Science

90-year-old video of extinct thylacine colorized in stunning 4K scan

90-year-old video of extinct t...
A still from newly-colorized video of Benjamin the thylacine, originally filmed in 1933
A still from newly-colorized video of Benjamin the thylacine, originally filmed in 1933
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A still from newly-colorized video of Benjamin the thylacine, originally filmed in 1933
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A still from newly-colorized video of Benjamin the thylacine, originally filmed in 1933

Our mental images of the extinct thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, are likely tinged in greyscale, since that’s the main way we’re used to seeing them. But now, one of the most famous videos of the animal, shot in 1933, has been professionally colorized for the first time.

The thylacine is a carnivorous marsupial that was once widespread across Australia. It’s thought to have disappeared from the mainland about 3,000 years ago, with a population surviving on the island of Tasmania until the 20th century. When European settlers arrived, the creature was considered a pest and hunted extensively, until the last known specimen died in Hobart Zoo in 1936.

It’s this last thylacine, named Benjamin, that most of us are familiar with, courtesy of a few minutes of grainy, black-and-white video. So now, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) of Australia has had some of this footage professionally colorized.

The NFSA created a 4K scan of the original 33-mm negative of a 77-second video, shot by naturalist David Fleay in 1933. This was then sent to Composite Films in Paris, where Samuel François-Steininger and his team recreated the creature’s color in painstaking detail.

Tasmanian Tiger in Colour

Unfortunately, no true color photos or video of the thylacine exist, so the team studied specimens preserved in museum collections, consulted sketches, paintings, scientific drawings and written descriptions from the time, as well as more recent 3D renderings.

“Because of the resolution and quality of the picture, there were a lot of details – the fur was dense and a lot of hair had to be detailed and animated,” says François-Steininger. “From a technological point of view, we did everything digitally – combining digital restoration, rotoscoping and 2D animation, lighting, AI algorithms for the movement and the noise, compositing and digital grading. More than 200 hours of work were needed to achieve this result.”

The end result is stunning. The thylacine pops against the drab, grey background of its enclosure, with mostly tan fur, lighter underbelly and, of course, the darker brown stripes along the back that earn it the Tasmanian tiger moniker. Poor Benjamin can be seen pacing around his cage, sitting, lying in the sun, yawning, and scratching.

It may be gone, but the thylacine continues to inspire wonder in scientists and the general public to this day. Intriguing but unverified sightings have been reported for decades, while genomic studies unravel the animal’s tragic history in more detail. Just last year, the NFSA discovered in its archives a long-lost video of Benjamin from 1935, believed to be the last clip ever taken before his – and his species' – death.

Source: NFSA

11 comments
11 comments
los_kiosk
At the risk of being seen as picky - I doubt very much that this could have been a 90 year old video - as video recording didn't really start becoming available until the 1950's and then at very low resolution. This is a FILM which was later converted to video, processed and colourized.
It's important not to confuse video recording (either on tape or electronically) with physical film, which is a much older chemical based technology.

Aside from that, I feel so sorry for the creature. It must have had a miserable existence.
UncleToad
surely they mean that a 90 year old film has been colorized? - there was no such thing as 'video' 90 years ago !
MashiachTheReal1
Poor creature! Such a lonely life and death! (Even as a species!) When will humanity learn that there are no pests (and weeds), but friends out of the animal (and vegetable) kingdoms?
1stClassOPP
Looks more like a canine creature than a tiger to me. (Wolf, dingo, coyote, dog?)
BartyLobethal
Even sadder in colour than it is in black and white. I wonder if these would have made good pets or working animals had they not been exterminated.

1stClassOPP - they were marsupials, so neither tigers nor dogs.
TomLeeM
I have seen some reports that they might still be around. I hope so. I read they have found foot prints and there are reports of a similar creature being seen. Perhaps this colorized version would help those who might have seen it to realize if it is the creature or something else. I hope it is the creature.
Nelson Hyde Chick
As humanity swells by billions more we will be driving most other life on this planet to extinction, so in the not too distant future all we will have of many species is video, sad. Humanity is a cancer for this planet.
ljaques
Cool cat, with a horrible caged life for the old guy. I sure as heck wouldn't want to run up against one in the wild. Supposedly, there have been recent sightings.
Eddy
A bloody disgrace for new Australians to have exterminated this species. They were not exactly cave men and science must have known even 90 years ago that this lovely unusual animal was unique to this country and needed preserving. It's lucky we still have kangaroos, koalas and wallabies etc. if only for a few more years at the rate we are cutting down and islanding our forests that are still left and not yet burnt by bushfires.
LooseSends
Nelson Hyde Chick: No. Your way of thinking is the cancer, not humans. There is a subset of humanity that is interested in controlling other humans for their own benefit, and the consequences of their disregard has a detrimental effect on nature at the very same time they espouse their love for nature in order to pacify the masses.

Your type of human defeatism actually helps them.
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