Glorious! The Technicolor Online Research Archive

Submitted by Guest Post,

Today's blog post is authored by Ken Fox and Kelsey Eckert, project archivists in the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum. In honor of the 101st birthday of Technicolor, they will be sharing behind-the-scenes stories and insights from the work they are doing to digitize the documents from the early days of the Technicolor Company. 


When movie lovers think "Technicolor," they most likely think of the "glorious" three-strip process which, beginning in 1932, brought a broad spectrum of rich, deeply saturated colors to such Hollywood classics as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Dumbo, and Singin' in the Rain. But the story of one of motion pictures' greatest technical achievements began way back in 1915, when cinema itself was barely 20 years old and a handful of determined research scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts began experimenting with ways of bringing natural color to black-and-white film.

Color had previously been added to films through tinting, toning, and hand coloring, but the goal of the scientists behind what would become the Technicolor Motion Picture Company was to capture color values as they exist in nature, then reproduce them onscreen. It would take years to realize the Technicolor dream, but they luckily recorded all the fascinating details of their many trials and errors in a wide variety of documents which now form part of the vast Technicolor Motion Picture Company collections currently housed at the George Eastman Museum. Assembled from various sources, including the company archives and former employees, and comprising archival records, artifacts, and equipment dating from 1914 to the 1990s, these collections document virtually every aspect of the Technicolor business.

This summer a selection of nearly 40,000 of these documents will be made available to the public through the museum's Technicolor Digital Library, an online initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The bulk of our selection dates from 1914 to 1955, and includes notes, journals, correspondence, film tests, and technical drawings, as well as entire notebooks from the earliest days of the company. Each document has been scanned as a high resolution image and will be displayed alongside a transcribed text version to facilitate discoverability and easier reading. The scope of the project has required the creation of a digital-asset database which preserves each scanned document along with its own unique information, such as subject, date of creation, author, and type of document. This added information will enable users to navigate the digital library quickly and efficiently, and grant students, researchers, and film fans alike unprecedented access to the inner workings of one of the most important companies in the history of cinema.

As we prepare to launch the Technicolor Digital Library in July 2017, we invite you to follow our weekly "Technicolor Tuesdays," when we post images from the collections along with a bit of history and contextual information. In the course of our work, we have found some fascinating objects and uncovered some wonderful stories from the past we think you will enjoy.

Today’s image is a color film test from 1961, made by John M. Andreas, then head of research. The goal was to illustrate how film dyes interact with each other to create new colors. Three strips of film were colored in magenta, yellow, and cyan, in various densities, and then layered to illustrate the effects of color blending. Also included are the chemical formulae for the dyes used in this test.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016