This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors is started with Barbara Flueckiger’s research at Harvard University in the framework of her project Film History Re-mastered, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, 2011-2013.
In 2013 the University of Zurich and Swiss National Science Foundation awarded additional funding for the elaboration of this web resource. 80 financial contributors sponsored the crowdfunding campaign Database of Historical Film Colors with more than USD 11.100 in 2012. In addition, the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts provided a major contribution to the development of the database. Many further persons and institutions have supported the project, see acknowledgements.
Since February 2016 the database has been redeveloped in the framework of the research project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions funded by a grant from Swiss National Science Foundation, see project details on SNSF grant database.
Follow the links “Access detailed information ›” to access the currently available detail pages for individual processes. These pages contain an image gallery, a short description, a bibliography of original papers and secondary sources connected to extended quotes from these sources, downloads of seminal papers and links. We are updating these detail pages on a regular basis.
In June 2015, the European Research Council awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant to Barbara Flueckiger for her new research project FilmColors. Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Aesthetics, see press release of the University of Zurich and short abstract on the university’s research database.
Subscribe to the blog to receive all the news: http://filmcolors.org/ (check out sidebar on individual entries for the “follow” button).
The development of the project started in fall 2011 with stage 1. Each stage necessitated a different financing scheme. We are now in stage 3 and are looking for additional funding by private sponsors. Please use the Stripe interface to pay conveniently online or transfer your financial contribution directly to
Account IBAN CH2509000000604877146
Account holder: Barbara Flueckiger, CH-8005 Zurich, Switzerland
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Read more about the financial background of the project on filmcolors.org.
The author has exercised the greatest care in seeking all necessary permissions to publish the material on this website. Please contact the author immediately and directly should anything infringe a copyright nonetheless.
Auramine and Victoria green. Medium positive. Source: Eastman Kodak Company (1927): Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film. Fourth Edition. Revised. Rochester NY: Research Laboratories Eastman Kodak Company. Photograph by Martin Weiss, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
Virages sur mordançage sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté ambre, virage vert (green mordant toning on amber tinted Pathé stock), toplight and backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Medium Wanted as Son-in-law. Credit: Library of Congress. Photograph of the nitrate prints by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: On one edge, LEASED FOR USE ONLY ON MACHINES LICENSED BY MOTION PICTURE PATENTS CO. N.Y. (1909-19014, partially visible). Cf. Ill.PM.30: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 11.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
Credit: By courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Film: Schweizer Bilderbogen (ca. 1912 to 1914).
Edge mark: Pathé (1911 onward), thin italic letters, on one edge, PATHE FRERES 14 RUE FAVART PARIS and on the other, EXHIBITION INTERDITE EN FRANCE EN SUISSE EN BELGIQUE ET EN ITALIE (partially visible). Cf. Ill.PM.6: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
Credit: Copyright: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Archivo Nacional de la Imagen – Sodre, Montevideo/ Cineteca di Bologna. Film: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (GER 1919, Robert Wiene).
With Our King and Queen Through India [The Delhi Durbar] (GBR 1912, Natural Color Kinematograph Co.)
“In the preceding years Kinemacolor, however, enjoyed notoriety by being demonstrated to prestigious audiences including the royal family, numerous tided personages and representatives of society’s elite. Urban began his campaign to develop the process as a quality product designed to appeal to discerning exhibitors and audiences attracted by the novelty of colour as a scientific, spectacular attraction he hoped would transform cinema into an educational, ‘uplifting’ institution. Colour was thus equated with quality and prestige, rather than being considered vulgar or associated with lower-class taste. Urban’s marketing of Kinemacolor was influential in advancing ideas about British colour cinema as tasteful, for the discerning, patriotic viewer. The connection with royalty was of fundamental importance to Kinemacolor’s success. Members of the royal family were frequently invited to special screenings and they featured as subjects in films of national events such as the funeral of Edward VII in May 1910, the Coronation of George V in June 1911 and Investiture of the Prince of Wales in July 1910. The royal tour of India and Coronation Durbar at Delhi filmed in December 1911-January 1912 was probably Kinemacolor’s most celebrated triumph of capturing the pageantry, spectacle and magnitude of ceremonial occasions and glorifying the British Empire which, as McKernan has noted, coincided with a policy of ‘increased visibility’ for the British royal family and popular demand to see them on screen.40The Delhi Durbar was a magnificent ceremonial event to anoint King George V as Emperor of India. As such it represented the apotheosis of British imperialism preserved ‘for all time’, as The Bioscope put it, by Kinemacolor, ‘the modern Elixir of Life’.41 Urban’s ‘scooping’ of such occasions was a unique selling point that served two convenient objectives: first, to brand Kinemacolor as a high-class, quality product that presented moving images of people and places audiences would seldom, if ever, have seen before; and, second, the very novelty of seeing those people and places on screen paradoxically, and for some time, detracted from Kinemacolor’s technical shortcomings and perceived lack of full-spectrum reproducibility. The aura of royalty, exotic places and cultures made up, to some extent, for technical imperfections; audiences were arguably drawn in by the spectacle of royalty rather than colour per se, although these attractions tended to reinforce one another. […]
For long, prestigious Kinemacolor films, on occasion, lecturers would accompany touring companies to introduce and provide informative commentary for specific titles such as the Durbar film. Advertising leaflets were also issued to exhibitors. These described Kinemacolor’s superior technical attributes and why the process was so important. Urban’s control over commentary on the films by means of published programmes and lecture notes written for the purpose of supporting film screenings also acted as a brake on criticism which might otherwise have focused attention on Kinemacolor’s problems […].
As we shall see in Chapter 2, fringing was a problem that dogged subsequent processes such as Prizma and Claude Friese-Greene’s experiments in the 1920s; fringing rather than colour rendition became the most problematic issue for additive systems. As Kinemacolor cameraman William T. Crespinel explained: ‘If one waved a hand, it would appear as red and blue-green for the reason that there was a lapse of time between the red and blue-green exposure in the camera. Had both images been photographed simultaneously, there would have been no lapse of time between exposures.’43The Delhi Durbar films were generally praised, but one report singled out an incidence of unintended spectacle when soldiers walked ‘with the red stripes on their trousers and their red coats following along behind them’.44 […]
What is curious is that even though the Bioschemes court case drew attention to Kinemacolor’s inability to render blue, Kinemacolor was occasionally admired for achieving blue tones, as one report of the Delhi Durbar film attests: ‘Even the sky, which throughout serves as a frame for the human spectacle, is a thing to wonder at; it is one pure sheet of palpitating light, blue with a blueness of which one can only dream here in grey England, deep, intense, unruffled, like one gigantic sapphire.’48 Even though the colour palette achieved with Kinemacolor was clearly deficient as far as blue and purple were concerned, projecting the film onto a light blue screen helped overcome these problems and may explain the enthusiastic comments about blue.49 In addition, giving evidence to the court in the Bioschemes vs Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd case, G. A. Smith made the point that even though an image of a Union Jack flag might not have very blue sections, more grey or even black, the viewer’s cultural expectation to see blue could indeed convince her/him that it was actually present.50 This example draws attention to the complex factors that come into play when trying to assess the impact of colour; the power of suggestion and symbolism are important influences on colour perception.
40 Luke McKernan, ‘”The Modern Elixir of Life”: Kinemacolor, Royalty and the Delhi Durbar‘, Film History vol. 21 no. 2, 2009, pp. 122–36.
41 Ibid., p. 131.
43 William A. Crespinell, ‘Pioneer Days in Colour Motion Pictures with William T. Crespinel’, Film History vol. 12 no. 1, 2000, p. 59.
44 John Scotland, The Talkies (London: C. Lockwood & Son, 1930), p. 166.
48The Bioscope, 8 February 1912.
49 Paolo Cherchi Usai, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: BFI, 2000), p. 29.
50 G. A. Smith, unpublished evidence in URB 7/2/6, pp. 292. This reference is also cited by Luke McKernan, ‘”Something More than a Mere Picture Show”: Charles Urban and the early non-fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-25’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 2003, p. 179.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 13–15.)