fbpx 1a - 1915-1935 (unedited text) | George Eastman Museum

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1a - 1915-1935 (unedited text)

1a - 1915-1935 (unedited text)


Technicolor was incorporated in 1915 to develop and commercialize color motion pictures. Its founders, Herbert T. Kalmus, Daniel F. Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott were Boston engineers who specialized in industrial research. The company’s first process was additive, meaning it needed to recombine its color records during projection to obtain color on the screen. Achieving a full-color image using this technique was too challenging—at least as a first step—so a two-color system was adopted, limiting the range of colors that could be reproduced. Developing the new technology was expensive and time consuming, and it took more than three years of research before Technicolor was able to unveil its new process. The Gulf Between (1917) was made as a demonstration film to highlight the virtues of the process to the film industry and audiences, but its launch turned out to be a failure.

Technicolor went back to the drawing board after the failed presentation of The Gulf Between. Following five more years of research, a new feature-length demonstration film was shot with an entirely redesigned camera. The resulting release prints of The Toll of the Sea (1922) incorporated the color into the film print itself, eliminating the need for special projection equipment and allowing them to be shown in any theater in the world. The film became a major success upon its release.

Technicolor’s business grew throughout the 1920s, with Hollywood studios gradually exploring the use of color with short inserts into black-and-white films. During this time, Technicolor expanded its laboratories, staff, and professional connections. Several all-color features were made, such as Douglas Fairbanks’s The Black Pirate (1926), but color was expensive and otherwise remained limited in its adoption. It was not until the arrival of sound films in the late 1920s that Technicolor’s business really took off. Audiences found the combination of color, sound, and music irresistible, and in 1929 Technicolor signed with Warner Bros. for twenty all-color feature films. But after a year of color musicals of varying quality, audiences began to tire of the genre. Warner Bros. and the other studios canceled their contracts, and Technicolor struggled to find business for several years.