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