Moving picture fans rejoice, today the National Media Museum in the UK made an astonishing announcement to the world.
They have discovered inside a museum vault, hidden inside an old tin dating back to 1899, examples of the oldest color moving picture process known. Imagine, they were cached away for over a century. Needless to say this has re-written the history of early film.
Three years ago, in their archive, two rolls of film were discovered. They were created by inventor and photographer Edward Raymond Turner. Born in Somerset in 1873, he was schooled in London and worked as a photographer from around 15 years of age. In 1891, he worked in the first London studio with color photographs (maybe it dawned on him to do the same with moving pictures). It was during this time that he learned about color separation, the process of breaking down images into red, green, and blue.
Shot by him in 1899, the film I’m talking about was actually in black and white and it was only through a curator’s research that its colorful significance was also unearthed. While the film appears black and white to the naked eye, each frame looks a little bit different, because Turner captured each frame through a particular color filter, red, green, or blue.
Michael arranged testing to find out if the original content on the film could be viewed. With funding from the Digital Film Archive Fund, through the Yorkshire Film Archive and Screen Yorkshire, and with help from film archive experts and the British Film Institute’s National Archive, they were able to begin frame-by-frame analysis. The restorers were able to reproduce the color film in the same way intended by Turner.
I want to note that all colors which appear on the film have not been tinted, toned, or hand colored in any way.
The process itself is quite complicated. Have a look at the animation below to get a sense of how Turner’s invention worked.