Ontrack Saved Original Digital Footage of "I Was a Swiss Banker" from Tapes

Friday, April 20, 2018 by Michael Nuncic

In 2007, the Swiss feature film "I WAS A SWISS BANKER" was released in cinemas. The film is about a young banker smuggling German black money across the border to Switzerland. In one of his smuggling tours things go wrong: He can save himself and the purse with great difficulty in front of the customs` officers by jumping in the Lake of Constance. Here he meets a variety of mystical creatures, including a witch. He makes a bet with her: He should find his true love in a maximum of three attempts. The film and the story, which is strongly based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", was praised by international film critics and awarded prizes at film festivals. The film is still shown from time to time on the big screen and is also available on DVD. But that's not the end of the story and not the ones we want to tell here at Ontrack.

That sometimes and even today fairytales can come true, is what the data rescuers of Ontrack were responsible for exactly 10 years later.

Like many filmmakers, Thomas Imbach and his Bachim Film Productions (now Okofilm) did not realize the film completely on their own at that time. They also relied on professional help especially in postproduction, importing the material into a digital film system, cutting digital footage and finish the final movie. At that time, this was done by a Swiss film service provider. After successfully completing the project, the original digital footage was stored on LTO3 magnetic tapes by the service provider in the storage room. However, this service provider has not survived the intensified competition in the industry, went bankrupt and parts of it were eventually taken over by the film production service provider Cinegrell from Zurich.

With the purchase, however, the company owner Mr. Grell and his management faced a problem: The former customers of the previous service provider was in need of the original footage of their productions even after many years. Cinegrell wanted to comply to these customer wishes as far as possible and to support the filmmakers with inquiries about archived projects. Among other things, it was also about the availability of digital and original footage of countless other movies and commercials, including "I was a Swiss Banker". Its filmmaker Imbach was very keen as the holder of the rights to ensure that the original film material was held available and could be used again if necessary.

Cinegrell quickly discovered, after reviewing the existing equipment of the newly acquired company, that neither the necessary Sony LTO3 tape drives were available, nor the appropriate Backup Exec solution with which the tapes had been recorded. However, there were several tapes, of which nine tapes should have contained the sought after footage of "I was a Swiss Banker". In this situation, the company turned to the data rescuers of Ontrack.

Ontrack data recovery  first of all had to find out whether original material of the film was stored on these tapes or not. And if so, whether it would be possible to read the material so that it could be used again. For this purpose, a test diagnosis of one of the nine tapes was first agreed on and carried out. It turned out that contrary to the description on the tapes, these were not stored as tape sets, but as single tapes. However, the content of the single-tape could be read in the test without any major problems.

Thus, it was clear after the test of one of the nine LTO3 tapes that probably all footage of this Swiss fantasy film was lying on the tapes and could be read out almost completely. As a result, the film production Cinegrell and the rights holder of the movie, the filmmaker Thomas Imbach, decided together to have the entire movie material read out and thereby provide availability again. To do this, the tapes had to be read out on a compatible tape drive from Ontrack's tape lab and the files had to be unpacked with proprietary special software.

After placing the order, the remaining LTO3 tapes were extensively tested for damage and contamination and then read out with a suitable tape drive. After that the tape content was stored on the Ontrack server farm using a self-developed Ontrack imaging tool. These included thousands of individual Digital Picture Exchange (DPX) recording files, the common file format for modern feature film production using the digital intermediate method. Overall, almost all movie files could be read, with the exception of a file that was only partially stored by the backup solution on the tape in question and thus was faulty and irrecoverable.

After all the recoverable movie files were transferred from the tapes and their quality had been checked, they only had to be transferred to an approximately 8 terabyte-sized external hard drive and delivered to Mr. Imbach in Zurich. Overall, the entire project was completed successfully in less than two weeks, and the first diagnosis of the test tape was already available after about one day.

Due to the good results of this tape data recovery, even more digital footage of so-called legacy tapes will be salvaged, even if neither the necessary hardware nor the right backup software is available.

And that's not a fairytale at all ...

Picture copyright: Thomas Imbach/Okofilm Productions Zürich