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.
La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (FRA 1907, Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca). Credit: EYE Film Museum. Photographs of the stencil colored nitrate print by Olivia Kristina Stutz, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
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
Trade mark in scene: Pathé cockerel (until 1909). Cf.: Ill.TM.5: Brown 1990: on p. 30.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
“Daniela Currò is preservation officer in the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Previously, she was project manager at the Haghefilm Foundation and film preservation specialist and colour grader at Haghefilm Conservation B.V. in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She has also collaborated in research and restoration projects with Italian film archives such as Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin. Ulrich Rüdel holds a doctorate in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Münster and worked on biosensors and intellectual property rights before turning to film preservation. He is conservation technology manager at the British Film Institute, and was formerly R&D manager at Cineco/Haghefilm Conservation B.V. and project manager for the Haghefilm Foundation. Both Currò and Rüdel worked at Cineco/Haghefilm Conservation BV at the time of the interview.
Currò, Daniela, Claudy Op den Kamp and Ulrich Rüdel, ‘Towards a More Accurate Preservation of Color: Heritage, Research and the Film Restoration Laboratory’, in Simon Brown, Sarah Street, Liz Watkins (eds). Color and the Moving Image (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 307–19.
Rüdel, Ulrich, ‘The Technicolor Notebooks at the George Eastman House’, Film History vol. 21 no. c1, 2009, pp. 47–60.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, Daniela Currò and Ulrich Rüdel, ‘The Haghefilm Foundation, Amsterdam: A Learning Laboratory’, Journal of Film Preservation vol. 82, 2010, pp. 87–93.
Paletz, Gabriel M., ‘The Finesse of the Film Lab: A Report from a Week at Haghefilm’, The Moving Image vol. 6 no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–32.
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT [EXTRACT]
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 14 SEPTEMBER 2010
INTERVIEWER: LIZ WATKINS
LIZ WATKINS: So how do you gauge the colour for a restoration?
ULRICH RÜDEL: Well, for instance, I promised to show you this copy of this Agfacolor tint-and-tone manual because at first for me, it was like a little culture shock. I’m still not 100 per cent sure from when it actually dates, but there’s an article that refers to a toning recipe in here that seems to exactly fit a toning recipe that was published elsewhere in 1921 or 1922 which would date it around that time.10 The copy I have here I think came with a letter from the late 1920s or even 1930, but when we first saw it we were absolutely stunned by how intense these colours were.
LW: It has actual frames of coloured film in it?
UR: Yes and this is also very interesting when we talk about whether or not the so-called ‘nitrate effect’ exists, because here you see indeed that the film base is as clear as glass. This is something you only see with nitrate, but whether that shows up on screen or not or substantially translates into something on the screen, well that I’m not quite sure about.
LW: They’re almost jewel-like colours, aren’t they? They are incredibly intense.
DANIELA CURRÒ: They are, yes, but then what we also have to consider is that this is a sample book from Agfa. What about the tints from other companies? Could they have had a different look?
UR: I’m not so sure about that. I don’t know what orange they have, for instance, but in other cases I think they might have arrived often at similar dyes, in different places, different geographical locations.
DC: What I mean is that looking at nitrates, I can see patterns coming from a given production company, which usually employed the same colours.
UR: But maybe it’s different choices made using the same palette of dyes?
DC: Of course, but how many dyes are there? Were these the only dyes available? And which were the concentrations and mixes used?
UR: Well I guess there are quite a few even just in this book if they have twelve recipes. I mean, this was the conclusion: there’s so much we don’t know. If you look at the prints, they’re usually in a much worse condition. So we can only make observations, but we don’t actually know. Maybe the other ones were once as vibrant and have decomposed. Are we looking at a deliberate difference in colours here, between Agfa and Kodak, or Europe and the US, or from 1910–20 or into the 1920s? Or does Agfa just happen to have used better paper to mount these frames, so that they survive better than the Kodak tint-and-tone manuals or say, are the storage conditions in Europe on average better (e.g. cooler) than those on the US West Coast?
DC: So what you normally do you’re when looking for a reference point when you get a reel of tinted nitrate on your table, is that you use the colour on the perforation area because you assume it is not as faded as the centre of the frame. Fading in fact could have occurred as a consequence of the heat of the projector’s lamp, but sometimes even in a brand new film that has just been tinted, the edges are a little darker than at the centre, regardless of whether the film has ever been projected. So this assumption is not always correct.
UR: Indeed, we confirmed that, on occasion, and it’s not really surprising because you know you have to shake your tinting solutions or agitate it at least once in a while to make sure to always get fresh solution to the film. The perforations would create some extra stirring, some agitation which would help the colouring process. So that might be an explanation for that, but it’s a subtle difference. Sometimes in films we’ll see the effects; we see the films with different colours but without drawing any definite conclusion. For instance, in one project we were looking at the homogeneity of the colour but in some cases we saw variation depending on how we did it. These slight differences in colour intensity perhaps would be not very noticeable with very dark colours. I think we would probably see that well in a colour that is lighter, so that’s tricky because you have the combination of chemistry and photography, but also vision and psychology.
DC: Often it is experience that helps you understand what the colour that you see was supposed to be like, because sometimes you are lucky enough to find the same decomposition pattern as you’ve seen on a film that you’ve inspected previously. That’s why I keep my camera nearby and I always take pictures. For example, in a film I worked on recently, the first shot looked almost to be green-toned and then the shots after it were blue-toned. So then the choice was whether I should select green toning or whether the fact that all the rest of the film is blue-toned should make me think about something else? There was another film that I had inspected previously that had exactly the same kind of green toning, but occurring only in the middle of a shot that apart from this decayed area was toned blue; that particular shot had decomposed further. That made me think that the first shot in the roll I was inspecting had actually for some strange reason a higher level of decomposition. So, it should have been blue-toned like the rest of the film. The subject of the film was a trip to Niagara Falls too, so it made sense that the tone of the film was blue since all the shots were set in a water environment. There are many considerations to take into account. That’s why you document the choices you make and keep the originals. Somebody else could judge the same phenomenon differently.
UR: This brings up another issue that might be a bit of a concern, that regardless of which route by which you choose to reproduce a tint and tone, I would say that the standard and usually the preferred one is the Desmet process. You could question how well it preserves colour, because what you’re recording are the timing values made in a particular lab, at a particular time, for a particular film stock, and to match the light source of a modern projector.11 The properties of a segment of film are certainly not comprehensively documented by timing values. You can’t predict it very well because every component has a little influence on the actual colour rendition. So it might already be arguable how faithful at all the image is a match to the original experience, and how good a colour preservation for posterity is achieved by using this method. I mean, if you need new prints twenty years from now, you will have to struggle yet again with similar issues to re-recreate the Desmetcolor from two decades before.
10 Elfriede Ledig and Gerhard Ullmann, ‘Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn. Zu einigen Aspekten der Farbe im Stummfilm’, in Elfriede Ledig (ed.), Der Stummfilm: Konstruktion und Rekonstruktion (Munich: Verlegergemeinschaft Schaudig/Bauer/Ledig, 1988), pp. 89–116, 105.
11 Noël Desmet and Paul Read, ‘The Desmetcolor Method for Restoring Tinted and Toned Films’, in Luciano Berriatua (ed.), All the Colours of the World: Colours in Early Mass Media 1900-1930 (Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, 1998), pp. 147–50.”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. Ulrich Rüdel and Daniela Currò. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 219–227, on pp. 221–226.)
The Virgin Queen (USA 1928, Roy William Neill). Credit: George Eastman Museum. Photographs of the Technicolor No. III dye-transfer nitrate print by Olivia Kristina Stutz, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.