Technicolor Explained

In a world where flipping our images between color and black and white is as simple as the click of the mouse, photographers and cinematographers today aren’t often tasked with knowing the complexity of how those vibrant colors actually come into existence. But in the early days of cinema, when competing processes for color reproduction took turns as the next best innovation, one name reigned supreme: Technicolor.

Founded in Boston in 1914 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott, the name was derived from the last initial of Kalmus and Comstock’s alma mater, M.I.T.  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).  Originally starting with a two-strip process, the company is most known today for their durable three-strip process, combining three distinct strips of color film, a red, a blue, and a green, to create vibrant images that leapt off of movie screens for the majority of the 20th Century in films such as “The Wizard of Oz” all the way up to “The Godfather: Part II” in 1974.

But how exactly did it work?  In this awesome new video from Vox, Phil Edwards discusses the process and the history of Technicolor and offers some interesting behind the scenes insights into one of the most famous films of all time. Of particular note to me was learning exactly what was necessary to make Dorothy’s famous transition from black and white to color a reality.

Give it a watch a learn a bit of film history as well as the way you can use innovation to bring new life to your images.

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Michael Holst's picture

The advancement of film from black and white to color is one of those things I wish I had been around to experience with the rest of the world. Great video!

Anonymous's picture

Lovely informational video!

For the film buffs. The oldest piece of film I own. Click image to see in better detail.

Spy Black's picture

An Agfa copy?

An original projection copy. I have no idea how the process came about in terms of what the final film choices were for theater projection. In other words are there versions that made it to other types of film besides Agfa? I don't know.

My original plan on acquiring this strip was to scan it with my 4000dpi film scanner to make a large, high quality print from it. Oddly, I still haven't gotten around to scanning it. As you can probably see from the photo it will require quite a bit of touching up that the infrared scanning of my film scanner I know will not be able to handle.

By the way, I've seen the color portions of the film and they vary in color quality from amazingly pristine with no apparent color shifts, to some that have shifted towards sepia, amusingly enough. The pristine ones are really vivid, as explained in the video. Really beautiful colors.