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
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Account holder: Barbara Flueckiger, CH-8005 Zurich, Switzerland
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Bank: PostFinance AG, Mingerstrasse 20, CH-3030 Bern, Switzerland
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Read more about the financial background of the project on filmcolors.org.
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“There are three different films under the “Allegretto” umbrella. In 1936, Oskar was commissioned by Paramount to create an animation to Rainger’s Radio Dynamics score as the opening number for their feature Big Broadcast of 1937. Since Ernst Lubitsch had specifically mentioned Oskar as the filmmaker of Composition in Blue when Paramount telephoned him in Berlin to ask if he would come to Hollywood, Oskar assumed that they wanted him to produce something similar to Composition in Blue, and he designed a cel-animation that contained rather primary geometrical shapes, mostly in primary colours. When they informed him that no colour footage had been requisitioned, since the feature itself was all black-and-white, and his three-colour separation negative would just have to be printed in black-and-white, Oskar refused, quite logically, since the dark reds and greens and blues would all become the same black, with no differentiation, and consequently little dramatic tension. As far as we know, this negative was never printed. In 1941, with a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, Oskar was able to buy it back from Paramount, but he painted a new set of cels and made a completely new film. The original nitrate Radio Dynamics three-colour separation masters which had been made at Paramount were printed in 2000 by the Academy Film Archive to create what is now known as the “early version” of Allegretto. The print of this first version is quite brilliant, and different from the later better-known version. The animation is simpler, with fewer background textures and elements, and the main figures are pure geometrical shapes, many like the cylinders of Composition in Blue, and in primary colours. It is nonetheless impressive, and surely would have been successful if Paramount had printed it in colour as a special episode in the feature.
The second version of Radio Dynamics was prepared in just a few weeks to meet the production deadline for the main feature. Oskar used a little bit of the abstract animation from his first version, but all the images are combined on one hand with additional animated patterns (e.g. overlapping concentric circles radiating inwards and outwards) and with special-effects of live-action elements: coffee cans bursting open, champagne bottles blowing their corks and pill bottles recapturing escaped pills through reverse printing, autos and streetcars and neon signs – and walking cigarettes. The result is lively and cute, and would have worked as an introduction to the main live-action comedy of the feature, but apparently it was not finished early enough to be previewed and okayed by key executives, although it was printed, and that black-and-white nitrate among Oskar’s films was transfered to a 16mm safety master, synched with the soundtrack, in 1971. The nitrate 35mm materials were preserved and printed by the Academy Film Archive in 2000.
The colour version that Oskar prepared for the Guggenheim grant in 1941, re-named Allegretto to please the Baroness Rebay who liked musical references, was largely a new film. Oskar re-painted most of the cels, adding in the concentric circle textures and other layering of images. Visually, Allegretto is very rich indeed. Fischinger’s fascination with the new (to him) technique of cel animation led him to experiment with multi-layered see-through constructions which are more diverse and complex on the surface than those in most of his other films. At the same moment, one sees a background pattern of two overlapping concentric radiating circles, comet-like figures, sparkling and stretching diamonds, a row of teeth-like triangles gliding down one side of the frame like a liberated soundtrack, and other sensuous or mechanized motifs, each moving independently. The colours are more diverse, California colours – the pinks and turquoise and browns of desert sky and sand, the orange of poppies and the green of avocados. The figures work themselves up into a brilliant and vigorous conclusion, bursting with “skyscrapers” and kaleidoscopes of stars and diamonds, and Hollywood art-deco of the 1930s. It is a celebration, plain and simple, of the American life style, seen fresh and clean through the exuberant eyes of an immigrant. Perhaps because of the supression of Allegretto and its subsequent revelation in 1941, it bears a strong influence on Radio Dynamics in form, colour and technique, with, however, a marked advance in structure and clarity in the latter work.”
(Moritz, William (2004): Optical Poetry. The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, on pp. 228–229.)
Tint 2 Cine Red. Source: Eastman Kodak Company (1918): Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film. Rochester, NY. Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library.
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté rose (virage sépia) rose tinted stock with sepia toning. Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
“La gamme des couleurs ostentatoires est explorée de manière quasi exhaustive dans Drôle de frimousse (1957), où Stanley Donen joue, avec une maîtrise et une élégance confondantes, de tous les artifices d’un chromatisme qui s’affiche comme triplement arbitraire, en liaison avec la comédie musicale, avec la haute couture (Givenchy) et avec la photographie de mode (Richard Avedon). Chaque fois, la couleur investit cinétiquement l’espace. Le slogan d’une styliste – “Think Pink” – se matérialise par le déploiement d’un long voile rose. Cette couleur un peu mièvre est bientôt contredite par le jaune vif des taxis “Yellow Cab”, puis du chapeau (jaune vif, orange vif, vert Pernod) avec lequel joue et danse Audrey Hepburn, emplissant de teintes claires et vives l’espace sombre de la librairie. Enfin, le rouge demeure la signature obligée du Technicolor, d’abord avec la muleta improvisée de Fred Astaire (une doublure d’imperméable rouge et bleue, composant une sorte de fuchsia pas très vif mais que font ressortir le mouvement et le contraste nocturne), et surtout avec la robe écarlate vêtue de laquelle Audrey Hepburn descend l’escalier de la Victoire de Samothrace, ses voiles battant comme les ailes d’un grand papillon à la Loie Fuller.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 117.) (in French)
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté rose (virage sépia) rose tinted stock with sepia toning, backlight, Parisian copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
National pink. Normal 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.
Safranine dye tone. 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.