Researchers find old Warhol image files in unknown format

We talk about ensuring that you have backups of your files quite a bit, but one topic that isn't discussed very often is how to ensure that you will have the proper tools to load your backups in the future. While we assume that standards like .JPG and .DOCX will last forever, there's plenty of lesser-known file formats and video codecs that future computers may not be able to read.

A group of people in the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club discovered this first hand. After discovering through a YouTube video that Commodore partnered with artist Andy Warhol in the 80s, the group decided to reach out to the Andy Warhol Museum and other artistic folks to search through old files and see if there were any unique hidden gems. After years of work, they found a staggering 28 images that the world had never seen before.

However, it wasn't as easy as plugging in a floppy disk and loading the files into Photoshop. The disks, circa 1985, were frail and the data on them was in a format that nobody could read. The groups used a KryoFlux to make copies of the disks, and after sorting through many files, identified several that ended with a .PIC extension with no known way to view the images. After reverse-engineering the content of the files, the team was able to convert the files to PPM (a similar raw format), and then convert again to PNG so that they could be displayed. The entire process was quite interesting and the published white paper lends a lot of details on the process.

From an artistic perspective, this is a wonderful find. However, it should also be a reminder that file formats that make sense to you today might not be easily readable in the future.

Source: Studio for Creative Inquiry | Image courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum

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After reading the team's pdf report this article doesn't seem entirely accurate. They had no trouble at all reading the discs and they were able to open the images just fine using the Graphicraft program they were created in (the disk was even labeled Graphicraft so they knew what program they needed to use). They did later convert them to PNG but only so they could easily be viewed and archived on modern hardware.

The pdf is linked in the article and is a very interesting read if you like old computers.

Thrackerzod said,
After reading the team's pdf report this article doesn't seem entirely accurate. They had no trouble at all reading the discs and they were able to open the images just fine using the Graphicraft program they were created in (the disk was even labeled Graphicraft so they knew what program they needed to use).

What's not accurate? From page 4 of the PDF:
"Though these were not recognized by modern utilities as any recognized file type, with great anticipation the Graphicart program was started in an attempt to view these files within the emulator. After some difficult familiarization with this very primitive software, horrifyingly, the files refused to open! Initially thinking that perhaps these were saved with a different version of the software, several other versions of Graphicart found on the Internet were attempted, also to no avail."
:)

Maybe over dramatized would have been a better choice of words. :)

I mainly meant the part where it sounds like no one was able to view them until they had been reverse engineered and converted. They viewed them in GraphicArt before doing that (once they found the correct Kickstart ROM). Being pre-release software complicated things too of course.

Edited by Thrackerzod, Apr 25 2014, 5:54pm :

Thrackerzod said,
Maybe over dramatized would have been a better choice of words. :)
Over-Dramatized Neowin news piece.. naaaa.. that would never happen.. and never with misleading titles either :p

I've got 2 operational computers they could have shoved those floppies in, read the files off of in a native 1980s program that handles .PIC, and used the token network they are plugged into to get them onto the 3.1 computer connected to the internet, to use a website I built for this purpose, to save them to cloud storage.

That set-up used to be in my dad's walk in copy shop, we boasted that we could recover almost any graphic file as long as the physical media was intact. We were very rarely wrong, and spent a LOT of time cruising garage sales for old tech to keep up that boast.

And not just any version of GraphiCraft, if you read the PDF you'll see it was a pre-release copy (release versions used a more standard file format). Thankfully, the program disk was amongst the collection.

Praetor said,
I thought that PIC images could be seen with QuickTime; i did saw lot's of photos in the 90's with QuickTime.
Several programs over the years have used a .PIC extension, but that doesn't mean they hold the same contents or are stored in the same format.

Great example of this, nfo files that you get when downloading movies/tv shows.. They are just a text file.. but Windows by default uses that extension for system information. Different files, same extension.

i had a koala pad on my amiga, or was it the c64, that saved files as .pic
i wonder if that's what he used to draw... hmmmm

Article said,
The disks, circa 1985, were frail
Most of the 40 disks were actually in very good physical condition and they had no problem pulling off the data, but a few (not the ones with the art works on them) had bad sectors or other corrupted files.

DonC said,
Is there no PIC reader on aminet?

I guess the problem is that it's not the same PIC format found on some ancient DOS/Windows software.

Decebalvs Rex said,
MP4 extension will die soon.
3GP not far ?
MPEG4 is jointly owned by just about every relevant computer/software company, and several hardly relevant ones lol. It's not going anywhere any time soon.

Hell MPEG1 is still alive and kicking.. barely.. and MPEG2 is widely used still.