Kinemacolor was an additive process operated with alternating red and green filters that were applied to the shutter in front of the camera and in front of the projector. With at least 32 fps the frame rate was double the minimal frame rate of 16 fps. Time parallax with small differences between the red and green record resulted in color fringes that became visible when objects or scenes were moving (see video, fig. 5).

Kinemacolor was the most successful of the so called natural color processes in early cinema. It flourished between 1908 and 1913. However, the principle of recording color separations with revolving shutter filters was first proposed by the German Hermann Isensee as early as 1897. It was further developed by Frederick Marshall Lee and Edward Raymond Turner who patented a system in 1899. George Albert Smith applied for his first patent in 1906.

Three color records used by Kinemacolor’s predecessors Frederick Marshall Lee and Edward Raymond Turner and financed by Charles Urban proved to be impractical. It was impossible to keep the three records in register. Both the cameras and the projectors were not devised for these high frame rates.

However, the reduction to only two colors failed to reproduce the whole color spectrum. The two-color system was not able to render blue to violet hues and whites were tending to have a yellowish tinge. To compensate for this problem, George Albert Smith proposed to add blue-violet filters to the projection light. Depending on the color temperature of the projection lamp the green filter had to be adjusted to produce a satisfying result.

Many contemporary witnesses were enthusiastic about the rendition of colors. “They are not pictures, but realities” was a PR slogan provided by the The Natural Colour Kinematograph Company Ltd. and it was a recurring statement in these reviews. Charles Urban, the owner of the company, incessantly postulated the educational benefit of movies in natural colors.

As George Albert Smith pointed out in his paper from 1908, one of the main challenges in developing the process was to sensitize the orthochromatic black and white stock to the red end of the color spectrum. Basic research on the properties of the filters, the sensitized stock and the projection lamp with regard to the human color perception was crucial to establish the proper balance between the red and the green record.

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Original Technical Papers and Primary Sources

Bennett, Colin N. (1910): On operating Kinemacolor (Urban-Smith patents). London: Kinematograph & Lantern Weekly, [1910].

Cher, John (1913): Kinemacolor in Paris. Interview with Mr. Charles Urban. In: The Bioscope, 327,XVIII, Jan., p. 175. View Quote

Kelley, William Van Doren (1925): Color Photography Patents (cont.). In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 24, Oct., pp. 149–161. Download PDF

Kinemacolor Co. (1910): Kinemacolor. The Glories of Nature Permanently Recorded by the Action of Light Only. Handbook of Cameras, Projectors and Appliances for Reproducing and Perpetuating the World’s Events in Natural Colors. London: Natural Color Kinematograph Company.

Smith, G. Albert (1908): Animated Photographs in Natural Colors. In: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 57, 11.12.1908, pp. 70-76. View Quote

Secondary Sources

Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on p. 65. View Quote

Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 37–39 View Quote and on p. 41. (in German) View Quote

Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on p. 14. View Quote

Behlmer, Rudy (1964): Technicolor. In: Films in Review, 15,6, pp. 333–351, on pp. 334. View Quote

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. 275-276. View Quote

Brown, Simon (2013): The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Color. Redux. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 13–22. View Quote

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 pp. 19–20. View Quote

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 pp. 121-122. View Quote

Gervasio, Livio (2006): Il cinema a colori naturali. Il Kinemacolor in Italia. In: Michele Canosa, Giulia Carluccio and Federica Villa (eds.): Cinema muto italiano. Tecnica e tecnologia. Volume secondo. Roma: Carocci, pp. 103–114. (in Italian) View Quote

Hanssen, Eirik Frisvold (2006): Early Discourses on Colour and Cinema. Origins, Functions, Meanings. (= Diss. University of Stockholm (Stockholm Cinema Studies, No. 2)) Download PDF in the download section of this page.

Holden, Lansing C. (1937): Designing for Color. In: Nancy Naumburg (ed.): We Make the Movies. New York: Norton, pp. 239–252, on pp. 244–247. View Quote

Huntley, John (1949): British Technicolor Films. Cornhill, London: Skelton Robinson, on p. 17. View Quote

Jackson, Victoria (2010): Reviving the Lost Experience of Kinemacolor: David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard. In: Journal of British Cinema and Television, vol. 7, pp. 147-159. View Quote

Jackson, Victoria (2011): The Distribution and Exhibition of Kinemacolor in the UK and the USA 1909-1916. (= Diss, university of Bristol) Link to the introduction on

Kindem, Gorham (1981): The Demise of Kinemacolor. Technological, Legal, Economic, and Aesthetic Problems in Early Color Cinema History. In: Cinema Journal, 20,2, 1981, pp. 3-14. View Quote

Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 61. View Quote

McKernan, Luke (2003): ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’ Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-1925. Diss., Birkbeck College, University of London. View Quote

Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on pp. 54–46 View Quote, on p. 49 View Quote, on p. 50 View Quote and on p. 50. View Quote

Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 12. View Quote

Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. John Wiley & Sons, on p. 121. View Quote

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. 23–25. (in Italian) View Quote

Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 87 View Quote, on p. 116 View Quote, on pp. 121–122 View Quote, on p. 123 View Quote and on p. 124. (in Italian) View Quote

Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17–24, on p. 20. (in French) View Quote

Ramsaye, Terry (1926): A Million and One Nights. New York: Simon & Schuster 1926. See Adventures of Kinemacolor, pp. 562-572. View Quote

Ruivo, Céline (2013): Le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision. À propos d’une source pour l’histoire des recherches sur la couleur chez Pathé Frères entre 1906 et 1908. In: 1895. Revue d’Histoire du Cinéma, 71, 2013, pp. 47–60, on pp. 58–60. (in French) View Quote

Stokes, Melvyn (2009): Colour in American Cinema. From The Great Train Robbery to Bonnie and Clyde. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 184–192, on p. 186. View Quote

Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 9–10 View Quote, pp. 11–14 View Quote, on pp. 15–19 View Quote and on pp. 20–21. View Quote

Theisen, Earl (1936): Notes on the history of color in motion pictures. In: International Photographer, Vol. 8, No. 5, June 1936, pp. 8-9 and p. 24, on p. 8. View Quote

Arvidson, Linda (1925): When the Movies Were Young. New York: Dutton, on pp. 245–249 View Quote and on pp. 249–250. View Quote


Cleveland, David; Pritchard, Brian (na): Re-creating Kinemacolor on the Screen. = View Quote

Farinelli, Nicola; Mazzanti, Gian Luca (2001): Il restauro. Metodo e tecnica. In: Gian Piero Brunetta (ed.): Storia del cinema mondiale. Vol. 5. Teorie, strumenti, memorie. Bologna: Einaudi, pp. 1119–1174, on p. 1133. (in Italian) View Quote

Mazzanti, Nicola (2002): Raising the Colours (Restoring Kinemacolor). In: Roger Smither (ed.): This Film is Dangerous. A Celebration of Nitrate Film. Brussels: FIAF, pp. 123-125. View Quote

Contemporary Reception

Allbee, Burton H. (1909): Impressions of Kinemacolor films. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 5, No. 26, 1909, pp. 915-916. View Quote

Anonymous (1908): Cinematography in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1908, p. 197. View Quote

Anonymous (1909): Animated Pictures in Natural Colours. In: The Bioscope, 144, July 1909, p. 4. View Quote

Anonymous (1909): The Kinemacolor Pictures. In: The Bioscope, 125, Mar., p. 23. View Quote

Anonymous (1910): First Kinemacolor Dramatic Picture. In: The Moving Picture World 7, 17.12.1910, p. 1413. Repr. from: Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly.

Anonymous (1910): Kinemacolor in Germany. In: Moving Picture World 6, 2.4.1910, p. 513.

Anonymous (1911): The Triumph of Colour. In: The Bioscope, 263,XIII, Oct., p. 283. View Quote

Anonymous (1912): The Durbar in Kinemacolor. In: The Bioscope, 278,XIV, Feb., pp. 363, 365. View Quote

Anonymous (1913): Pellicole colorate. In: La Vita Cinematografica, 4,12, Jun., p. 35. (in Italian) View Quote

Anonymous (1913): The Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects. Animated Scenes in Their Actual Colors. (1912-1913). London: Natural Color Kinematograph Co. 1913, 318 pp.

Anonymous (1914): The World in Colour. In: The Bioscope, 422,XXV, Nov., p. 664. View Quote

Bedding, Thomas (1909): Moving Pictures in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1909, pp. 30-31. View Quote

Brown, Theodore (1910): My Impressions of Kinemacolor. In: Moving Picture World 6, 28.5.1910, p. 886.

Coustet, Ernest (1914): La cinematografia a colori. In: La Tecnica Cinematografica, I,3, ottobre 1914, pp. 71–78 published in Grifo, Marco (2006): Dal film colorato al cinema a colori. In: Michele Canosa, Giulia Carluccio and Federica Villa (eds.): Cinema muto italiano. Tecnica e tecnologia. Volume primo. Roma: Carocci, pp. 173–182, on pp. 178–179. (in Italian) View Quote

Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 169-171. (in French) View Quote

Harrison, Louis Reeves (1913): Sauntering with Kinemacolor. In: Moving Picture World 15, 15.2.1913, pp. 661-662.

Hulfish, David Sherill (1909): The Motion Picture. Its Making and its Theater. In: Electricity Magazine Corporation 1909, pp. 45-48.

Joy, Henry (1912): My Impressions of Kinemacolor. In: Penrose’s Pictorial Annual. The Process Year Book for 1911-1912, 17, 1912, pp. 161-164.

Joy, Henry (1913): The Advance of Kinemacolor. In: Penrose’s Pictorial Annual. The Process Year Book for 1911-1912, 18, 1913, pp. 217-219.

Maulbecker, Maximilian (1919): Der farbige Film. In: Film-Kurier, 25.7.1919. (in German) View Quote

Münsterberg, Hugo (1916): The Photoplay. A Psychological Study. New York; London: D. Appleton and Company, on pp. 206–211. View Quote

Ramsaye, Terry (1923): The Romantic History of the Motion Picture. Chapter XX: The Great Story of Color on the Screen. In: Photoplay, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 64-66 and pp. 125-130. View Quote

Rondelli, T. (1914): Lo stato attuale della cinematografia a colori. In: La Vita Cinematografica, 32–33, 30 Aug.–7 Sept. 1914, pp. 36, 41–43 published in Grifo, Marco (2006): Dal film colorato al cinema a colori. In: Michele Canosa, Giulia Carluccio and Federica Villa (eds.): Cinema muto italiano. Tecnica e tecnologia. Volume primo. Roma: Carocci, pp. 168–173, on pp. 169–170. (in Italian) View Quote


The Scarlet Letter (USA 1913, David Miles):
Anonymous (1913): A Classic in Colour. The Scarlet Letter by the Kinemacolor Company. In: The Bioscope, 357,XX, Aug., p. 489. View Quote

Selected Analyses

The King of Indigo (GBR 1911, Theo Frenkel):
Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 20–21. View Quote


With Our King and Queen Through India [The Delhi Durbar] (GBR 1912, Natural Color Kinematograph Co.):
Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 13–15. View Quote