Please access detailed information on over 250 individual film color processes via the classification system on this page, display the Timeline of Historical Film Colors in chronological order, search via the tag cloud at the end of this page or directly on the search page, or see the contributing archives’ collections on the header slides.
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 of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors was 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 the 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. Since 2016, the team of the research project ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors has been collecting and adding written sources. All the members of the two research projects on film colors, both led by Barbara Flueckiger, have been capturing photographs of historical film prints since 2017.
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).
Contributions to the Timeline of Historical Film Colors
“It would not have been possible to collect all the data and the corresponding images without the support from many individuals and institutions.Thank you so much for your contribution, I am very grateful.”
Experts, scholars, institutions | Sponsors, supporters, patrons of the crowdfunding campaign, April 23 to July 21, 2012
Experts, scholars, institutions
Prof. Dr. David Rodowick, Chair, Harvard University, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Jörg Schweinitz, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Christine N. Brinckmann, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
PD Dr. Franziska Heller, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Dr. Claudy Op den Kamp, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Anton Rey, Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts
Dr. Haden Guest, Director, Harvard Film Archive
Liz Coffey, Film Conservator, Harvard Film Archive
Mark Johnson, Loan Officer, Harvard Film Archive
Brittany Gravely, Publicist, Harvard Film Archive
Clayton Scoble, Manager of the Digital Imaging Lab & Photography Studio, Harvard University
Stephen Jennings, Photographer, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library
Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Jared Case, Head of Cataloging and Access, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Nancy Kauffman, Archivist – Stills, Posters and Paper Collections, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Deborah Stoiber, Collection Manager, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Barbara Puorro Galasso, Photographer, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer, George Eastman House, Motion Picture Department
James Layton, Manager, Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art
Mike Pogorzelski, Archive Director, Academy Film Archive
Josef Lindner, Preservation Officer, Academy Film Archive
Cassie Blake, Public Access Coordinator, Academy Film Archive
Melissa Levesque, Nitrate Curator, Academy Film Archive
Prof. Dr. Giovanna Fossati, Head Curator, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, and Professor at the University of Amsterdam
Annike Kross, Film Restorer, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Catherine Cormon, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Anke Wilkening, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden, Germany
Marianna De Sanctis, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Paola Ferrari, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Gert and Ingrid Koshofer, Gert Koshofer Collection, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Memoriav, Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturgutes der Schweiz
BSc Gaudenz Halter, Software Development Color Film Analyses, video annotation und crowdsourcing platform VIAN, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab of Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, University of Zurich, (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD) since 07.2017
BSc Noyan Evirgen, Software Development, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab von Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, Universität Zürich (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD), 03.2017–01.2018
Assistants Film Analyses:
BA Manuel Joller, BA Ursina Früh, BA/MA Valentina Romero
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
SWIFT Code / BIC: P O F I C H B E X X X
Bank: PostFinance AG, Mingerstrasse 20, CH-3030 Bern, Switzerland
Clearing Nummer: 09000
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.
“When the British film industry was going through a period of expansion, followed by a financial crash in 1937-38, the risks and opportunities presented by colour acquired a compelling force. Producers such as Alexander Korda were enthusiastic, making several films in Technicolor […]. He argued that, despite the extra costs, colour was particularly attractive to female cinemagoers. Yet even with his appreciation for colour Korda emphasised that ‘its greatest triumph is that it is no longer remarkable’.52 By the end of the 1930s Technicolor aesthetics had shifted somewhat from the early ‘demonstration’ mode described by Scott Higgins towards the ‘unobtrusiveness’ that followed after The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936).53 The latter was praised in Britain for ‘admirable restraint’, capturing the outdoor scenery in a ‘true’ way.54 […]
Yet some commentators were prepared to go further and consider how colour invited a different approach to techniques, such as lighting. Bernard Knowles, who assisted Technicolor cinematographer Bill Skall on The Mikado (1939), advocated that instead of assuming lighting should be flat for colour, thought should go into colour distribution within a frame. He also saw that the introduction of colour presented challenges and opportunities for greater cooperation between art directors, directors and cinematographers. Unusually, he argued that the scriptwriter’s approach was most radically affected by colour since ‘He must not only visualise the story but must be able to appreciate how the telling of that story in colour is going to affect his writing of it … Colour must be written before it can be used intelligently.’59 Indeed, these principles can be seen at work in The Mikado, the first screen adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta produced and adapted by Geoffrey Toye and directed by Victor Schertzinger. The subject’s theatrical origins were highly appropriate for colour cinematography, and care was taken with sets and costumes to display shades that were praised for being ‘exquisitely lovely’.60 The lavish advertising campaign highlighted the film as a ‘screen event’, which was all the more notable for its Technicolor.61 Examples of colour being ‘written’ for the film include the contrasting costumes worn by Nanki-Poo (Kenny Baker) when posing as a minstrel dressed predominantly in brown and his rival Koko (Martyn Green) who wears red, black and purple, colours more typically associated with authority which in this context refer to him being the official fiancé of Yum-Yum (Jean Colin), the young woman who Nanki-Poo loves. She wears light blue and cream and generally soft, pastel shades in contrast to the woman Nanki-Poo is supposed to marry whose colours are predominantly grey and black. Even when Nanki-Poo is revealed to be the Mikado’s son and thus abandons his minstrel costume, he wears a beige outer garment with red and blue silk underneath. Colour is thus inscribed in the characters’ robes in a consistent manner. The film features many sets which were similar to how they would have been planned for stage performances. However, when shot in Technicolor opportunities were clearly taken to display colour effects such as shots of lanterns throwing warm shades of yellow and orange to provide strategically located illumination within the frame. Although the film featured a variety of such colour effects it was praised for its ‘pastel’ approach, and this was taken to be evidence of British cinema developing a particular palette in the deployment of colour.62
52 Alexander Korda, ‘They Talk Colour’, Cine-Technician vol. 3 no. 14, March-April 1937-38, p. 192.
53 Scott Higgins, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), p. 133.
54Kinematograph Weekly, 9 April 1936, p. 6.
59 Bernard Knowles, ‘Colour – The New Technique’, Cine-Technician vol. 4 no. 18, November-December 1938, p. 110.
60 Review in Monthly Film Bulletin vol. 6 no. 61, January 1939, p. 1.
61Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1655, 5 January 1939, pp. 25–32.
62Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1655, 5 January 1939, studio survey by H. Chevalier, p. 125, and review, Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1656, 19 January 1939, p. 32.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 49–50.)