When the Mad Men production team approached us about using “Hilltop” in last year's series finale, we sent them a high-resolution digital version of the 1971 Coca-Cola ad. 

They pushed back, saying the quality of the file was not as good as it could be. I was a bit surprised because I had the ad re-mastered in 2000 when we donated it to the Library of Congress.

For those of you have never worked in film preservation, let me give you some background. Until 1979, all television commercials for Coca-Cola were shot on 35mm movie film negative and the audio tracks were recorded on what is called a “mag track” – 35mm film covered with a magnetic surface like the old cassette tapes. 

These were then spliced and edited until the finished and an inter-positive would be created to create positive prints. These positive prints were shipped to television stations around the country. At 24 frames per second, a typical 60-second commercial would have more than 1,400 individual 35mm frames. If it sounds complicated, it was!

When I say I had it remastered in 2000, in essence, each one of the 1,400 frames was individually scanned at the (then) mind-boggling rate of 2,000 pixels in the horizontal direction. A 2K scan was the best available at the time. Each of the 1,400 digital files of the frames was then color-corrected and combined to produce a digital version of the ad.

As you read in Sarah Traverso’s post earlier this week, technology has advanced over the last 16 years to the point that the Mad Men team was correct: our ad did not look as good as it could. I’m excited to see the new-and-improved version and am grateful to the team who worked on it.

One more bit on film preservation: Now that the original film has been re-scanned at 8K and color corrected, we have returned the original to the Library of Congress where it will be frozen… that’s right, frozen. Research has shown that the best way to preserve color in film is to freeze it. The process to both freeze and thaw the film is very, very intricate and time-consuming, but I think it will be worth it to keep it like new for future generations. 

Ted Ryan is director of heritage communications at The Coca-Cola Company.