Film School: Working with Archive Footage

'Wonder Woman - A Symbol of Progress' | kaptainkristian 'Wonder Woman - A Symbol of Progress' | kaptainkristian

How using archival photographs and film footage can bring life and depth to your storytelling.

In his peak ’90s conspiracy drama JFK (1991), director Oliver Stone employs propaganda techniques of editing together actual archival footage with fake footage, to manufacture credibility for the voiceover narration of (fictional) characters like Mr X:

NowThis animates archive photographs with basic motion (scale and position), together with minimal text and voiceover, to create engaging mini-documentaries and short-form reporting:

Photo and film footage can also be combined using multiple instances of the same footage, or with basic transformations such as cropping and repositioning (via Vox):

Pitchfork’s Liner Notes series breathes further life into its static visual elements (still photographs, hand-drawn graphics, film clutter) with audio elements (voice over, audio samples of a slide projector):

kaptainkristian‘s video essays combines a range of static assets (ink drawings, paintings, vector graphics, as well as photographs). One particularly interesting technique involves masking, to separate photographs into foreground and background layers (starting around 2:45):

Further Viewing

Here’s a playlist of examples from Vox’s Darkroom series (you can open up the playlist on the side to skip past any videos that may not be available):

Try It Yourself

There are plenty of sites hosting royalty free images, videos and sounds for download. A popular film archive, which allows free download of public domain footage, is the Prelinger Archives.