Various illustrations depict the Technicolor No. I process.
Various illustrations depict the Technicolor No. I process.
“The earliest Technicolor laboratory was built within a railway car. This car was completely equipped with a photochemical laboratory, darkrooms, fire-proof safes, power plant, offices, and all the machinery and apparatus necessary for continuously carrying on the following processes on a small commercial scale; sensitizing, testing, perforating, developing, washing, fixing and drying negative; printing, developing, washing, fixing and drying positive; washing and conditioning air; filtering and cooling wash water; examining and splicing film; and making control measurements and tests. In 1917 the car was rolled over the railway tracks from Boston, Massachusetts, where it was equipped, to Jacksonville, Florida, where the first Technicolor adventure in feature motion picture production was to take place. The camera was the single-lens, beam-splitter, two-component type, without the refinements which came later. The picture was The Gulf Between, with Grace Darmond and Niles Welch playing the leads. Technicolor was the producer. Dr. D. F. Comstock, Mr. W. B. Wescott, Professor E. J. Wall, Mr. C. A. (Doc) Willat, Mr. J. A. Ball, Mrs. Kalmus, and I were all on the job. The process was two-color, additive, standard size frame, and hence demanded a minimum of the laboratory procedure.
During the progress of this production, February, 1917, I was invited by the American Institute of Mining Engineers to deliver a lecture at Aeolian Hall, New York, to expound the marvels of the new Technicolor process which was soon to be launched upon the public and which it was alleged by many could hardly do less than revolutionize their favorite form of entertainment.
The Gulf Between had been preceded by The Glorious Adventure, a feature picture made in England by the Kinemacolor Process. Since Kinemacolor photographed the color components by successive exposure, it was nothing for a horse to have two tails, one red and one green, and color fringes were visible whenever there was rapid motion. The Technicolor slogan was two simultaneous exposures from the same point of view, hence geometrically identical components and no fringes. At that time hundreds of thousands were being spent by others trying in impossible ways to beat the fringing of successive exposures and the parallax of multiple lenses.
I thought the Technicolor inventors and engineers had a practical solution, commercial at least temporarily, so I marched bravely to the platform at Aeolian Hall. It was a great lesson. We were, of course, introducing the color by projecting through two apertures, each with a color filter, bringing the two components into register on the screen by means of a thin adjusting glass element. Incidentally, Technicolor had to invent and develop a horizontal magnetically controlled arc which gave one-third more light for the same current than the then-standard vertical arcs and which could be relied upon for constancy of position of the source. This latter was vitally important with a double aperture. During my lecture something happened to the adjusting element and, in spite of frantic efforts of the projectionists, it refused to adjust. And so I displayed fringes wider than anybody had ever before seen. Both the audience and the press were very kind but it didn’t help my immediate dilemma or afford an explanation to our financial angels.
Arrangements were made with Messrs. Klaw and Erlanger to exhibit The Gulf Between by routing the photoplay one week each in a group of large American cities. During one terrible night in Buffalo I decided that such special attachments on the projector required an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat, a phrase which I have since heard repeated many times. Technicolor then and there abandoned additive processes and special attachments on the projector.”
(Herbert T. Kalmus (1938): Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 31,6, 1938, pp. 564-585, on pp. 565-566.)
TECHNICOLOR PROCESS NUMBER ONE:
TWO STRIP ADDITIVE COLOR
The story of the Technicolor process began in the year 1912, when the firm of Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott was formed. Herbert Kalmus (1881-1963) was an aspiring chemist who received a bachelor of science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his associates was a young art student named Natalie Dunfee, whom he had married in 1902.
Another classmate was Daniel Comstock, whom Kalmus traveled with to Europe on a graduate fellowship. Kalmus received his doctorate from the University of Zurich, and Comstock received his from Basel.
The third man in the partnership was W. Burton Wescott, a mechanical wizard who acted as their technical consultant. Initially, the company functioned as an industrial research and development council for scientific problem solving. One of its clients was an independent company of abrasive manufacturers that was having trouble competing with the process used by Carborundum, another company. Kalmus and associates were able to develop a similar process that produced silicon carbide without infringing upon existing patents. The success of this deal gave Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott enough clout to branch off into a new and potentially rewarding field, color motion pictures. Up till then, the production of color film had been limited to tinting and toning black and white release prints, hand stenciling frames and utilizing complicated additive color systems that required special projectors. These techniques were cumbersome and could hardly be considered an accurate rendering of a color image.
Kalmus realized that whoever came up with a viable color film process could corner the market, which he eventually did. However, the first attempts by the company were only minor improvements over what was already available. Comstock designed a new camera that would take simultaneous exposures of the same image through two color filters, one red and the other green (fig. 1). For projection, the double frame image was shown with filters and a prism that combined them for a two color effect (fig. 2). This was a slight improvement over a process developed by the Kinemacolor Company, which exposed the same filtered two frame image successively rather than simultaneously. Because the Kinemacolor system exposed two different images, severe fringing was obvious whenever the subject moved. Comstock’s method alleviated this problem because the two frames were a simultaneous exposure of the same image.
In 1915, Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott formed another company called Technicolor, the fragment “Tech” being derived from their alma mater, MIT. A feature film was produced to show off the new process, which was referred to as Technicolor Process Number One, or “additive color.”
The name of the feature was The Gulf Between, with principal photography taking place in Florida. In 1917, a portable lab was made in a railroad car in Boston, where the Technicolor company was first located. This unique lab had the ability to develop negatives and make positive black and white release prints. The release prints in Technicolor Process One did not contain dyes. The color was “added” by tinted filters on the projectors. Comstock brought three of his physics students from MIT—Leonard Troland, Joseph Ball and Eastman Weaver—into the corporation to assist in the development of the process.
The Gulf Between premiered on September 21, 1917, at the Aeolian Hall in New York City. The screening was not a success. Unfortunately, Comstock had not compensated for the level of technical expertise of most projectionists. While the prism used to combine the two filtered images had the potential of alleviating fringing, the precise adjustment was beyond the capabilities of the average operator. As a result, severe color fringing was apparent. It was clear that a new system had to be invented that could be projected in a conventional manner by anyone.”
(Haines, Richard W. (1993): Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland.)
“THE EVOLUTION OF TECHNICOLOR: PART 1
The genesis of the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation dates to 1912 when two graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus and Dr. Daniel F. Comstock, joined forces with an industrial designer, W. Burton Wescott, to form the consulting firm of Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott. This Boston firm was created primarily to provide “research and development for industry.”1 During their first year of operation the sideline enterprise succeeded in assisting several clients with their industrial problems. As a result of their growing reputation, William H. Coolidge, a prominent attorney, came to the firm with a motion picture projector called the Vanoscope which was designed to take the “flicker out of [the] flickers.”2 Coolidge wanted Kalmus et al. to study the machine and pass judgment as to its merit. A preliminary study indicated that the projector would not be capable of performing any better than currently existing models, and Coolidge was advised not to invest in the apparatus. Later he returned with an improved version, but the goal of eliminating the “flicker” had still not been attained by its inventor.3
By 1914 Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott had become interested in the motion picture business themselves, and Comstock in particular had begun exploring methods of producing natural color on film by photographing each scene in two colors–red and green–simultaneously. When Coolidge viewed the results projected on a screen “he was impressed, and, with a partner, C. A. Hight, put up . . . $10,000”4 as an advance for the young engineers. Initially the work proceeded under the name of the original consulting firm, but in 1915 the three men incorporated, forming the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation with Kalmus as President and Comstock as Vice-President. This second company would be primarily responsible for pursuing further research at bringing natural color to the screen. The name Technicolor was chosen to honor their alma mater (MIT), and it is interesting to note that until 1921 this fledgling company was treated as a client to the older engineering firm.
Comstock continued to work on his two-color additive system, and in 1916 his initial color camera was ready for a test. Commonly known as “Technicolor Process Number One,” Comstock’s camera made a simultaneous exposure of the red and green negatives possible by means of a prism which divided the light coming through the camera’s single lens. (The use of the prism was to become an important innovation for the Technicolor Corporation. All three of the subsequent processes used prisms in the camera as well.) Part of the light was passed through a red filter and struck negative A, while the other half of the light was diverted by the prism through a green filter and was registered on negative B. Both negatives had the appearance of a black and white film, but latent color values were present due to the negatives having been exposed behind the color filters. A special projector equipped with two apertures, one having a red and the other having a green filter, was necessary to project the first Technicolor films. Behind the red filter would he placed the positive print made from negative A. Likewise, the green positive print (made from negative B) would be loaded behind the green filter on the projector. When the projector was started the two prints were usually not in exact register. A thin glass element on the projector, however, could be adjusted by the operator to correctly superimpose the two images on the screen. Since both frames, were shot simultaneously, color fringing (as experienced in Kinemacolor) should have been eliminated as long as proper registration was maintained. Technically, this first Technicolor process was superior to either Kinemacolor or Prizma, but from a practical standpoint it was worse. It should also be noted that previous additive color systems were plagued by the unsteadiness and inadequacy of the prevalent vertical arc lamps used in the standard motion picture projectors. To overcome this problem, Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott developed a horizontal magnetically controlled arc which gave one-third more light with the same current, and, more importantly, did so with more constancy of illumination. This development was of considerable importance in the adequacy of the projected image from Technicolor Process Number One.
While the camera was being finished, complicated laboratory equipment for processing and printing the exposed film was heing designed and built. By the end of 1916 the engineers were ready to put the system to a test. Unable to convince established producers to incorporate their process on a scheduled production, the young Technicolor Corporation was forced to shoot its own feature. A railroad passenger car was purchased and remodelled so that its interior contained a complete laboratory with darkroom, a power plant, a fireproof safe, and an office.5 Christened TMPC No. 1, the railroad car had been expressly designed and equipped so that the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation would be able to service their future customers on location. When conversion was completed, a Pullman car containing the Technicolor entourage (featured players Grace Darmond, Niles Welch, Herbert Fortier; production supervisor C. A. Willat; Kalmus and his wife Natalie; Comstock; Wescott; a working crew; and two new colleagues–Professor E. J. Wall, a veteran experimenter in color photography, and Joseph A. Ball, who later became a key director of Technicolor research) was coupled behind the laboratory car for a journey to Florida.6 (The one and only Technicolor camera was considered so valuable that it rode in a lower berth in the Pullman car–the cameraman being forced to sleep in the upper.7) Jacksonville was chosen as the site for the first production due to its excellent sunlight and lush, colorful semitropical vegetation.8
By the summer of 1917 this initial production was completed. Entitled The Gulf Between, the picture was given a private showing at Aeolian Hall in New York City, on Friday morning, September 21, 1917.9 Under the headline of “First Showing in Technicolor,” Moving Picture World reported:
The new process throws upon the screen a continuous succession of pictures in natural colors that copy nature with the fidelity of a finely executed oil painting. Many of the landscapes and water scenes are of remarkable coolness. The interiors and human element are not so well done, the men and women in particular having a more or less painted or chromo effect. The faces are most successful in the close-ups. When the figures retreat to any distance, it is difficult to distinguish their expression. Another defect is a slight blur of color, as the shift is made from one scene to another.10
The reporter continued by stating that the exhibition succeeded in drawing a large number of spectators, and that, all things considered, they were “well-pleased” with the demonstration.
The outbursts of applause were frequent, as different scenes of uncommon beauty were shown. . . Briefly, while the process shows great advancement and has much to commend it, perfection has not been reached. Enough has been accomplished to warrant the interest of all lovers of the moving pictures, however, and, in its present state, it is evident that the Technicolor method can be utilized to the marked advantage of many phases of the moving picture .11
Twenty-one years later, Kalmus, writing in the Society of Motion Picture Engineer’s Journal, remembered that debut as being considerably less successful. Noting that Kinemacolor’s failure was primarily due to its inability to overcome serious fringing problems, he described his opening night confidence that “the Technicolor inventors and engineers had a practical solution.”12 This confidence, however, proved premature. Kalmus continued by writing:
. . . so I marched bravely to the platform at Aeolian Hall. It was a great lesson. During my lecture something happened to the adjusting element and, in spite of frantic efforts by the projectionist, it refused to adjust. And so I displayed fringes wider than anybody had ever before seen. Both the audience and the press were very kind but it didn’t help my immediate dilemma or afford an explanation to our financial angels.13
The Gulf Between was picked up by Klaw and Erlanger, with an agreement signed to exhibit the feature in a number of large cities for week-long engagements. 14 One night, however, in Buffalo, a similar registration problem continuously plagued the screening. Kalmus later remarked that the proper handling of the special projector’s two apertures and the adjusting element required “an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat.”15 As a result, it was decided once and for all that Technicolor should abandon entirely both the additive process and the use of any special attachments on the projector. (Only one other feature film employed Technicolor Process Number One– D. W. Griffith’s 1920 version of Way Down East which contained several color sequences.)
By this time the original $10,000 gambled by Coolidge and Hight had expanded to over $300,000.16 Since both of these initial investors declined to contribute any more capital for needed research and development, Kalmus was forced to go to New York City in an attempt to secure new backing. He succeeded in convincing William Travers Jerome, former District Attorney of New York County, that the financial future of the currently floundering company, was, indeed, bright. Jerome lured in as additional investors, among others, William Hamlin Childs and Eversley Childs, makers of Bon Ami; Harrison K. McCann and A. W. Erickson, two prominent advertising men who later joined forces to form McCann-Erickson–the giant New York advertising agency; Albert W. Hawkes, president of Congoleum Industries; and John McHugh, a well-known banker.17 Jerome also succeeded in interesting Nicholas Schenck and Marcus Loew in the color process, “but not to the point of their investing money up front.18
Ultimately a syndicate of 45 prominent businessmen subscribed a total of “$1,000,000 for the development and perfection of a process of coloring motion pictures in their natural tints.”19 On September 12, 1921, Technicolor, Inc. was chartered in Delaware and a subsidiary called the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation of Maine was also formed. Kalmus was named acting President, with Jerome serving as Vice-President. It was also reported that Jerome and four other investors were to form a censorship board for the company to “pass upon the scenarios of films which are to be put through the coloring process for other companies.”20 (Whether or not such a censorship board was created is unknown, as no further mention of it has been found.)
1 “Color in the Motion Picture,” American Cinematographer 50 (January 1969): 120.
4 Rudy Behlmer, “Technicolor,” Films in Review, June-July 1964, p. 333.
5 Ibid., p. 335.
8 “Color in the Motion Picture,” p. 120.
9 Moving Picture World, October 6, 1917, p. 61.
12 H. T. Kalmus, “Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland, ” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, December 1938, p. 566.
14 Behlmer, p. 336.
15 Kalmus, p. 566.
16 Frank J. Taylor, “Mr. Technicolor,” The Saturday Evening Post, October 22, 1949, p. 131.
19 New York Times, September 21, 1922, p. 1.
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of All Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub., pp. 202-210.)
“It is difficult to judge, for example, the merits of the Technicolor Process No. 1 (1916), the only one based on the principle of additive synthesis, achieved here by running two reels in parallel before two lenses and two filters (red and green), using a single light source split by a prism. A projector with two lenses equipped with filters superimposed the two complementary images using a complex (and difficult to regulate) registration device. Critics who saw The Gulf Between (Wray Physioc, 1917) were torn between admiration and puzzlement, very much as they had been with Kinemacolor. It is impossible to verify their views by direct examination, since no nitrate print of Way Down East (D.W. Griffith, 1920), apparently the second and last fiction feature film with sequences made with the system, is known to survive with its Technicolor sequences (for the record, it could even be that no print of the film was ever made with this process, as Griffith had the habit of announcing projects that would never see the light.)”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2000): Silent Cinema. London: BFI, pp. 37-38.)
“Technicolor utilized prism-based beam splitters, the first of which was devised in 1915, that allowed the taking of different colour records at the same time and through the same lens. This solved the parallax issue and became one of the three distinct core technologies of the company and its colour systems. The original, rough design sketch for this device preserved in the collection is shown in Fig. 1. A series of notebooks labeled ‘Florida’ indicates that in 1917 practically the entire business of Technicolor, including the research department, was moved to that state for the shooting of the film The Gulf Between. The film was shot for additive projection in an experimental, ultimately failed process known as Technicolor I. While the beam splitter solved the fringing issue in shooting the film, the necessary alignment of the colour records in projection proved such a problem as to render the demonstration a practical failure. The film that was to showcase it is now lost, although, as explained below, a few frames apparently survive.”
(Ruedel, Ulrich (2009): The Technicolor Notebooks at the George Eastman House. In: Film History, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2009, pp. 47-60, on p. 49.)
“1915-38.—At this period the name “Technicolor” first appears. The Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation had its origin in a firm of Boston engineers: Dr. Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock and W. B. Westcott. Apparently they were assisted by E. J. Wall, F.R.P.S., in their early work. They began by attempting a two-colour additive process based on the patents of Westcott and Comstock (U.S.P. 1,231,710). Comstock patented a prism divider behind the objective. Two images were obtained with two unexposed frames between them. The film was pulled down two pictures at a time. The film was projected by means of a special lens, registration being effected by two movable plane parallel plates between the film and the projection lenses.
The first film made by this additive process was The Gulf Between, with Grace Darmond and Niles Welch playing the leads. The manifold troubles of additive projection were soon discovered. Dr. Kalmus has said: “I concluded that the operator would have to be a cross between an acrobat and a professor.”
(Klein, Adrian Bernhard = Cornwell-Clyne (1940): Colour Cinematography. Boston: American Photographic Pub. Co. 2nd revised edition, p. 14.)
Two-colour additive process/two-colour subtractive process/three-colour subtractive process
Founded in the USA as the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation in 1915 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Westcott, in the 1930s Technicolor swept aside all the competition to become the most commercially successful colour film company and process. Most often the name is associated with three-strip Technicolor – used for such key 1930s colour films as Becky Sharp (1935), Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) – which is officially known as Technicolor Process No. 4. The name gives testament to the fact that the rapid success of Technicolor was in fact the result of years of painstaking trial and error in the area of research, coupled with an aggressive campaign of commercial exploitation.
The first Technicolor process, unveiled in 1917, was an additive system which used a beam splitter in the camera to record two frames simultaneously through red and green filters. The two images were registered successively on the negative and processed into a positive. In projection the successive images were projected through the corresponding filters and through a prism which could be adjusted to bring the successive frames into precise register.
The success of Technicolor has as much to do with the way in which Kalmus ran the business as the quality of the process itself. As stated, Technicolor Process No. 2 suffered from a number of problems – not only the cement joining the two thin emulsions coming apart, but also cupping, where the heat from repeated projections would cause one emulsion to shrink slightly and throw the images out of register. While not sharing the same problems in projection, three-strip Technicolor was expensive and involved the use of a large, cumbersome camera, making location shooting difficult. Similar issues had led to the demise of other processes, but despite the fact that for years the company lost money, Kalmus managed to keep finding investors to back his work and film directors willing to experiment. From the first feature using the original two-colour additive system – The Gulf Between (1917) – Technicolor in all its incarnations appeared in some of the biggest Hollywood films of the day, albeit often only in short sequences. Thus, after being used for the first time to make The Toll of the Sea (1922), the cemented positive process was used for significant scenes in films including The Ten Commandments (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Ben Hur (1926). Also in 1926 the commercial exploitation of Technicolor received a boost when Douglas Fairbanks decided to make The Black Pirate entirely in Technicolor, but the success of the film only proved how unworkable the cemented positive system was as Technicolor struggled to cope with the large number of prints required and the increased number of problems which consequentially arose. Technicolor was making losses and enjoying only very moderate success, yet Kalmus continued to develop his ideas even after the conversion to sound was followed by the Great Depression, which saw a shift in aesthetics in Hollywood towards black and white and away from colour.
Three-strip Technicolor led to the company becoming the industry leader. In 1932 Kalmus approached Walt Disney, who used three-strip Technicolor for a number of his Silly Symphony shorts. Shortly afterwards, in 1934, the first live-action Technicolor short was released, La Cucaracha, followed by the first feature film, Becky Sharp (1935). It was the global success of this film which propelled three-strip Technicolor forward, and it was the impact of Becky Sharp in the UK, as well as the quality of the image, which first attracted Alexander Korda to the process and encouraged him to abandon his plans to use Hillman colour, thus bringing the Technicolor brand to the UK. The first British film made using the process was Wings of the Morning (1937), and Technicolor would ultimately be used for some of the most respected British films of the 1940s, including Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).
Basten, Fred E., Glorious Technicolor: The Movies Magic Rainbow (New Jersey: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1980).
Coe, Brian, The History of Movie Photography (London: Ash & Grant, 1981), pp. 132-5.
Cornwell-Clyne, Adrian, Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman & Hall, 3rd edn, 1951), pp. 451-507.
Haines, Richard W., Technicolor Movies; The History of Dye Transfer Printing (London: McFarland and Co., 1993).
Higgins, Scott, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow; Colour Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007).
Huntley, John, British Technicolor Films (London: Skelton Robinson, 1949).”
(Brown, Simon (2012): Technical Appendix. In: Sarah Street: Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 259-287, on pp. 284-286.)
“THE GULF BETWEEN – Technicolor
A new color process has been devised. The Gulf Between is the first offering by the Technicolor Film Corporation. It is done throughout in tints that approximate at least the natural colors. But, without actual knowledge of the process, it appears that thus far the manufacturers have been compelled to translate all colors into terms of reds and greens. This, or course, includes yellows, pinks, something like blue, and other derivatives. But while it is a tremendous step forward, it is not always satisfactory. The unfortunate thing about this picture is that the story is dull, trite, and drawn out interminably. A good, tense tale would have forced one to forget occasionally the close scrutiny of the colors. Grace Darmond is the star – a beautiful subject for photography, color or plain black and white.”
(Bartlett, Randolph; Kelly, Kitty (1917): The Shadow Stage. Reviews of Current Photoplays. The Gulf Between. In: Photoplay, Vol. 13, No. 1, p. 118.)
“In the twenties experiments focussed on the principle of colour subtractive synthesis. Kelleycolor, Prizmacolor and several systems known as Technicolor, are all processes capable of producing a positive film with natural colours. Some of these systems, as the first Technicolor, used only two colours giving a finished image rich in hues ranging from red to green, but without any blue. In the subtractive systems, like in the additive methods, the use of lenses and filters was required both during the shooting and the printing stages.
In a twenty years-span dozens of system were patented, some of which never found application, while many others were used only for a single feature and very few were successful, even for a short while, on the screen. Only in the thirties were system designed, based on colour subtractive synthesis, capable of finding an economically-viable application and which definetely opened the way to “natural colours” in cinema.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on p. 122.)
“Technicolor was formed as a corporation in 1915 on the basis of $10,000 advanced by a Boston corporation lawyer to it founders, Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and Barton Prescott. Kalmus had a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusettes Institute of Technology. Daniel Comstock taught at the Institute and three of his students, Leonard Troland, Joseph Ball and Eastman Weaver were to provide much technical and scientific help. Techicolor’s first process, a two-color additive system, was developed in 1916 and used to shoot its first feature, The Gulf Between, the following year. Like all Technicolor’s systems, this one involved obtaining two simultaneous colour records in filming by means of a prism in the camera. Part of the light entering the camera lens was reflected through a red filter to give a red record. The rest was reflected through a green filter to give a green record. The prism device was to evolve in the early 1920s into Technicolor’s beam-splitting camera, was to feature in its subsequent subtractive systems. […]
As with other additive systems, most of the problems came at the projection stage. Technicolor’s registration device proved so delicate and difficult to operate that, according to Herbert Kalmus’ own account, a decision was made after only a few showings of The Gulf Between to abandon additive systems and to explore the possibilities of developing a subtractive one:
I decided that such special attachments on the projector required an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat . . . Technicolor then and there abandoned ‘additive’ processes and special attachments on the projector.1
1 Quoted in Fred E. Basten, Glorious Technicolor (London: A. S. Barnes, 1980), p. 28.”
(Neale, Steve (1985): The Beginnings of Technicolor. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 13-23, on p. 13.)
“Technicolor two-color taking process. Camera records two color value records of each exposure, simultaneously, but not adjacent through one lens. Rapid movement resulting in fringing is therefore eliminated. Public showings were on a special type of projector which superimposes two images on the curtain at one time. This process appears to be technically correct, but is not adapted to standard projection in its present form.”
(Kelley, William Van Doren (1918): Natural Color Cinematography. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 7, Nov. 1918, pp. 38–43, on p. 42.)
“The first entirely successful colour process used in the cinema was Technicolor. The company was formed in 1915 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock and W. A. Westcott [sic]. Their first process was a two-colour additive one, in which a camera with a beam splitter behind the lens exposed two frames at once. On the projector, a special optical system similar to that in the camera allowed the film to be projected through a single lens, registering the two images on the screen. The first Technicolor production was The Gulf Between, filmed in 1917. The processing was done in a mobile laboratory made from a converted railway carriage moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where the film was shot. The film was toured around the larger American cities but the precise adjustment required of the projection optical system proved to be a problem. Dr Kalmus said that it required an operator who was ‘a cross between a college professor and an acrobat’.
This additive system was soon discarded in favour of a two-colour subtractive process.”
(Coe, Brian (1981): The History of Movie Photography. Westfield, N.J.: Eastview Editions, on p. 132.)
For European audiences in the post-war years, Technicolor, probably still the best known of the colour processes, often seemed to be synonymous with colour film itself. Its development can be traced back to 1915, when two Americans, Herbert T. Kalmus and Daniel F. Comstock, began experimenting with an additive two-colour process involving the use of a camera with two apertures, each equipped with its own colour filter, one red and one green. Very advanced for its time, the system was, nevertheless, problematic, and the halos and colour fringes that frequently appeared when the film was projected did little to enhance its reputation.”
(Everett, Wendy (2007): Mapping Colour. An Introduction to the Theories and Practices of Colour. In: Wendy Everett (ed.): Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 7–38, on p. 20.)
“The company was founded in 1916 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott as an outgrowth of their industrial-engineering consulting firm. The earliest Technicolor process, an additive method, aroused little interest. (An additive color process blends light of primary colors on the screen surface, rather than using pigments or dyes in the film strip itself. Technicolor’s earliest method superimposed red-and-green-filtered images on the screen.)”
(Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin (1985): The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. London: Routledge, on p. 353.)
“In den Forschungslaboratorien der Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, die 1915 von dem Absolventen des Massachusetts Institute of Technology Herbert Thomas Kalmus und zwei Geschäftspartnern in Boston gegründet worden war, hatte man sich etwa um 1920 der subtraktiven Farberzeugung zugewandt. Ebenso wie der Prizmacolor Prozess Nr. 1 war auch das erste Farbverfahren der Technicolor noch ein additives Folgeverfahren in der Tradition Kinemacolors gewesen, das mit Strahlenteilung, Rot- und Grünfilter und gebräuchlichem Schwarz-Weiß-Film arbeitete59 und rasch in Vergessenheit geriet.
59 Der einzige komplett nach diesem Verfahren gedrehte Spielfilm war The Gulf Between (1917, Wray Bartlett Physioc), von dem heute nur noch einige Einzelbilder existieren.”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on p. 42.) (in German)
“Tra gli anni dieci e venti fu soprattutto la Technicolor, una società fondata a Boston da un gruppo di ingegneri del MIT, a emergere per la capacità di drenare investimenti e dotarsi di una struttura solida21. Sotto la direzione di Herbert Kalmus, la società adottò una strategia piuttosto aggressiva, cercando di battere fin da subito la strada del film di finzione22. Kalmus e soci tentarono inizialmente di conquistare una fetta del possibile nuovo mercato attraverso un sistema additivo in bicromia (Technicolor 1). Dopo la realizzazione di alcuni test, la società tentò la prima sortita pubblica con il film autoprodotto The Gulf Between (Physioc, 1918), presentato in anteprima nel settembre 1917 e al pubblico nel febbraio 1918. Le difficoltà riscontrate dall’operatore di cabina nell’uso dello speciale proiettore fecero desistere da ulteriori tentativi. Il colore doveva infatti formarsi sullo schermo facendo aderire perfettamente due diverse serie di fotogrammi, mediante un macchinoso sistema ottico che rendeva inutilizzabili i normali proiettori23.
21 Per approfondimenti sulla storia e la tecnologia del Technicolor rimando a Limbacher 1969, pp. 25–37; Parker 1972; Basten 1980; Coe 1981, pp. 116–139; Nowotny 1983, pp. 202–266; Neale 1985, pp. 129–144; Koshofer 1988, pp. 53–85; Haines 1993; Chierichetti 2003; Kitsopanidou 2009; Ruedel 2009.
22 Per una ricostruzione autobiografica, dunque di relativa attendibilità, cfr. Kalmus 1938.
23 Anche in questo caso, il colore si ricomponeva direttamente sullo schermo per sintesi additiva, grazie alla proiezione simultanea di due serie di fotogrammi standard in bianco e nero (filtrati risp. in rosso e in blu-verde) sovrapposte attraverso un sistema prismatico. Un meccanismo reciproco operava in fase di ripresa: un prisma divideva in due parti il fascio luminoso indirizzando una parte verso un filtro rosso e l’altro verso uno blu-verde; i due fasci luminosi andavano poi a impressionare simultaneamente due fotogrammi successivi di una medesima pellicola (cfr. Basten 1980, pp. 19–28 e Haines 1993, pp. 1–3).
Basten, Fred E. (1980), Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow, Barnes, Cranbury (N.J.).
Chierichetti, David (2003), Une histoire du Technicolor, in “Cinémathèque”, XII, n. 22, primavera 2003, pp. 143–161.
Coe, Brian (1981), The History of Movie Photography, Ash & Grant, London.
Haines, Richard W. (1993), Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing, McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N.C.).
Kalmus, Herbert Thomas (1938), Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland, in “Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers“, XXIII, n. 6, dicembre 1938, pp. 564–585.
Kitsopanidou, Kira (2009), ‘Glorious Technicolor’: la stratégie d’innovation de la couleur de Technicolor dans l’industrie cinématographique américaine, in Costa de Beauregard, Raphaëlle, a cura di (2009a), Cinéma et couleur. Film and Colour, Houdiard, Paris, pp. 193–206.
Koshofer, Gert (1988), Color. Die Farben des Films, Wissenschaftsverlag Volker Spiess, Berlin.
Limbacher, James L. (1969), Four Aspects of the Film, Brussel & Brussel, New York.
Neale, Steve (1985), Cinema and Technology. Image, Sound, Colour, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Nowotny, Robert Allen (1983), The Way of all Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes. 1895-1929, Garland, New York.
Parker, David L. (1972), ‘Blazing Technicolor’, ‘Stunning Trucolor’, and ‘Shocking Eastmancolor’, in Shales Tom et al. (1972), The American Film Heritage. Impressions from the American Film Institute Archives, Acropolis, Washington, pp. 19–26.
Ruedel, Ulrich (2009), The Technicolor Notebooks at the George Eastman House, in Tomadjoglou, Kim, a cura di (2009a), Early Colour Part 1, in “Film History“, XXI, n. 1, 2009, pp. 47–60.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 125–126.) (in Italian)
“In 1912, Dr. Kalmus formed the firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott in partnership with Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Wescott. Mr. Wescott was not a classmate at M.I.T., nor even a college graduate, but he was a mechanical genius. The company functioned as an industrial research and development council, offering services on any problem of scientific nature. One of its first clients was an independent group of abrasive manufacturers who felt threatened because they could not compete with the process being used by the giant Carborundum Company. Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott saved the group by developing a similar process which, like Carborundum’s, produced silicon carbide, yet did not infringe on existing patents. For their reward, the consulting firm took a share of the business. Other clients soon followed. Before long, the young company had an outstanding reputation and enviable earnings.
One day, toward the end of 1912, William H. Coolidge, a Boston corporation lawyer and investor, arrived at the office of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott with a new movie projector called a Vanoscope. The inventor had brought it to Mr. Coolidge saying that the discovery, with its rotating mirrors, would revolutionize motion pictures by taking the flicker out of “the flickers.” The lawyer and his associates were willing to invest one million dollars in the invention if it would indeed do the job. Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott made some tests on the gadget and reported that it was not practical. Undaunted, the inventor made refinements on the Vanoscope and returned to Mr. Coolidge for backing. Again, tests were run – this time more exhaustive – and the same conclusion was reached.
By now, Dr. Kalmus and his partners, having become intrigued with motion pictures, had begun work on a new type of camera. They were not interested in taking something out of movies, however. They wanted to put something in: color. If Mr. Coolidge wanted to invest a large sum of money, Dr. Kalmus reasoned, why not use it to finance his firm in the development of color moving pictures? After all, there were no practical color films in American theaters. The Kinemacolor Company had a process, but it could only photograph slow-moving objects without annoying flashes of color appearing on the screen. And, as with all other systems that had tried and failed, the pictures caused pronounced eye strain.
To Mr. Coolidge, the idea was tempting. The new camera, designed by Daniel Comstock, could photograph a scene in two colors, red and green, simultaneously. A short test run projected on a screen was all that the lawyer needed to be sufficiently impressed. He advanced the trio of scientists ten thousand dollars and told them to move ahead. And so, in 1915, the firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott found itself with a new client: the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation.
The name Technicolor was selected by Drs. Kalmus and Comstock as a tribute to “Tech,” their alma mater. It was some time, however, before the general public became aware of it. Not so with the young company’s early troubles.
The problem of developing a natural-looking color process, and of ultimately projecting it with standardized equipment, was clear from the fact that the principles of color had been known for so many years without ever having been solved. There was also the obvious point that so many individuals and groups had been unsuccessful in their attempts.
Technical problems were only part of the difficulty. In later years, one of Dr. Comstock’s favorite quotes was itself a quote from one of America’s early photographic color experts: “No independent group will ever develop practical motion pictures in natural color, the problem is too hard and will require too much money; the job will have to be done in the laboratories of a large company where large sums can be spent slowly.”
Technicolor was a small company with not unlimited resources, and so the task was like a very complicated picture puzzle where the pieces were technical, financial and human. “Throughout the industry,” Dr. Comstock recalled, “the ‘it can’t be done’ atmosphere was general. It even extended to the actors who appeared in our first picture. Their attitude was ‘This picture will never reach the screen. No color ever does’.”
Working within this atmosphere became even more of a challenge, forcing Technicolor into a series of strategic moves that might never have been considered under more positive conditions. A plan called “progressive step development” was initiated. “The essence of this strategy,” according to Dr. Comstock, “was to plan, as far as could be seen ahead, in a series of steps, each move – not requiring too much money or time and, at the end of each step, to show convincing pictures on the screen.”
It was characteristic of this scheme that in moving ahead much of the equipment and technique of the previous step be utilized, eliminating, as much as possible, back-tracking or wasted time and money. The program also minimized the risk to the investors and made continuous progress possible. (It should be noted that from the very beginning Technicolor’s main goal was the development of the ultimate three-color-component process, which was theoretically capable of perfect color rendering. Dr. Comstock later remarked, however, that there was not the slightest chance of achieving color pictures as we know them today in a single step of development.)
Two other factors had a profound bearing on Technicolor’s progress during its first days. Dr. Comstock credited “the rare wisdom of Dr. Kalmus …” who gave uniform encouragement to the technical staff.
“We had a number of bad technical emergencies,” he related, “and some fiascos, and nearly any executive leader would have felt it necessary to be extremely critical at times. Dr. Kalmus acted as if he thought, ‘If you can’t do it, it can’t be done.’ This attitude was very inspiring to the technical group and must have been a unique executive attitude in the history of a large new enterprise.”
Technicolor was also fortunate in being able to acquire the services of three of Dr. Comstock’s most brilliant students in the Physics Department at M.I.T. These men, Leonard Troland, Joseph Arthur Ball and Eastman Weaver, all made notable and original technical contributions to the development of the process.
The work on “Technicolor Process Number One” took place in Boston in the company’s first laboratory, a railway car. The facility was completely equipped with a photochemical laboratory, darkrooms, fire-proof safes, power plant, offices, and all the machinery and apparatus necessary for carrying on a number of processes on a small commercial scale. Considering the space, the scope of operations was impressive: sensitizing, testing, perforating, developing, washing, fixing and drying negative; printing, developing, washing, fixing and drying positive; washing and conditioning air; filtering and cooling water; examining and splicing film; and making control measurement tests.
By late 1916, enough progress had been made on “Technicolor Process Number One” that the principals felt confident enough to produce a feature picture. The backers were naturally enthused. Finally they were going to see more than short tests. Hopefully the finished product would recoup at least some of their mounting investment. A script was developed from a seven part story by Anthony J. Kelly. It was called The Gulf Between and several players, Grace Darmond, Niles Welch and Herbert Fortier, were signed for the leading roles.
For economical reasons, the production shaped up as a modest venture. Nevertheless, to everyone associated with the fledgling color concern, it was to be a milestone event.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 20–24.)
“2 The First Film
In early 1917, Technicolor’s portable laboratory was set in motion. The refurbished railroad car was on its way from Boston to Jacksonville, Florida, rolling over hundreds of miles of tracks to an isolated spot where the filming of The Gulf Between was to take place. Florida seemed the ideal location. The film-makers could take advantage of the bright sunlight, which was necessary for color photography, as well as the semi-tropical vegetation, a key background element for the story.
The production staff included Dr. Kalmus and his wife, Natalie; C. A. “Doc” Willat, formerly of the New York Motion Picture Corporation and Willat Studios and Laboratory, the production supervisor; Dr. Comstock; Mr. Wescott; Mr. Ball; and a new colleague, Professor E.J. Wall, who had done considerable work with color photography at the University of Syracuse. Both the staff and the cast were housed in a pullman car that had been hitched onto the back of the laboratory.
Dr. Comstock did not travel with the original party. He had remained in Boston to continue development of a projection system and was not scheduled to arrive until well into production. Those plans backfired when he received an urgent call from Florida asking him to come south immediately. When he reached Jacksonville, he found an exhausted staff. A distressing problem had occurred with the film itself. It could not be sensitized. (Sensitizing, or treating, was necessary at that time because of the non-existence of good color negative of fast enough speed. Without it, even in Jacksonville in the cloudless noonday sun, a close-up of a girl wearing a sunbonnet would develop showing her face with a black halo around it.)
The Jacksonville operations were costing six thousand dollars a week. “I remember vividly,” Dr. Comstock noted, “when they called me to come down. They said, ‘If you can get things going in two weeks to a day, we will go on. Otherwise, we will have to close up.’ There was obviously no time to do anything but feed the right kind of chemical ‘medicine’ to the sensitizing machine.”
Dr. Comstock had long sessions with Professor Wall and others. They tried various solutions, almost in desperation, only to find that if they cured one problem, they caused another. Day after day passed without success. The cast and crew were growing restless and the budget was slowly being drained. The crisis didn’t end until it was almost too late. Only thirty-six hours remained when the problem was solved.
The Gulf Between resumed production, and Dr. Comstock and Mr. Wescott returned to Boston to continue work on the projection system. The camera used in “Technicolor Process Number One” made a simultaneous exposure of red and green negatives by means of a prism (an important innovation in the process), which divided the light as it entered the camera. This necessitated the development of a new projector equipped with two apertures for adding color to the film – one with a green filter and the other with a red filter.
The problem of illuminating the two film apertures in the projector with continuous equality at one time seemed insurmountable. Indeed, one of the fundamental difficulties that beset and discouraged numerous investigators in the field of color photography had been the unsteadiness and inadequacy of the contemporary arc lamps, which were used as a source of light for the projection of all motion pictures. The firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott felt at an early stage it essential that an improved arc be developed to provide brighter light and, of equal importance, steadier light.
Projection of the two apertures onto the screen in register also proved to be troublesome. According to Dr. Comstock, “The register adjustment had to be made from the projection booth and this was relatively far away from the screen. The necessary adjustment was of extreme delicacy and an adjustment in the relative position between the two projector lenses would have been going at it the wrong way. The relative position must be ‘massively fixed’ or great trouble could be expected.”
A set of special register glasses was developed for superimposed fine adjustment. This permitted register correction without trying to change lens position. Register adjustment was still difficult, but it was possible.
The Gulf Between was completed in the summer of 1917 and screened before an invited audience at Aeolian Hall in New York City on September 21. Motion Picture News, in its review of October 6, cited the film as “unquestionably the finest natural color picture ever produced. The process … results in the absence of all ‘fringe,’ absence of eye strain and produces colors that are really natural. The invitation audience … was moved time and again to burst into applause of the sort that lasted long. The final shot, showing the sun setting over the water is beautiful – mindful of a Japanese painting.”
The October 6 edition of Motion Picture World called Technicolor “vastly superior to any of its predecessors. This was quickly comprehended by a large body of spectators that comprised many of the most prominent men in the moving picture industry, and the outbursts of applause were frequent, as different scenes of uncommon beauty were shown. The new process throws upon the screen a continual succession of pictures in natural colors that copy nature with the fidelity of a finely executed oil painting. Many of the landscapes and water scenes are of remarkable coolness.”
The critics were not totally complimentary, however however. Motion Picture News added: “the camera work – the all important angle of production in this case – is all O.K. with the exception that in quite a number of the scenes it lacks definition. There is a perceptible haze, ever so slight, but still perceptible …”
Motion Picture World went even further.
The interiors and the human element are not so well done, the men and women in particular having a more or less painted or chromo effect. The faces are most successful in the close-ups. When the figures retreat to any distance, it is difficult to distinguish their expression. Another defect is a slight blur of color, as the shift is made from one scene to another.
Briefly, while the process shows great advancement and has much to commend it, perfection has not been reached … That all forms of screen drama will ever best be shown in color is more than a doubtful question. The black-and-white animated picture is frankly a photograph and is understood as such by the spectator … Spectacular production should offer a promising field for this color method … As for drama, that is the product of the playwright. Even the advent of the photoplay has not altered the value of Dumas’ recipe for the practice of his art: ‘All I want is four scenes, four boards, two actors and a passion.’
Had it not been for the unveiling of the new color process, The Gulf Between would have been virtually ignored. Reviewers said the story was “long and drawn out… almost without suspense … and weak in plot” but praised the work of the cast as “a high order of merit.”
Technicolor…s first public showing, at Aeolian Hall, left a deep impression on Dr. Kalmus. Years later, he recalled that Friday morning in September.
Prior to the running of our film, I was asked to expound on the marvels of the new Technicolor process which was soon to be launched upon the public and which it was alleged by many could hardly do less than revolutionize their favorite form of entertainment.
The Gulf Between had been preceded by The Glorious Adventure, a feature picture made in England by the Kinemacolor Process. Since Kinemacolor photographed the color components by successive exposure, it was nothing for a horse to have two tails, one red and one green, and color ‘fringes’ were visible whenever there was rapid motion. The Technicolor slogan was two simultaneous exposures from the same point of view, hence geometrically identical components and no fringes.
We were, of course, introducing color by projecting through two apertures, each with a color filter, bringing the two components into register on the screen by means of a thin adjusting glass element … During the showing (at Aeolian Hall) something happened to the adjusting element and, in spite of the frantic efforts of the projectionists, it refused to adjust. And so I displayed fringes wider than anybody had ever before seen. Both the audience and the press were very kind but it didn’t help my immediate dilemma or afford an explanation to our financial angels.
The final blow occurred not much later. Arrangements had been made with the Klaw and Erlanger theater chain to exhibit The Gulf Between for one week in each of a group of large American cities. One night in Buffalo, New York, things went from bad to worse, not only on the screen but in the projection booth. Dr. Kalmus, who was in the theater, did not like what he saw and made a snap decision. “I decided that such special attachments on the projector required an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat … Technicolor then and there abandoned ‘additive’ processes and special attachments on the projector.” Once again, the “it can’t be done” forces raised their voices. Technicolor, the upstart, had also failed to field a workable color process. The Technicolor laboratory in Boston, however, was not a scene of depression. Everyone there felt that their accomplishments to date, good or bad, were simply a part of the early strategy. Besides, there was an encouraging note. Progress had already been made on the second project. Hopefully, this one would end the battlecry of the skeptics.
From the standpoint of color, the screen appearance of The Gulf Between had been sufficiently impressive to encourage the development of color “on the film” so that an ordinary projector could be used in the theaters. Instead of having two separate beams of color light going through two separate pictures in the projector, which had to be registered on the screen, the goal was to perfect a process that could contain both components of the picture printed from the negative in register on the positive film.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 25–29.)
Its Camera, And Its Kalmus, Helped Color To Get To The Screen
By RUDY BEHLMER
Although the principles underlying color photography were known in 1862, and many attempts were made thereafter to utilize the knowledge in one form or another, it was not until the 1920s that a semi-satisfactory color motion picture was achieved.
The achievement owed a great deal to a Yankee chemical engineer who had a flair for money-raising, and its cognate promotional arts, named Herbert Thomas Kalmus. Born in Chelsea, Mass., on Nov. 9, 1881, he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1904, received a PhD from the University of Zurich in ’06, and had taught at M.I.T. before he decided to embark upon “research-&-development” for industry. He did this in partnership with Dr. Daniel F. Comstock, another M.I.T. graduate and PhD (Basel), and W. Burton Wescott, who was not a college man but possessed a knack of designing technical apparatus.
In 1913 the newly organized firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott was asked to report on a motion picture projector which, it was claimed, took the flicker out of “the flickers”, as the early movies were so often and so justly called. The client who asked for the report was a Boston corporation lawyer named William H. Coolidge. The firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott reported unfavorably on the projector. In doing so it made a suggestion to Entrepreneur Coolidge that is important in motion picture history.
They said that if Coolidge wanted to invest in the motion picture business he might consider the possibilities of a camera Comstock had designed which could photograph a scene in two colors – red and green – simultaneously. They showed Coolidge what happened on a motion picture screen when the two prints from Comstock’s green and red negatives were projected in register. He was impressed, and, with a partner, C. A. Hight, put up the $10,000 which enabled the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation to come into existence (1915).
Comstock’s camera, which made the simultaneous exposure of the red and green negatives possible by means of a prismatic device that divided the light that came through the camera’s single lens, was in the main stream of color-photography’s evolution and by the end of 1916 the fledgling Technicolor Motion Picture Corp. considered itself ready for the first big gamble.
They decided to make a “feature-length” fictional film and to shoot it in Jacksonville, Florida, in order to take advantage of semi-tropical sunlight. A railroad passenger car was purchased and remodelled so that its interior contained a laboratory with dark-room, a fire-proof safe, a power plant, and an office. In a Pullman behind it were the featured players (Grace Darmond, Niles Welch, Herbert Fortier); the production supervisor (C. A. Willat); the Technicolor entourage – Kalmus and his wife (nee Natalie Mabelle Dunfee), Comstock, Wescott, and two new colleagues – Professor E. J. Wall, a veteran experimenter in color photography, and Joseph A. Ball, who later became a key director of Technicolor research; a working crew; and the Technicolor camera. The last was considered so valuable it was placed in a lower berth (the cameraman slept in the upper). The picture was called The Gulf Between.
While shooting was in progress in Jacksonville the Strand Theatre in NYC exhibited some color movies made with Prizma Color, Technicolor’s only serious rival at that time, and for about five years thereafter.
The Gulf Between was completed in the summer of ’17 and was shown privately at Aeolian Hall in NYC on September 21.
According to the October 6, ’17, issue of Moving Picture World “the new method is vastly superior to any of its predecessors. This was quickly comprehended by a large body of spectators that comprised many of the most prominent men in the moving picture industry, and the outbursts of applause were frequent, as different scenes of uncommon beauty were shown… Many of the landscapes and water scenes are of remarkable coolness. The interiors and the human element are not so well done, the men and women in particular having a more or less painted or chromo effect. The faces are most successful in the close-ups… Another defect is a slight blur of color, as the shift is made from one scene to another… It is evident that the work of the scenario writer (Anthony J. Kelly) has been utilized for the sole purpose of best showing the color possibilities of the process. The story is long drawn out, is almost without suspense and is weak in plot… That all forms of screen drama will ever best be shown in color is more than a doubtful question.”
When released to theatres The Gulf Between had limited exhibition. Klaw and Erlanger routed it for one-week engagements in some of the larger cities. During its week in Buffalo Kalmus decided proper handling of the projector’s two apertures and the “adjuster,” which effected the registration of the two pictures on the screen, needed “an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat,” and that Technicolor should abandon its additive color process.
It should be emphasized at this point that all “natural color” film processes use either the additive method or the subtractive method. In an additive process, such as the one utilized in The Gulf Between, the film itself carries no actual color – the color values are made manifest in projection, by the placing of the appropriately colored filters between the film and the screen. In other words, colors are added to light. In a subtractive process, the film is in itself a complete, self-contained color record, needing no filters or other special equipment for projection. Color filters on the camera subtract certain colors from the white light that goes through the lens and affects the film emulsion.”
(Behlmer, Rudy (1964): Technicolor. In: Films in Review, 15,6, pp. 333–351, on pp. 333–336.)
“Three-colour Technicolor was the company’s fourth colour process. The previous three systems had been based on two-colour components, and they had met with varying degrees of success. When Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Wescott formed Technicolor in 1915, the company offered a two-colour process that required a special projector with dual apertures, each fitted with a colour filter.1 The process was additive in the sense that colours were not mixed until they were superimposed on the theatre screen during projection. […]
Colour rendition of the two-colour processes was necessarily a compromise between the available blue-green and red-orange. Saturated and distinct reds, blues, greens and yellows were not possible. According to James Arthur Ball, who engineered the three-colour camera, Technicolor had always considered the two-colour systems to be preliminary and transitional processes:
In the earliest days of Technicolor development we recognized that the ultimate goal… must be a process that would add a full scale of colour reproduction to existing black-and-white product without subtracting from any of its desirable qualities, without imposing complications upon theater projection conditions, and with a minimum of added burden in the cost of photography and in the cost of prints.5
1 For accessible, yet detailed discussions of the earlier two-colour processes, see: Herbert Kalmus, Mr. Technicolor, (Abescon, NJ: Magiclmage Filmbooks, 1993): 21–90; Richard W. Haines, Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1993): 1–17; Fred E. Basten, Glorious Technicolor (San Diego, CA: A. S. Barnes, 1980): 19–46; Roderick T. Ryan, A History of Motion Picture Color Technology (New York: The Focal Press, 1977): 77–82. In addition to these sources, I am drawing on Joe Schmit’s paper “History of the Technicolor Imbibition Process for Color Motion Pictures”, presented to the Hollywood section of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (25 May 1991).
5 Ball, Joseph Arthur (1935): “The Technicolor Process of Three-Color Cinematography”. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (August 1935), pp. 127. Ball presented this paper at a meeting of the Technicians Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 21 May 1935. It also appears in the Academy Technician’s Branch Technical Bulletin (31 May 1935), pp. 1–10.”
(Higgins, Scott (2000): Demonstrating Three-Colour Technicolor. Early Three-Colour Aesthetics and Design. In: Film History, 12,4, pp. 358–383, on pp. 358–359.)
“Technicolor, fondée par Herbert Theodor Kalmus et Daniel Comstock, fait son entrée sur le marché de la couleur à partir de 1915. Ses premiers dispositifs adoptent la même trajectoire technologique que le Kinemacolor en Grande Bretagne ou le Chronochrome en France, celle des procédés additifs. En effet, le Technicolor Process Number 1 est une synthèse additive bichrome (deux couleurs obtenues au moyen d’un filtre)1. Il connaît ainsi les mêmes difficultés techniques et économiques que ces premiers systèmes: des problèmes d’enregistrement de la couleur durant la projection, une superposition médiocre des sélections colorées, la complexité du processus de gestion, rendant les procédés additifs peu fiables, une augmentation sensible des coûts de production et une pérennité limitée des copies d’exploitation2. Le premier film dans ce procédé est un court métrage promotionnel réalisé par Ray Physioc, The Gulf Between (1917).
Ce n’est qu’avec la mise au point de son procédé de synthèse soustractive que la société s’installe véritablement sur le marché et commence à fonder son monopole.
1 La première caméra Technicolor utilise un prisme pour diviser la lumière en deux rayons filtrés différemment et qui impressionnent chacun une image sur un négatif noir et blanc. Le premier rayon passe au travers d’un filtre rouge et impressionne les composantes bleues et vertes de l’image sur une première image. Le deuxième rayon passe au travers d’un filtre bleu et impressionne au même moment les composantes rouges de l’image sur une deuxième image. Les deux images sont disposées l’une au dessus de l’autre sur une pellicule 35 mm défilant à deux fois la vitesse normale. Une des images est inversée par rapport à l’autre du fait de l’utilisation du prisme. Pour la projection, le positif est tiré en noir et blanc et chaque image est projetée au travers de son filtre correspondant.
2 Par exemple, Kinemacolor et Chronochrome imposent l’enregistrement des images à une vitesse supérieure à celle utilisée dans les tournages en noir et blanc (réciproquement 30 et 45 images par seconde). Parce que la vitesse de défilement est supérieure, le coût de la pellicule utilisée est plus important aussi, alors que la copie d’exploitation subit une détérioration accélérée. Cf. Neale, Steve, 126–27.
Neale, Steve, Cinema and Technology, Image, Sound, Color, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.”
(Kitsopanidou, Kira (2009): “Glorious Technicolor”. La stratégie d’innovation de la couleur de Technicolor dans l’industrie cinématographique Américaine. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 193–206, on pp. 193–194.) (in French)
“Fondata nel 1915 da Herbert T. Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock e W. Burton Wescott, la Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation tiene a battesimo nell’arco di quaranta anni ben cinque versioni del sistema, cercando ogni volta di assecondare le nuove richieste del mercato. I tre ingegneri cominciano a lavorare alla prima versione (Technicolor no. 1, in bicromia) sul vagone di un treno appositamente equipaggiato per le operazioni di laboratorio. Il colore è ottenuto direttamente sullo schermo per sintesi additiva del rosso e del verde, attraverso l’impiego di due fotogrammi standard impressionati simultaneamente sulla stessa pellicola con un sistema ottico prismatico (denominato (beam splitter). Una soluzione simile a quella adottata qualche anno prima per il Kinemacolor, che però faceva ricorso all’esposizione successiva dei fotogrammi, incorrendo in fenomeni di aberrazione cromatica (parallasse temporale). Nel 1917, il risultato fallimentare della prima proiezione pubblica (The Gulf Between, Wray Bartlett Physioc), dovuto all’incapacità dell’operatore di cabina di controllare a dovere lo speciale apparecchio impiegato per ricomporre i colori sullo schermo, spinge i tecnici della società a indirizzarsi verso la soluzione sottrattiva, l’unica in grado di permettere l’uso di normali proiettori.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2016): Un’archeologia del colore nel cinema italiano. Dal Technicolor ad Antonioni. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, on p. 31.) (in Italian)
“It is worth enumerating the stages and building blocks of Daniel Comstock’s “progressive step development” strategy here:
Stage 1. The first project was to demonstrate color projection. “We borrowed Kinemacolor film of a beach scene and showed it to the financial people,” noted Comstock. KC&W eliminated fringing by the easy expedient of cutting out the parts of the film that had fast movement and caused fringing in the color image. They managed to eradicate the eyestrain endemic to Kinemacolor by building a custom double-image projector to superimpose the red and green images on adjacent frames on the screen simultaneously. “The picture was very impressive,” Comstock recalled decades later. The presentation served its purpose of demonstrating that high-quality color moving pictures were a practical possibility.41
Stage 2. For the next round of funding, the task was to develop a custom color camera to photograph new footage that did not display color fringing during fast motion. No color company had managed to solve this essential problem before, because extensive engineering experimentation was required and the available photographic emulsions were not sufficiently sensitive.
For Stage 2, the engineers focused on five “Building Blocks” identified by Comstock for the development of a successful camera and projector.42 The development work on the additive camera was led by Burton Wescott, while Comstock’s responsibilities included designing the projector.
Building Block 1. “No known way of getting two good pictures from the same point of view at the same time.” Eliminating fringing on the screen required two images (one for each color record) to be captured from the same perspective simultaneously. One lens had to expose two frames through filters at the same time.
All previous systems had the separate color records on adjacent frames, but Burton Wescott suggested that they capture the images farther apart. Placing the two color records on the same strip of film, separated by two intervening frames, gave more room for the camera prism assembly, but resulted in combining the anomalies of each prism into the final image. Careful selection of prisms balanced the aberrations to provide identical good-quality images. Wescott applied for a series of patents for the additive camera, including eleven in 1916 alone.
Building Block 2. “No known way to split the light in the camera without losing by absorption too much light.” The laboratory method to create two images from one was to use a beam-splitting prism, but in addition to reducing the light by half, it was a challenge to get two perfectly matched images.
One experiment used a silver-flecked surface between two prisms that allowed half the light to pass through and reflected the remainder, but this absorbed too much light. A second approach used a checkerboard pattern of silver and no silver, but this created noticeable diffraction patterns in the images. To remove the visual artifacts, they repeated the approach using a grid with irregular silver spots. This gave good images with balanced exposures on both frames.
Building Block 3. “No panchromatic film anywhere near fast enough.” The need for additional light could be somewhat reduced by increasing the sensitivity of the panchromatic film. While Kodak now offered panchromatic film as a special-order product, Comstock recalled that even when used in the bright Florida sunshine, “the cloudless noonday sun showed a girl’s face [shaded by] a sunbonnet as a black hole.”
As part of his research, Comstock approached Professor E.J. Wall, the head of the Department of Photography at Syracuse University. […]
Wall conferred with Comstock, agreeing that while film could be made faster by dipping it in a sensitizing solution immediately prior to use, this was impractical in commercial use because the dyes evaporated too quickly. “He said this was very well known and the problem was hopeless,” recalled Comstock. They then discussed the different ways that materials precipitate, and Comstock brought up the use of protective colloids. A colloid is a substance that is dispersed in a medium; a protective colloid such as gelatin, gum arabic, or dextrin would retard the precipitation of the dye. Comstock experimented with different substances and came up with a formula that solved the problem.44
Building Block 4. “No way in the double projector of illuminating equally the two film gates.” Carbon arcs convert electricity to light by having an electric charge jump between two carbon rods, creating an arc. In a projector, a parabolic reflector focuses all the light forward through a heat-absorbing condenser to converge at the aperture plate. Early projectionists monitored the gap of the arcs and adjusted them to the proper distance during projection. The point where light was generated by the carbon holding the positive charge was called the “crater.”
Since the new color projector had a double aperture plate and projected two frames through two lenses at the same time, it required an intense light source and equal illumination of the first and fourth frames. The only standard projector arcs with a fixed position for the light had the two carbons at right angles, with the “crater” on the horizontal arc. That design would not work at increased power, or “heavy current,” as it was called at the time, as the brightest point would wander around the end of the carbon and the flow of the arc would be more erratic, resulting in singing, hissing, and flaming arcs.
Beginning in May 1915, Comstock investigated how to increase efficiency of the carbons, improve the quality and consistency of the light, and automate the positioning of the carbons. It was well known that a magnet would distort an arc, so Comstock used magnets at each side of the gap between the carbons to direct a magnetic field that the arc could follow. This gave a stable “crater,” visible to both aperture plates and projection lenses.45
In December 1916 Comstock conducted seven tests at the Precision Machine Company on 34th Street in Manhattan, with a Simplex arc on one projector and a Technicolor arc installed on the other.46 The Simplex arc required 54 percent more current than the Technicolor arc to produce the same amount of light on the screen – a significant difference in operating cost. Technicolor’s horizontal, magnetically controlled arc provided equal brightness from the two frames that together provided a composite color image.47
Building Block 5. “No known way of getting fine register adjustment on screen.” Technicolor’s test projector used one strip of film to project two images through respective red and green filters onto the screen at the same time. The projector had to be modified from the Kinemacolor design of adjacent frames to the new four-frame separation. The separation of the images in the camera helped with the photography, but it created a registration problem during projection. Images originally photographed through a single lens would be projected on the screen through two lenses, and how they superimposed would depend on the angle and distance from the projector to the screen. Adjusting the lenses could introduce distortion, so the images would no longer match in size or proportion. The relative position of the two film images was fixed because they were on the same strip of film.
The registration adjustment had to be made from the projection booth, and needed to allow for very fine vertical and horizontal movement of the projected image. Comstock developed an optical reflecting plate positioned between the film and the projection lens. The plate in front of either lens could be tilted to refract the fight in any direction to achieve a perfectly superimposed image.48 Comstock’s final evaluation was that “register adjustment was still difficult but it was possible.” In practice, this adjustment, which was the key to the elimination of color fringing, retained too many variables and was the weakest element of the system.49
41 Daniel F. Comstock, An Outline of the History of the Beginning of the Technicolor Development in Boston (Cambridge, MA: Comstock & Wescott, Inc., 1961), 2.
42 Ibid., 4.
44 Comstock, An Outline of the History, 4.
45 Comstock, Method of and Device for Controlling Electric Arcs, US Patent 1,367,352, filed October 20, 1915, and issued February 1, 1921. A second US Patent, 1,279,990, described the creation of the magnetic field using ionic discharges.
46 Comstock, “Memorandum in Connection with Simplex Test Made on Our Arc,” December 20, 1916, #17 Arc: Notes, Tests, Drawings, etc., Technicolor Notebooks Collection.
47 “First Showing of Technicolor,” Moving Picture World, October 6, 1917, 61.
48 Comstock, Auxiliary Registering Device for Simultaneous Projection of Two or More Pictures, US Patent 1,208,490, filed February 16, 1916, and issued December 12, 1916.
49 Comstock An Outline of the History, 6.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 36–41.)
“An additive color process was the most achievable first step, but it had already proved to be an inadequate technique. By the late 1910s other processes were already applying subtractive color for motion picture use, and the introduction of new photographic products from Eastman Kodak seemed to make it a viable solution for the KC&W engineers. Having the color as an integral part of the film print eliminated the need for special projection equipment or handling, and immediately opened up the possibilities for wider distribution and adoption by the industry. Prizma Color and Eastman Kodak’s Kodachrome1 color processes were proving the advantages of subtractive color, but both were still flawed. The next stage of Technicolor’s development had to overcome these flaws. Before this, however, KC&W’s engineers had to go back to the drawing board, to radically redesign the Technicolor camera and to devise new, experimental printing practices.
1 Two-color Kodachrome should not be confused with the later Kodachrome process introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. The latter was a three-color multilayer reversal film largely used for slides and amateur motion pictures on 8mm and 16mm until it was discontinued in 2009.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 59.)
“Wescott’s additive camera utilized prisms to redirect light, splitting the beam into two distinct color records. These records were captured onto one strip of film, but were separated by two frames in between. The new camera would continue to use prisms, but the technology would have to be refined for more precise results. The engineers considered using separate strips of film for each color separation (as was used later in the three-color Technicolor process), but multiple concerns about handling and differential shrinkage ruled out that idea. “Cutting rooms are madhouses now” explained “Doc” Willat, “and [you’ll] have no chance whatever if you expect the cutting room people to keep track of twin rolls of film which also have to start with the same frame.”30 Willat’s considerable and well-respected production experience was heeded by the engineers. Capturing both color records on one strip of film would not only simplify the camera design, but also provide continuity in handling as part of established production practice.
A beam-splitting prism system was designed to split light equally, creating symmetrical color separations one above the other, vertically inverted on one negative, foot-to-foot. A semi-mirrored surface in the prism set reflected 50 percent of the light down one path and allowed the remainder to pass down another. This diverted light was filtered before exposure by complementary colored filters in red and green.
The exact positioning of the frames on the negative was vital if adjustments in printing were to be minimized. “It is of considerable importance… to provide a system which is essentially automatic in its operation, ” Ball explained to his KC&W colleagues, “that is, one which can be handled mechanically at each and every stage without the continual attention of an operator.”32 To achieve this, component pictures had to be positioned in definite relation to the sprocket holes on the negative. Later in the printing process, all registration could be maintained by correct alignment and handling of the film by its perforations.
Existing negative stocks available from Eastman Kodak proved to have less than adequate sprocket-hole precision. The engineers had to build their own perforating equipment in Boston in order to get the accuracy that was required. Perforations had to be punched cleanly, without rough edges. A lot of effort was expended on designing snugly fitting registration pins for the printing equipment. Any movement around the pins, because of wear, poorly punched or aligned perforations, or damage, could cause misregistration.
30 Comstock, An Outline of the History, 8.
32 Ball, “Sprocket Hole Register,” February 19, 1919, #12 Subtractive, Technicolor Notebooks Collection.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 70–71.)
“The new investment in Technicolor by Jerome and his associates led to an acceleration of technical development toward a commercially viable process. The additive approach to color photography and projection used for The Gulf Between had proven to be a technological dead-end. It had required Technicolor to establish an entirely proprietary approach to motion picture production: a special camera, custom preparation of the film stock, and specialized processing and printing. This effort resulted in a film that required a custom projector that had to be run by a trained Technicolor operator.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 85.)
“Before Technicolor’s dedicated color consultancy division was formed in 1929, it was the responsibility of the company’s cameramen to advise production staff about on-set colors as best they could. The limitations of the two-color process meant certain colors were impossible to achieve in the final prints.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 114.)
“To movie makers, since 1914, when William Coolidge, a Boston attorney, financed the three physicists, Kalmus, Comstock and Westcott, in the development of what is known now as Technicolor, the eventual usurpation of the screen by color has seemed inevitable.
This does not mean that this year or next will see the complete elimination of all black and white pictures. It does mean, however, that color is here to stay.”
(Kuhn, Irene (1937): Rainbow “Round the Screen”. In: Cinema Arts, 1,1, pp. 28–32, on p. 28.)
“Sempre sul cammino precedentemente tracciato dai vari sistemi per sintesi addittiva, si mossero, nella loro fase iniziale, i primi e malcerti passi del procedimento destinato – nonostante la sua successiva complessità e le enormi difficoltà pratiche – a raggiungere nel giro di pochi anni la supremazia nel campo del film a colori: il “Technicolor”. A proposito del quale è parso a tutti sempre per lo meno curioso che un sistema come questo, meno originale di tanti altri, pure basati sulla sintesi sottrattiva, le cui difficoltà di ordine tecnico sono certamente superiori a quelle di qualsiasi altro sistema (specie se poste in relazione all’epoca della sua prima affermazione sul piano industriale) sia riuscito per primo a raggiungere un così straordinario livello di perfezione tecnica: esso offre fra l’altro non pochi vantaggi dal lato artistico, quale quello soprattutto di permettere – mediante la stampa per imbibizione delle matrici fondamentali – una intelligente selezione dei colori essenziali e una gradazione a volontà delle loro tonalità, in modo da rendere i tecnici e gli artisti liberi di correggere – aumentando o diminuendo la carica del colore – gli effetti suggeriti sí dalla natura, ma fortunatamente imprigionabili entro il salutare filtro della fantasia. La storia del Technicolor, il cui nome deriva anzitutto – per ragioni affettive – dall’”Institute of Technology”, un vecchio collegio del Massachusetts, un gruppo di studenti del quale cominciò assai presto a interessarsi ai problemi della fotocinematografia a colori, ha inizio ufficialmente nel 1915, quando cioè nasce la “Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation of America” di cui il dott. Herbert Kalmus a soli 34 anni divenne Presidente e la moglie Natalie (ecco il nome di un’altra donna nella storia del film a colori, dopo la Kuhn, la Thuilier e la Chaumont), la “esperta” del colore. Basandosi su alcuni brevetti preesistenti (per la cronaca: quelli di Westcott e Comstock) i primi tecnici della nuova istituzione si dedicarono – come si è già accennato – ad un procedimento addittivo a due colori, il cui primo esperimento pratico, girato all’aria aperta in Florida, The Gulf Between (1917) è da considerarsi tuttavia un completo fallimento. Dopo la sfortunata proiezione del breve film alla sala Aeolian di New York, effettuata per prudenza dinanzi a un gruppo di cineasti, di tecnici e di produttori, lo stesso Kalmus ammise che per continuare esperimenti del genere “l’operatore avrebbe dovuto essere qualcosa di mezzo fra un acrobata e un professore” (1), e il procedimento addittivo venne definitivamente accantonato.
(1) La frase è riportata da A. Cornwell-Clyne: in “Colour Cinematography“, London, 1951. Alcune notizie contenute nel presente saggio derivano appunto dal “sommario storico” compreso in tale volume.”
(Montesanti, Fausto (1954): Lineamenti di una storia del film a colori. In: Giuseppe Sala (ed.): Bianco e Nero. Il colore nel cinema. Rassegna mensile di studi cinematografici, XV, 2-4, pp. 11–51, on pp. 27–28.) (in Italian)
Timeline of Historical Film Colors by Barbara Flueckiger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.