Kinemacolor was the first successful color motion picture process, used commercially from 1908 to 1914. It was invented by George Albert Smith of Brighton, England in 1906. He was influenced by the work of William Norman Lascelles Davidson and, more directly, Edward Raymond Turner. It was launched by Charles Urban's Urban Trading Co. of London in 1908. From 1909 on, the process was known as Kinemacolor. It was a two-color additive color process, photographing and projecting a black-and-white film behind alternating red and green filters.
"How to Make and Operate Moving Pictures" published by Funk and Wagnalls in 1917 notes the following:
Of the many attempts to produce cinematograph pictures... the greatest amount of attention so far has been attracted by a system invented by George Albert Smith, and commercially developed by Charles Urban under the name of "Kinemacolor." In this system (to quote from Cassell's Cyclopædia of Photography, edited by the editor of this present book), only two colour filters are used in taking the negatives and only two in projecting the positives. The camera resembles the ordinary cinematographic camera except that it runs at twice the speed, taking thirty-two images per second instead of sixteen, and it is fitted with a rotating colour filter in addition to the ordinary shutter. This filter is an aluminium skeleton wheel... having four segments, two open ones, G and H; one filled in with red-dyed gelatine, E F; and the fourth containing green-dyed gelatine, A B. The camera is so geared that exposures are made alternately through the red gelatine and the green gelatine. Panchromatic film is used, and the negative is printed from in the ordinary way, and it will be understood that there is no colour in the film itself.
The first motion picture exhibited in Kinemacolor was an eight-minute short filmed in Brighton titled A Visit to the Seaside, which was trade shown in September 1908. On 26 February 1909, the general public first saw Kinemacolor in a programme of twenty-one short films shown at the Palace Theatre in London. The process was first seen in the United States on 11 December 1909, at an exhibition staged by Smith and Urban at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In 1910, Kinemacolor released the first dramatic film made in the process, Checkmated. The company then produced the documentary films With Our King and Queen Through India (also known as The Durbar at Delhi, 1912), and the notable recovery of £750,000 worth of gold and silver bullion from the wreck of P&O's SS Oceana in the Strait of Dover (1912). With Our King and Queen Through India and the dramas The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1914) were the first three feature films made in color. Unfortunately, these latter two features were also among the last films released by Kinemacolor.
Success and decline
Kinemacolor enjoyed the most commercial success in the UK where, between 1909 and 1918, it was shown at more than 250 entertainment venues. The system was made available to exhibitors either by licence or from 1913 through a series of touring companies. Although in most cases the system stayed at licensed venues for only a few months there were instances where it remained at a hall for up to two years. 54 dramatic films were produced. Four dramatic short films were also produced by Kinemacolor in the United States in 1912–1913, and one in Japan, Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (1914).
However, the company was never a success, partly due to the expense of installing special Kinemacolor projectors in cinemas. Also, the process suffered from "fringing" and "haloing" of the images, an unsolvable problem as long as Kinemacolor remained a successive frame process. Kinemacolor in the U.S. became most notable for its Hollywood studio being taken over by D. W. Griffith, who also took over Kinemacolor's failed plans to film Thomas Dixon's The Clansman, which eventually became The Birth of a Nation (1915).
The first (additive) version of Prizma Color, developed by William Van Doren Kelley in the U.S. from 1913 to 1917, used some of the same principles as Kinemacolor. In the U.K., William Friese-Greene developed another additive color system for film called Biocolour. However, in 1914 George Albert Smith sued Friese-Greene for infringing Kinemacolor's patents, slowing the development of Biocolour by Friese-Greene and his son Claude in the 1920s.
In 2012, the National Media Museum in Bradford, England publicized its digital restoration of some very early three-color alternating-filter test films, dated to 1902, made by Edward Raymond Turner. They are believed to be the earliest existing color movie footage. Turner's process, for which Charles Urban had provided financial backing, was adapted by Smith after Turner's sudden death in 1903, and this in turn became Kinemacolor.
List of films made in Kinemacolor
- "William Norman Lascelles Davidson". Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. Retrieved 2007-10-31.
... Although his work was ultimately unsuccessful, it played its part in influencing the development of Kinemacolor, the world’s first successful natural colour motion picture system, invented by Davidson’s neighbour in the English south coast town of Southwick, near Brighton, G.A. Smith. ...
- Widescreen Museum
- urbanora (2008-06-15). "Colourful stories no. 11 – Kinemacolor in America « The Bioscope". Bioscopic.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
- Salvage Operations of S.S. Oceana Produced by the Natural Colour Kinematograph Co., Brighton at the Internet Movie Database
- Victoria Jackson, “The Distribution and Exhibition of Kinemacolor in the UK and the USA 1909-1916” (University of Bristol, 2011).
- La Tosca (1912), Mission Bells (1913), The Rivals (1913), and The Scarlet Letter (1913).
- "World's First Colour Film Discovered", BBC News (12 September 2012)
- The New York Times, 2 April 1912: 24. Accessed via ProQuest ("Display Ad 28-No Title").
- Kinemacolor on Timeline of Historical Film Colors, with primary and secondary sources, patents, and photographs of historical film prints.
- Kinemacolor at the Internet Movie Database
- Re-creating Kinemacolor on the screen
- Kinemacolor frames of William Howard Taft.
- Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Colored Pictures, by George Albert Smith, U.S. patent, filed 1907.
- Improvements in, and relating to, Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Coloured Pictures British patent 26,607 accepted 25 July 1907 cancelled 26 April 1915
- "My Impressions of 'Kinemacolor'", Wilson's Photographic Magazine, 1912.
- "Animation in Natural Colours", Moving Pictures, 1912.