July 30 – First Disney Foray into Technicolor

Posted on July 30, 2016

Before there were color motion pictures (animated or live-action), there were black-and-white motion pictures. Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse made his debut in the B&W film Steamboat Willie, in 1928.

Even after color was inserted into the movie biz, it was what is known as a “two-color additive color process.” The company was Kinemacolor. Color was achieved by photographing and projecting a black-and-white film behind alternating red and green filters.

As usual with “motion pictures,” which of course are a whole bunch of still pictures rapidly shown, our brain does the work of mixing rapidly alternating colors as well as seeing action rather than rapidly changing stills.

Still, it seems to me that a B&W film shown behind red and green filters would result in not-very brightly colored scenes. Rather muddy, in fact.

And I'd be right:

A sample scene of Kinemacolor

And then there was technicolor!

Starting in 1916 and being improved by leaps and bounds over the next few decades, Technicolor offered much brighter, more saturated colors. The later, more advanced 3-strip process required a special camera that used three separate rolls of black and white film. A beam splitter inside the camera caused the light coming through the lens to be split into two parts, and before the light hit the film, it passed through one of two filters. One B&W film strip collected light that had come through a green filter; the rest of the light passed through a magenta filter. Behind the magenta filter were the other two strips of film. The front film was a red-blind film – it recorded only blue light – and there was a coating on that film that prevented the blue light from continuing on to the last strip of film. The only light that hit that strip was the red-dominated light.

Super complicated, right?

The fact is, though, that this sort of “subtractive synthesis” resulted in brighter, more saturated colors than the additive process. And the because there were three colors (green, blue, and red) rather than just two (red and green), the full range of colors became available.

Just because this new process had been invented, it didn't mean that Hollywood would adopt it. But Walt Disney was one of the first (maybe THE first?). And on this date in 1932, Walt Disney's Silly Symphony called Flowers and Trees was released in full-color Technicolor.

Flowers and Trees was a success! People loved it, critics loved it, and Disney won his first competitive Academy Award, for Animated Short Subject. (That same year, 1932, he won an honorary Academy Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse.

Check out Flowers and Trees

Also on this date:

International Day of Friendship

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