See 21 Historic Films by Lumière Brothers, Colorized and Enhanced with Machine Learning (1895–1902)

Auguste and Louis Lumière thought that cin­e­ma did­n’t have a future. For­tu­nate­ly, they came to that con­clu­sion only after pro­duc­ing a body of work that com­pris­es some of the ear­li­est films ever made, as well as invalu­able glimpses of the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and the dawn of the twen­ti­eth, an era that has now passed out of liv­ing mem­o­ry. Using the motion-pho­tog­ra­phy sys­tem that they devel­oped them­selves, the Lumière broth­ers cap­tured life around them in not just their native France, but Switzer­land, Italy, Eng­land, the Unit­ed States, and even more exot­ic lands like Egypt, Turkey, and Japan — all of which you can see in the com­pi­la­tion video above.

The smooth col­or footage you see here is not, of course, what the Lumière broth­ers showed to their wide-eyed audi­ences well over a cen­tu­ry ago. It all comes spe­cial­ly pre­pared by Youtu­ber Denis Shi­rayev, who spe­cial­izes in enhanc­ing old film with cur­rent tech­nolo­gies, some of them dri­ven by machine learn­ing.

If this sounds famil­iar, it may be because we’ve fea­tured a good deal of Shi­rayev’s work here on Open Cul­ture before, includ­ing his restored ver­sions of Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, Belle Epoque Paris, New York City in 1911, Ams­ter­dam in 1922Tokyo at the start of the Taishō era — and even the Lumière broth­ers’ famous movie of a train arriv­ing at La Cio­tat Sta­tion.

For this com­pi­la­tion video’s first four and half min­utes, Shi­rayev explains how he does it. But first, he offers a dis­claimer: “Some peo­ple mis­tak­en­ly think that the col­ors in this video are the orig­i­nal source col­ors, or that the source mate­r­i­al had audio, or that the enhanced faces are real.” All that was in fact added lat­er, and that’s where the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence comes in: even in the absence of direct his­tor­i­cal evi­dence, it can “guess” what the real details not cap­tured by the Lumière both­ers’ cam­era might have looked like. This is part of a process that also includes upscal­ing, sta­bi­liza­tion, and con­ver­sion to 60 frames per sec­ond — a form of motion smooth­ing, in recent years the sub­ject of a cin­e­mat­ic con­tro­ver­sy the Lumière broth­ers cer­tain­ly could­n’t have imag­ined.

After Shi­rayev’s remarks, you can start watch­ing 21 Lumière broth­ers films after the 4:30 mark.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch the Films of the Lumière Broth­ers & the Birth of Cin­e­ma (1895)

Icon­ic Film from 1896 Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Watch an AI-Upscaled Ver­sion of the Lumière Broth­ers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat Sta­tion

Pris­tine Footage Lets You Revis­it Life in Paris in the 1890s: Watch Footage Shot by the Lumière Broth­ers

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

Watch the Ser­pen­tine Dance, Cre­at­ed by the Pio­neer­ing Dancer Loie Fuller, Per­formed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Broth­ers

The His­to­ry of the Movie Cam­era in Four Min­utes: From the Lumière Broth­ers to Google Glass

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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