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 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 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. 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.
“For some considerable time prior to the production of Laughing Lady, the British National studios at Elstree had been engaged in the making of musical films. Late in 1945, negotiations with the Technicolor company came to a successful conclusion, and executive producer Lou Jackson announced that British National was going into the colour field. First came the try-out; they shot the last reels of Meet The Navy, film version of the Canadian Navy show, in colour. These were carried through without much difficulty, but a full-length feature provided more complex.
The first snag was the lighting. Elstree only had two 150-amp. high intensity arcs at that time; at least fifty are needed for a big colour production. The lighting equipment company, Mole-Richardson, were able to collect together 28 arcs after much searching in the store rooms, but this was still not enough. Although an independent organisation from the Arthur Rank group, Lou Jackson approached the great man in sheer desperation. The result was a loan of twenty more arcs to Elstree for which Jackson was indeed grateful for without them filming would have been impossible, and a great deal of money would have been wasted through cancelling the production.
Under production manager Fred Swann, Laughing Lady went on the floor. Led by Technicolor-trained Geoffrey Unsworth, the camera crew were soon quite settled in. Natalie Kalmus, with the ever-efficient Miss Bridge, took over the job of introducing colour ideas to Elstree. It was not long before the electricians on the rail got the hang of “trimming” the H.I.’s as rapidly as possible, although the arc motors were noisy to start with.
Technicians studied the Technicolor technique before the picture went into production. Special parties went up to the West End of London to see the latest American colour films, and a copy of The Great Mr. Handel was screened at the studios.
A total of thirty-four sets were erected for the film, designed by Holmes Paul who, working on water-colour sketches, collaborated with Natalie Kalmus and Joan Bridge at every stage of production. In addition, two scenic artists of unusual talent – Gilbert Wood and Olga Lehman – were engaged in making detailed “breakdowns” of the art director’s water-colours.”
(Huntley, John (1949): British Technicolor Films. Cornhill, London: Skelton Robinson, on pp. 106–107.)
“The lighting cameraman, Ronald Neame, has since become a director; this detailed account of his first excursion into Technicolor was written at the time when This Happy Breed was in production and gives some interesting facts and figures on colour photography as it was in 1944.
“Let’s face it,” says Neame, “colour has come to stay. There are some of us that like it and some of us that don’t, but, whether we do or we don’t, it’s not going to make the slightest difference. Each year for the past five years the percentage of Technicolor production has increased, and it’s my guess that in five years’ time Black and White will be on the way out for good. Of course, colour will be vastly different from what it is to-day. I am convinced that before long we shall be able to dispense with three negatives and, when Monopack or its equivalent is in general use, the present Technicolor camera will go the same way as the ‘camera booth’ of the early talkies went. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with the camera, some of its features are first-class, and should be adapted at once to all Black and White cameras. Remote control focus, what a joy that is, and how much superior the viewfinder with its minimum of parallax. But size is against it, and although Technicolor will support it up to the hilt and maintain that it really is quite mobile, there is no doubt that it considerably slows up production and is a poor substitute for the comparatively light and up-to-date Mitchell. Soon, too, faster film will enable us to get rid of some of the oversize lighting equipment which at the moment makes colour a heavy-handed business.
Lighting for Technicolor is rather like drawing with a piece of charcoal after having got used to a very fine pencil, but it is surprising how quickly you get used to working with a ‘key’ light of 800 foot candles instead of the 100 foot candles that you have probably been working with in the past. Yes, 800 foot candles. Just eight times as much light as you work with in Black and White at F.2. This will enable you to work at stop 1.5 in Technicolor. Technicolor stops are different from Black and White. The following chart will be a useful guide to cameramen new to colour: –
It is not advisable to work at Stop 1, because although this is possible with the 50 mm. and 70 mm. lenses, the wide angle lenses are full open at Stop 1.5; therefore it is obviously better for practical purposes to treat this stop as being the widest aperture.
Colour lighting in this country at the moment is practically all arc, incandescent light being far too red to be of any use. It can, however, be used to great effect when creating firelight scenes. The average interior set should be rigged with a mixture of Mole Richardson 150 amp. H.I arcs, and 120 amp. H.I arcs, and in view of the poor state of some of the lighting equipment in this country at the moment, the 150’s should predominate. Nothing smaller is of very much use on the rail.
The following might be of some help when working on colour for the first time: –
Where in Black and White you would use a Mole 5 kilowatt, use a Mole 150 amp. H.I.
Where in Black and White you would use a Mole 2 kilowatt, use a Mole 120 amp. H.I.
Where in Black and White you would use a Mole 500 watt, use a Mole 65 amp. H.I.
Where in Black and White you would use a Can (floodlight), use a Twin arc, Broad or Scoop.
The usual Mole incandescent lamps can be converted for colour by incorporating a blue condenser; these lights have little strength but are very useful for shadow or filler light.
For all straightforward lighting use white flame carbons and cover all arc spots with a Y.1 gelatine filter. Without this filter the light is too blue and cold to give a natural daylight effect. For night exterior shots in the studio, work without the Y.l.
Contrast is one of the great problems of Technicolor to-day. In Black and White, if negative contrast is increased the blacks look more black and the whites look more white, shadows go heavier and highlights stronger. In colour, something else happens as well – the reds look more red, blues look more blue, pink faces look more pink – sometimes ‘lobster’ – and before you know where you are you are faced with very glorious Technicolor. As in Black and White, the higher the contrast the better the definition. Hollywood has realised this and that is the reason why all colour pictures from America are extremely colourful. With them, definition and visibility are of paramount importance, they are prepared to sacrifice more subtle tones of colour for clarity of vision. In England this becomes somewhat of a problem for the lighting cameraman, producers and directors not for the most part being technicians want the best of both worlds, they quite naturally want good definition but are determined not to put up with ‘Red, White and Hot Technicolor’ as served up by America, and it is very difficult to make them realise to what a large extent these two things are bound up together.
Out of this arises another problem – ‘colour separation.’ This again plays a large part in deciding the quality of results. If a face is photographed up against a bright blue, no matter how flatly it is lit, it will stand well away from the background. If, on the other hand, the background is pink, only the most carefully modelled lighting will give reasonable results. Here again you can see how Hollywood technicians work! In all their big musicals (The Girls They Left Behind is a perfect example) sets and costumes are all designed to give the greatest possible ‘colour separation,’ thus even the flattest flood lighting will give good bright results on the screen.
So far I have discussed only straight-forward lighting, and before passing from this to night, and effect stuff, I would like to sum up by stressing the importance of getting fully exposed negatives with plenty of detail in the shadows. There is no doubt that sometimes excellent results can be obtained by breaking this rule, but, generally speaking, a well-exposed negative will give the most consistent and most pleasant effect. I think it is right to say that Technicolor exteriors are lovely, and not a little of this loveliness is due to good bright daylight, and its accompanying strong and healthy negative. The amount of ‘control’ that Technicolor have to exercise in order to give you a good result on the screen is something to be marvelled at, and it is not fair to make their problems greater by giving them a negative that because of thinness, or contrast, has little or no latitude. Don’t forget that a negative printing correctly on light 12 will look reasonably good printed on light 14 or light 10, thus allowing for a margin of error – but a negative that is so thin that its correct printing light is light 4 will look quite impossible on light 6 or light 2.
Now to pass on to effect lighting. This is so much a matter for the individual that I do not intend to deal with it at length. ‘Night Exterior’ in the studio is, perhaps, the most generally used effect, I have already mentioned the necessity of dropping the Y.l filter, which will result in a colder, more realistic night light. Hollywood obtain their romantic moonlight shots with the aid of light blue gelatine filters placed over their lamps, and these in conjunction with Y.l filters covering lamps lighting the interior of windows, etc., can be very effective indeed. As a rough guide a key light reading of about 300 foot candles to 350 foot candles will give a good rendering of moonlight strength, but this is naturally dependent on the amount of shadow light which accompanies it.
Firelight effects, as I have already mentioned, are best obtained with the use of incandescent light, or by putting panchromatic carbons in arcs. When shooting the séance scenes for Blithe Spirit in flickering firelight, I used a key light from the floor of about 500 foot candles, but the effective light was reduced to about 400 foot candles by the use of paraffin torches held in front of the lamp to create flicker.
Before dropping this photometer reading business I must once again repeat that there is no cut and dried ruling on the matter. Conditions vary all the time, so does Technicolor film stock. Colour film deteriorates very quickly, and in six months’ time, if we are still using the present batch of negative, we may well be using 33 per cent. more light. On the other hand, if new supplies arrive from America, we may find that 500 foot candles will give us a good strong high light. Let us hope that the latter is the case.
Technicolor is great fun, but it is spoilt for me at the moment by one great handicap, the fact that all rushes are viewed in black and white, printed from the blue record. The result is hardly pleasant to the eye and one never enjoys seeing them, they give little or no indication as to what the colour will be like and are as often as not misleading. The short sections of colour that one does see (very often many days after the scenes are shot) are on and off the screen so quickly, and are so very often out of balance from the colour point of view, that they are only just worth while. These short sections are known as ‘pilots,’ and after viewing a few one begins to understand very quickly just what problems Technicolor technicians have to cope with. A ‘pilot’ can be too red, too blue, too green, or too yellow, too flat, too contrasty, too light or too dark and at least half a dozen other things besides.
Yes, of course, colour has its handicaps, but colour has been born, and this healthy and sometimes unruly child is growing rapidly every day. I think it is true to say that at the moment it is suited best to costume and colourful subjects, but as each new production is added to the now long Technicolor list the colours will improve and become more subtle, until one day colour won’t be a child any more.
This Happy Breed: the article by Ronald Neame is taken from “The Cine-Technician“.”
(Huntley, John (1949): British Technicolor Films. Cornhill, London: Skelton Robinson, on pp. 56–61.)