had worked, but there was still some give, and there was still some slight warping and blurring in the finished images. Annoyed, I let it stew a bit longer, and then chucked some styrofoam on top of it, so that now the scanner lid would press down on the glass…

My super-high-tech solution for an “impossible” problem: a piece of acceptably optically clear glass from a cheap Michael’s picture frame, and a couple of bits of foam packing material. Note the film strip being held in place by the glass, eliminating the need for much careful balancing and colorful language.

So would it work? I did yet another test scan to find out…

What Tru Vue looks like (with color correction on, since these things are invariably old, yellowed, and evenly oxidized).

…and was still unimpressed. There had to be something I could add to this equation to get straighter scans. Then I figured out the one missing piece:

Wilfred Owen shows up on this blog yet again. Specifically, on top of my scanner.

Yup, I just put a relative heavy 2-volume poetry set on top of the scanner lid, adding enough weight to compress the foam and evenly distribute weight over the piece of glass, perfectly flattening the strip… right?


Right. OK, so now I had a method, and from here everything was easy – I made my first scan of 9 frames (one side of the “welcome” image, since those are boring, the first three stereo pairs, and the next two right-hand panels for the next two stereo pairs). Carefully pulling the strip from the left (since I was scanning emulsion-side-down, as one does with negative film), I captured the next 9 in a second file, the next 9 in a third, and the final 2 image + one half of the “END” image in a smaller file. Now I had a number of files that eventually looked like this…

…and all I had to do was a bit of post-processing to mash them up and make proper stereo pairs and anaglyphs. But first, an important thing that might elude some people who’ve done less scanning than I – it’s absolutely vital, both for making free-viewing pairs and for making anaglyphs, to have the image straight, and it’s easy to be fooled by tiny variances. So I do this:

Penguins do not actually “fly” under water, using their “wings”. Someone got paid to write these captions-for-morons!

Using the ruler tool, I make a line across the bottom portion of the printed area of the strip, and from there, I move to Image->Image Rotation->Arbitrary, which automatically adjusts for the value that the ruler provides, and makes the strip perfectly level across the bottom – in this case, eyeballing it got me to within 0.1 degrees, which is not bad considering. After this, it was simply a matter of selecting the right hand image, copying it, and pasting it into a new file with double the width of the copied selection. Then, moving the marquee tool, the left-hand image was selected, and copy/pasted into the new document. A simple layer merge, and it was time to adjust levels, leaving me with:

Definitely dignified, and I have no doubts about their popularity.

Then a simple slicing back into two layers, turning the image black-and-white, and overlaying with adjusted channels using the standard technique to make an anaglyph:

I totally chose the 12th image in the series for this blog post totally randomly. Really. It could have been some boring shark or dumb turtle or something – just as likely – but it just so happened to be penguins.

And done! I’m left with an entirely digitized Tru Vue reel, one finished image off that reel (and 13 more to process at my leisure), and the intact roll as well:

Still as good as… well, when it arrived in the mail I suppose. It was probably a little less yellowed in the 1930s.

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