Have you ever witnessed a child watch an old black and white movie and seen the puzzled look on their face as they wondered how our movie worlds went from black and grey to vibrant color? Today we’re clicking our ruby slippers to go back in time to a world where a new emerging innovation brought color into our lives and reshaped the world as we know it!
If you’ve ever tried your hand at screen printing or attempted to design a logo using Photoshop, you’ve probably noticed that it’s all about the layers. Each piece of the picture has its designated place and purpose. And while these layers don’t look like much on their own, when you place them on top of each other something magical happens!
To bring our movies to life with color, skilled technicians had to do something similar. It’s a complicated but remarkable process that’s still greatly influencing our lives today—just take a look!
The world before Oz
Imagine living in a ho-hum world of black and white until one day, you step through a doorway and find yourself in a new world filled with colors so vibrant that your eyes almost can’t understand its beauty!
Sound familiar? I just described a famous scene from The Wizard of Oz, a movie often credited for being the first to bring Technicolor to the screen. But even though Dorothy was stepping into a brand new world of color, filmmakers and Technicolor artisans had been bringing color to the screen for almost two decades before!
Since 1914, the geniuses at Technicolor had been using dye-transfer techniques to create color versions of a film strip. The process involved splitting an image from a film strip into three separate colors and then laminating them back together—this translated to hues that looked very natural to the human eye. The complicated dance of mixing the film strips together brought color to the black-and-white-only world that movie-goers had grown familiar with, and revolutionized the trajectory of the film industry forever!
Suddenly, the big screen wasn’t so far from reality.
Introducing color to film left its mark on the way people saw the world, and this movement all began with a technical process that by design, embraced its limitations.
This video by Vox explains the history behind this amazing innovation and how all the pieces came together to create the color palettes in our favorite old movies.
Wowza! For a closer look behind the scenes of some of our favorite subjects, check out Vox’s YouTube library.
The next great innovation is waiting somewhere over the rainbow!
I love the way Natalie Kalmus from Technicolor took what she learned from filming with Technicolor cameras and became a total boss of the film industry. As they mentioned in the video, she created the foundation for color theory, something that is taught in every beginner’s art class, and is used in unsuspecting ways all around us to this day!
Whether you are painting the walls of a day spa, mixing paint to create a landscape like Bob Ross, or screen printing a multi-colored design onto a tee-shirt, you can thank the early days of Technicolor for the process that made it all possible!
We tend to breeze by early innovations like Technicolor because they were a jumping-off point to where we are now. These days, you and I can film a full-color feature-length film on our cell phones. We can even change the tint with the tap of a finger! But when Technicolor came around, even portraying the shiny red of an apple was a big deal.
Celebrating innovations like this that send our imaginations hurtling into new realities are important when we’re considering the tech we’re interacting with today.
Perhaps the Zoom technology that we are all so tired of right now will lead to communication with life on other planets? There are zero limits to what could send us soaring down the yellow brick road to possibility next.
Can’t get enough of the wizardry behind film-making? Grab some popcorn and dive into these articles!
So, the next time you’re channel surfing and you stumble across Dorothy and her pals journeying to the Emerald City, watch it with fresh eyes and tell your friends about the ways Technicolor changed our world. After all, the best part about celebrating something wonder-filled is sharing it with others!
Keep dreaming and notice the beauty around you!
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