The goal of these very specific temperature controls is to ensure archived film and video materials remain in flawless condition when accessed in the future. The process of storing film is more nuanced than other archival storage, due to its delicate nature. Long-term archiving is a valuable commodity for motion picture clients for a simple reason—film can’t be replicated, but it certainly can be tampered with and ruined without proper handling. In fact, there’s a term used in the film archive industry, “vinegar syndrome”, which gets its name from the smell that the films expel. The actual condition, called cellulose triacetate degradation, is a result of high heat and moisture levels in storage areas. When this condition occurs, one bad film—emitting acetic acid—would spoil the bunch, so to speak. The acid would post a serious threat to surrounding films—and it could ruin an entire collection.
“Maximum use of space is the biggest need—we need to be able to store as many cans of film as possible,” he says. “Long-term retention of our clients’ content is what it’s all about.” -John Bragg, Pacific Title Archives’ Branch Manager
Before they were able to create this climate controlled film storage vault for their Burbank location, PTA needed help—and McMurray Stern was brought in to offer a design-build solution and manage the project as a general contractor. The vault would sit inside a warehouse facility and require the optimal use of space, while still allowing ease of access for the multiple clients who would need to get to their archival inventory. In addition, the store unit needed to meet the temperature requirements stated above—and needed to ensure the preservation of film canisters for up to 75 years.
The first priority was the regulation of temperature and humidity in the vault. For this, we contacted Dahlbeck Engineering in nearby San Clemente to design a dehumidification unit for installation just outside the vault vestibule. The humidifier removes moisture from the air through a desiccant rotor and guarantees the precise humidity control by modulating face and bypass dampers. This unit allows the vault to be kept at 45 degrees Fahrenheit with 25% relative humidity, and removes pollutants and particles by carbon and HEPA filtration.
The vault is regulated by a passive smart system, which automatically monitors climate activities and sends a notification if there is a breach or change of any kind inside. This provides a level of security that allows for a quick response in case of emergency so that the contents will maintain their condition. In addition, we implemented a fire-prevention gas system, which pulls oxygen from the vault in case of a fire. Because of the damage a wet climate would cause the film, it wasn’t possible to simply install a fire sprinkler system. “We presented the plan to the City of Burbank prior to proposing the solution to the client,” says Jim Burkart, McMurray Stern’s Senior Design Consultant. “When you’re building climate controlled film storage from the design phase to execution, there’s no such thing as too much planning.”
After the construction of the vault, Burkart and the McMurray Stern team started to tackle another challenge—to store a capacity of 80,000 film canisters in a 2,300 vault. As a vendor who rents out this space to motion picture-related businesses and other companies in need of climate-controlled storage, Burkart says it was imperative that the vault be optimized to store as many canisters as possible.
John Bragg, who serves as Pacific Title Archives’ Branch Manager at the Burbank location, agrees. “Maximum use of space is the biggest need—we need to be able to store as many cans of film as possible,” he says. “Long-term retention of our clients’ content is what it’s all about.”
To meet this challenge, Burkart designed a large mechanical-assist high-density mobile storage system, which operates on a recessed rail unit inside the vault. The compact mobile shelving system consists of 20 total carriages, with waterfall wire wide span shelving optimized to the perfect height and length to fit the exact dimensions of film canister stacks. “Because the mobile shelving eliminates static aisles, but still offers a way for every single film canister to be 100% accessible at any moment, it was a great way to store a lot of archival inventory in a minimal amount of space,” Burkart says.
Being able to create an integrated storage solution with the construction of the vault and the design of the storage systems within the space proved to be beneficial for Pacific Title Archives—and it fit with the companies’ very quick timeline. The project took two months to complete, a fast turnaround considering the very specific requirements. “We’re very happy with the way the project turned out,” John Bragg says—and now, the company is able to supply climate-controlled storage for a delicate part of the United States’ entertainment history.