Technicolor No. IV: Three-strip
With the fourth Technicolor process the company dominated the market for color films from the mid-1930s to the 1950s.
In a special camera, three b/w negative films were exposed through a beam-splitter that consisted of two prisms to form a cube. One portion of the incoming light passed directly to a frame aperture fitted with a green transmitting filter to the negative for the green record. The other portion of the incident light was directed by the semi-transparent, gold or silver dusted mirror at an angle of 90° to a bi-pack film, placed behind a magenta filter. The front film was orthochromatic for the blue record and contained a red-orange dye to block the blue light, the second film was panchromatic and captured the red record.
Before the dye-transfer was executed, the blank-film was exposed with a weak key image in b/w of the green record was exposed to improve perceived image sharpness. The blank film also contained the b/w optical sound track.
For the dye-transfer the three b/w records were printed onto the corresponding matrices, one for each color. Similar to process no. III, these matrices were developed, bleached and washed to form reliefs which could absorb the dyes for the imbibition of the projection print. Since this is a subtractive process the dyes were complementary to the taking colors: magenta for the green record, yellow for the blue record and cyan for the red separation.
These dyes were then transferred onto the blank film containing the key image, one after the other. It is obvious that pin-registering, i.e. the fine adjustment of the three records on top of each other, was crucial to deliver a sharp image without any color fringing.
As a reaction to the problems with process no. III, Technicolor took great care in maintaining a high standard of quality control. A cornerstone in this strategy was the Color Advisory Service, directed by Natalie M. Kalmus. The color consultants advised the productions on how to develop a color score in accordance with the narrative structure of a film. Set and costume design, props, make-up, lighting including the camera work were all controlled by the Technicolor company. The dominant ideology of Technicolor advised a restrained use of colors with an emphasis on naturalness, strictly subordinate to the story development. Colors should subtly convey dramatic moods and impressions to the audience. Kalmus also suggested the use of conventional color associations, such as red for passion, anger, power etc.
Specially trained cameramen had to learn to handle the difficult process. This required many tests before the actual shooting. Special care had to be given to shadows and highlights. White image parts tended to produce obtrusive blotches of white, while blacks were reproduced with unwanted color hues.
The emulsion was very slow, meaning that it needed high levels of illumination, and it was adjusted to the color temperature of daylight. Both these requirements led to the dominant use of hi arc (carbon-arc) lamps. Tungsten light either had to be adjusted to daylight by filters or it produced a yellow light for candles etc.
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The Red Shoes (GB 1948, Michael Powell; Emeric Pressburger) is one of the most beautiful and well-known British Technicolor films. This gallery provides images from four different versions, a Finnish dye-transfer print, the images from the 2009 digital restoration by UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt (before and after), and a dye-transfer print from the British Film Institute.
Gone with the Wind (USA 1939, Victor Fleming) is one of the most famous Technicolor films. It is highly sophisticated both with regard to its color scheme and the subtle use of light and shadows.
Comparison of two prints: a safety print from the Academy Film Archive, and a 1940 nitrate print from the Library of Congress.
Credit: Images courtesy of the Academy Film Archive and Library of Congress. Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
Several animation films in Technicolor. Historical nitrate prints from Národní filmový archiv / National Film Archive, Prague.
To Spring (USA 1936, Hugh Harman)
The Lion (felis leo) (GB 1948, Bert Felstead)
The House Cat (felis vulgaris) (GB 1948, Bert Felstead)
Sleeping Beauty (Netherlands 1937, György Pál)
Gulliver’s Travels (USA 1939, Dave Fleischer), a long animation film
Credit: Národní filmový archiv / National Film Archive, Prague. Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
World’s Fair—The Romance and Thrill of Chicago’s “Century of Progress” in Full Color is a documentary about the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1933-34. Film print from 1934.
See Schrenk, Lisa D. (2007): Building a Century of Progress. The Architecture of Chicago’s 1933–34 World’s Fair. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Credit: Library of Congress. Photographs of the nitrate film print by Barbara Flueckiger.
The Tales of Hoffmann (GB 1951, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
Credit: Library of Congress. Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
See blog post “The Tales of Hoffmann: exclusive materials from the making of Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece” on the BFI website.
Comparison of two Technicolor dye-transfer prints of La Cucaracha (USA 1934, Lloyd Corrigan).
Dye-transfer safety print from 1971.
Credit: George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Collection.
Dye-transfer nitrate print.
Credit: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film.
Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
Becky Sharp (US 1935, Rouben Mamoulian), 1945 dye transfer nitrate print from the National Film Archive, Prague.
Credit: Národní filmový archiv / National Film Archive, Prague. Photographs of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
“Rouben Mamoulian and Robert Edmond Jones shared credit for Becky Sharp’s colour design in the popular and technical press. William Stull, in American Cinematographer, reported that Jones served as ‘a sort of chromatics upervisoro f every detail of the production’. Stull explained: ‘Not only did he design the settings and costumes and plan the colouring of every scene: he outlines the chromatic composition of every shot, and serves on the set almost as a co-director and co-cinematographer’.83 Mamoulian, though, seemed to claim authority by explaining to Stull that, as in the theatre, he ‘tried to make the dramatic and emotional use of colour play a vital part of my work’.84
84. William Stull, ‘Will Color Help or Hinder?’ AC (March 1935): 107.
85. Rouben Mamoulian, ‘Some Problems in Directing Color Pictures’, JSMPE (August 1935): 150.”
(Higgins, Scott (2000): Demonstrating Three-Colour Technicolor: “Early Three-Colour Aesthetics and Design”. In: Film History, Vol. 12, No. 4, Color Film (2000), pp. 358-383, on p. 376.)
Mamoulian, Rouben (1935): Some Problems in Directing Color Pictures. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 25,2, pp. 148–153. Download
Two dye-transfer prints of Blood and Sand (USA 1941, Rouben Mamoulian)
Dye-transfer nitrate print from 1941.
Credit: Courtesy of BFI National Archive.
Credit: Image courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
See Brinckmann, Christine N. (2015): Blood and Sand. Die Farben der Malerei. In: Connie Betz et al. (Hg.): Glorious Technicolor. Berlin: Bertz + Fischer, S. 89–101. (in German) Download