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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“When the studio decided in 1935 to extend the use of Technicolor to the films of its “star,” Mickey Mouse, color could easily have taken a back seat and become more “natural,” subordinated to an established character. Yet The Band Concert, the first Mickey cartoon shot in Technicolor and one that, as Steven Watts offers, “many critics consider… to be Disney’s masterpiece among his animated shorts” (65), strikes a medium ground between denial and exposure. Its color scheme is clearly designed not only for a naturalistic effect, but also to advance the principle of caricature. In fact, the setting – a rural scene of a small bandstand in a clearing, surrounded by trees, fields, and a few farmhouses – is indistinct for much of the film, with the backgrounds just broadly suggestive of the setting and done in pastel shades of blue (the sky) and green (nature). Against such a vaguely naturalistic backdrop, the film repeatedly centers Mickey, the bandleader, or other music-playing anthropomorphs (Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle the Cow, etc.) in the foreground wearing uniforms in the highly saturated Technicolor primaries – red, blue, and green – that make them stand out against the muted backgrounds and argue for the heightened importance in which these characters see themselves and their actions. His long red military-style coat with gold buttons and epaulets particularly seems to comment on Mickey’s status, since it is many sizes too big for him: dwarfing him, slipping over his arms as he leads the band, so that one arm constantly seems much longer than the other, and causing him to trip over its tails and fall on his face as he tries to fend off a pestering Donald Duck. If the bright red coal signals his status as leader, it is also practically a character itself insofar as, much like the Duck, it repeatedly seems to mock him, to point up his slightness but persistent sense of self-importance. And it is a point underscored when a storm comes up and undresses several of the band members, stripping them even of their red long underwear, while also, in two cases, inflating the underwear to suggest animated figures – like themselves.
The other key color motif consistently highlighted here is that of gold or brass, the color of the trim on all the band uniforms, of the music stands, and especially of the instruments that, as the brief narrative unfolds, increasingly become comic props or foils for the action. By the way it stands out against the muted pastels of nature, it quickly suggests another order of things, an intrusion that predicts the later appearance of the cyclone. Mickey’s gold epaulets flip-flop as he waves his arms, the gold and red caps of each band member repeatedly lift off their heads as they play their instruments, as if propelled by the force of the sounds they produce, and a yellow and black bee (another sort of “accident”), stirred up by the music, proceeds to harass each of the band members, while also anticipating the arrival of the cyclone that seems to have been evoked by their rendition of “The Storm.” The sense of vitality linked to this color carries over to the instruments, which not only produce the music but seem to produce the characters themselves, as they precipitate key actions. For example, the slide of a trombone accidentally snares the Duck and releases a golden shower – myriad flutes he has been using to bedevil Mickey by joining in with the band’s playing. Horace’s cymbals become a way of swatting the bee that is interfering with their playing – but also another sort of interference, as he accidentally claps Goofy’s head between them. And a bright tuba, picked up by the storm, lands in center frame to cover up and at last shut up the Duck, practically literalizing the notion that silence is golden. Finally, the flutes that the Duck keeps producing, and that Mickey repeatedly confiscates and breaks, seem to appear as if by magic – in fact, the Duck several times poses as if he were a magician as he materializes them – become the golden emblem of his persistence and of another sort of storm that can simply take things off on its own course, hijacking the music and the musicians, shifting their tunes from classical to popular styles (from gold to brass).
Watts, Steven. The Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney and the American Way of Life. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1997.”
(Telotte, J.P. (2004): Minor Hazards. Disney and the Color Adventure. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 30–39, on pp. 35–36.)