×

Technicolor’s Major Milestones After 100 Years of Innovation

1915: The Beginning
MIT graduates Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock and W. Burton Westcott used the success of their first business venture – the chemical process development firm Kalmus, Comstock and Westcott – to build upon Kalmus’ prediction that color film was the future of cinema, and on Nov. 19, 1915, Technicolor was incorporated in Maine. The next year, they moved their operations to Jacksonville, Fla., and began production on their first project in their unusual laboratory space.
From Weekly Variety, Dec. 1, 1916: “Kalmus, Comstock & Westcott have bought outright and fitted up as a complete laboratory plant a 72-foot Pullman car. It left Boston Sunday morning for Jacksonville, Fla. There the promised picture, a 7-reeI dramatic subject, will be filmed, developed and made into positives, the railroad car plant doing the work.”
That proposed picture, “The Little Skipper,” would never come to light, but in 1917 Technicolor released its first film, “The Gulf Between.”

1939: The Oscar
Technicolor developed a string of new two-color (red and green) processes for color film for the next 20 years. Color was seen as a novelty, and as the country entered the Great Depression, the extra expense of color films along with the lack of lifelike quality of the two-color process meant that studios began to produce fewer and fewer of them. In 1932, Technicolor completed work on a new three-color (red, green and blue) camera and process (its fourth) that allowed for a full range of colors. Kalmus convinced up-and-coming animator Walt Disney to use the process in his “Silly Symphonies” cartoon shorts, and in 1932, “Flowers and Trees” was the first commercially released film in the new three-color process.

1955: The First Reinvention
The three-color process was not an instant smash success. An exclusive contract with Disney beginning with “Flowers and Trees” and running through the end of 1935 meant that for the first half of the decade, any non-Disney color cartoons by in Technicolor could only be made using previous inferior two-color processes. The strategy worked well for Disney, whose Technicolor “Silly Symphonies” shorts grew in popularity to the point that he began using it for his “Mickey Mouse” shorts, but it delayed the use of the three-color process in other studios. The first full-length, live-action film in the process, “Becky Sharp,” came in 1935 from RKO Pictures, and Hollywood was skeptical.

1996: Setting the Standard
The watershed moment for Technicolor would come in 1937 with the release of Disney’s first full length-animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in Technicolor, which would go on to become the most successful sound film of all time. Decades before Pixar, Dreamworks and others would perfect the animated art of giving all ages of moviegoers the sniffles at the theater, the animation and color of “Snow White” would bring a tear to the eye of one film critic.

From the review in Daily Variety, Dec. 22, 1937: “Walt Disney’s animation of Grimm’s fable, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ sets a milestone in the art of picture making. It is completely a thing of beauty and charm. … ‘Snow White’ is the genius of craftsmanship which can make an endless series of line drawings and color washes so eloquent in human expression and trouble and antic joy, so potent in evoking audience emotion, laughter, excitement, suspense, tears. Yes, indeed — tears!”

2000: The Acquisition

When Technicolor signed its exclusive contract with Disney, some projects in development with other animators were put out to pasture. One such film from Ted Eshbaugh was an animated story of a Kansas farm girl who is swept up in a tornado and transported to a colorful and magical land – “The Wizard of Oz.” This 1933 short film, which was made in Technicolor but did not receive licensing, would preview its more famous predecessor in a conspicuous way; though the film was released at the time in black and white, it originally only began in black in white, and transitioned to Technicolor as Dorothy finds herself in Oz. Though only two prints of the film were made at the time and the cartoon was likely never seen by MGM producers of the later live-action classic, the technique would prove itself memorable by the end of the decade.
After the runaway success of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” studios jumped to produce their own three-color films, and in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” were both released in the new process, the latter claiming the all-time box office title from “Snow White” and winning Technicolor its first Oscar for color cinematography, an award it would win for all but three of the following 28 years, cementing Technicolor as the defining look of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

    Film Review: 'A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'

    No asteroids are hurtling toward Earth in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” though a flying frozen pizza does softly slice the top off an elderly shopper’s hairdo: That’s roughly the level of quirky peril we’re talking about in the latest outing from Aardman Animations, and as usual, the British stop-motion masters cheerfully prove that [...]

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content