Color Motion Picture Film - Tinting and Hand Coloring

Tinting and Hand Coloring

See also List of early color feature films

The earliest motion picture stocks were orthochromatic, and recorded blue and green light, but not red. Recording all three spectral regions required making film stock panchromatic to some degree. Since orthochromatic film stock hindered color photography in its beginnings, the first films with color in them used aniline dyes to create artificial color. Hand-colored films appeared in 1895 with Thomas Edison's hand-painted Annabelle's Dance for his Kinetoscope viewers.

Many early filmmakers from the first ten years of film also used this method to some degree. George Méliès offered hand-painted prints of his own films at an additional cost over the black-and-white versions, including the visual-effects pioneering A Trip to the Moon (1902). The film had various parts of the film painted frame-by-frame by twenty-one women in Montreuil in a production-line method.

The first commercially successful stencil color process was introduced in 1905 by Pathé Frères. Pathé Color, renamed Pathéchrome in 1929, became one of the most accurate and reliable stencil coloring systems. It incorporated an original print of a film with sections cut by pantograph in the appropriate areas for up to six colors by a coloring machine with dye-soaked, velvet rollers. After a stencil had been made for the whole film, it was placed into contact with the print to be colored and run at high speed (60 feet per minute) through the coloring (staining) machine. The process was repeated for each set of stencils corresponding to a different color. By 1910, Pathé had over 400 women employed as stencilers in their Vincennes factory. Pathéchrome continued production through the 1930s.

A more common technique emerged in the early 1910s known as film tinting, a process in which either the emulsion or the film base is dyed, giving the image a uniform monochromatic color. This process was popular during the silent era, with specific colors employed for certain narrative effects (red for scenes with fire or firelight, blue for night, etc.).

A complementary process, called toning, replaces the silver particles in the film with metallic salts or mordanted dyes. This creates a color effect in which the dark parts of the image are replaced with a color (e.g., blue and white rather than black and white). Tinting and toning were sometimes applied together.

In the United States, St. Louis engraver Max Handschiegl and cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff created the Handschiegl Color Process, a dye-transfer equivalent of the stencil process, first used in Joan the Woman (1917) directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and used in special effects sequences for films such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Eastman Kodak introduced its own system of pre-tinted black-and-white film stocks called Sonochrome in 1929. The Sonochrome line featured films tinted in seventeen different colors including Peachblow, Inferno, Candle Flame, Sunshine, Purple Haze, Firelight, Azure, Nocturne, Verdante, Aquagreen, Caprice, Fleur de Lis, Rose Doree, and the neutral-density Argent, which kept the screen from becoming excessively bright when switching to a black-and-white scene.

Tinting and toning continued to be used well into the sound era. In the '30s and '40s, some western films were processed in a sepia-toning solution to evoke the feeling of old photographs of the day. Tinting was used as late as 1951 for Sam Newfield's sci-fi film Lost Continent for the green lost-world sequences. Alfred Hitchcock used a form of hand-coloring for the orange-red gun-blast at the audience in Spellbound (1945). Kodak's Sonochrome and similar pre-tinted stocks were still in production until the 1970s and were used commonly for custom theatrical trailers and snipes.

In the last half of the 20th century, Norman McLaren, who was one of the pioneers in modern animated movies, made several animated films in which he directly hand-painted the images, and in some cases, also the soundtrack, on each frame of the film. This approach was previously employed in the early years of movies, late 19th and early 20th century. One of the precursors in color hand painting frame by frame was the Aragonese Segundo de Chomon, that worked with Melies.

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