Transition of Movie from black and white to color

Transition of black and white films
Transition of black and white films

It’s a frequent misconception that “newer” movies are in color and “older” movies are in black and white, as if there were a clear line separating the two. There isn’t a clear cut cutoff point between when the industry stopped using black and white film and when it started utilizing color film, as is the case with most advancements in art and technology. As an added bonus, moviegoers are aware that some directors still opt to shoot their movies in black and white decades after color film became the norm. Notable examples include “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “Manhattan” (1979), “Raging Bull” (1980), “Schindler’s List” (1993), and “The Artist” (2011).

In fact, shooting in color was an artistic choice for a long time in the early days of film. Color movies have been around for a lot longer than most people think.


People often say that “The Wizard of Oz,” which came out in 1939, was the first full-color movie, but this isn’t true. This mistaken idea probably comes from the fact that after the first scene, which is shown in black and white, the movie makes great symbolic use of bright color film. But color movies had been made for more than 35 years before “The Wizard of Oz!”

First ever color films

Shortly after the first film was made, the first ways to make color films were made. But these methods were either very simple or very expensive, or both.

Color was used in movies even when they were just black and white. Most of the time, dye was used to change the color of certain scenes. For example, scenes that took place outside at night were usually dyed a deep purple or blue color to make it look like nighttime and to make them stand out from scenes that took place inside or during the day. This was, of course, just a way to show color.

Films like “Life and Passion of the Christ” (1903) and “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) also used a technique called “stenciling,” in which each frame of a film was hand-colored. Hand-coloring each frame of a movie was hard, expensive, and took a long time. This was true even for movies that were much shorter than the average movie made today. Over the next few decades, improvements were made that made film color stenciling faster and better, but because it took so much time and money, it was only used for a small percentage of films.

Kinemacolor, which was made by an Englishman named George Albert Smith in 1906, was one of the most important changes to color film. Kinemacolor movies used red and green filters to make the colors look like they were in the film. Even though this was a step in the right direction, the two-color film process did not accurately show the full spectrum of colors. This meant that many colors looked too bright, washed out, or were just missing. “A Visit to the Seaside,” a travelogue short made by Smith in 1908, was the first film to use the Kinemacolor process.

Kinemacolor was most popular in its home country of the United Kingdom, but many theaters couldn’t afford to put in the necessary equipment because it was so expensive.


Less than ten years later, American company Technicolor created its own two-color method, which was used to film the 1917 motion picture “The Gulf Between,” which was the country’s first color feature. Two projectors, one with a red filter and the other with a green filter, had to project the same movie in order for this method to work. The projections were integrated on a single screen via a prism. Because it needed specialized filming techniques and projection equipment, early Technicolor was prohibitively expensive. “The Gulf Between” was the only movie made using Technicolor’s initial two-color technique as a result.

A alternative method for employing dyes to color film was created at the same time by technicians at Famous Players-Lasky Studios (later renamed Paramount Pictures), including engraver Max Handschiegl. Although this technique, which made its debut in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1917 film “Joan the Woman,” was only briefly employed for around ten years, the dye technology would later be applied to colorization techniques. The “Handschiegl color process” is the name given to this pioneering technique.

Technicolor created a color technique in the early 1920s that imprinted the color on the film itself, enabling it to be viewed on any projector with the appropriate size (this was similar to a slightly earlier, but less successful, color format called Prizma). The Toll of the Sea, a 1922 motion picture, marked the debut of Technicolor’s enhanced technique. Many films that employed Technicolor, however, only used it for a few brief passages in an otherwise black and white movie because it was still expensive to create and required a lot more light than shooting black and white film.

For instance, there were a few brief color moments in the 1925 version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which starred Lon Chaney. The technique was also hindered from wider adoption by technical problems.

Technicolor in three colors

While black and white film continued to be the norm, Technicolor and other businesses experimented with and improved color motion picture film throughout the 1920s. The most vivid, bright color on film had not yet been captured when Technicolor debuted a three-color picture in 1932 using dye-transfer methods. As a part of a contract with Technicolor for the three-color process, it made its debut in Walt Disney’s short animated film “Flowers and Trees.” This agreement lasted until 1934’s “The Cat and the Fiddle,” which was the first live-action feature to employ the three-color process.

Even if the outcomes were excellent, the procedure was still costly, and a considerably larger camera was needed to capture the images. The studios had to rent these cameras from Technicolor because they did not sell them. Because of this, throughout the late 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s, Hollywood saved color for its more esteemed productions. In the 1950s, innovations by Eastman Kodak and Technicolor made it considerably simpler and cheaper to shoot color film.

Color Becomes Standard

Eastman Eastmancolor, a color film technology developed by Kodak, was compatible with the brand-new widescreen CinemaScope format and rivaled Technicolor in terms of popularity. The film business used both widescreen and color films to compete with television’s small, black-and-white screens, which were becoming more and more popular. The majority of Hollywood movies were shot in color by the late 1950s, to the point where new black and white releases in the middle of the 1960s were less a financial option than they were an artistic one.

This trend has persisted throughout the years, with independent filmmakers continuing to produce the majority of the new black and white films.

Today, color film production methods are all but obsolete because to digital photography. Still, viewers will continue to marvel at the vivid, dazzling hues of early color films and link black and white film with classic Hollywood narrative.

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