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March, 1939
How The Technicolor
Camera Works

The WideScreen Museum blew the entire 1999 acquisitions budget to acquire this rare artifact for your amusement. (The actual cost is a closely guarded secret, but it is rumored to be dozens of times the listed cover price.)
Mechanix Illustrated devoted their cover, including a nice hand colored photo, and an entire page on how the camera works. There's nothing here that you can't find in much more detail over in the Old Color section, but it's always fun to see this sort of thing from the perspective of the time it was written.
The color chart that is being held in front of the lady was referred to as a "Lily". The source of that name is now obscured in myth, but its function was to provide the lab with a guide for balancing the color in the three negatives.

We know how to spell "lens", but prefer to present these items as they originally appeared.

THE basis of all Technicolor movies is the Technicolor camera, of which there are only 14 in existence today. They are valued at $16,000 each, and no one, outside of Technicolor laboratory men, are permitted to examine or operate them.

The camera consists of a big metal box surmounted with two huge containers for triple film reels. Inside is a maze of wheels, gears, springs, filters and hundreds of precision-made moving parts that are the secret of this magical movieland machine. Special high speed, color-corrected lenses are made for these cameras.

Only one lense is used in each camera. Filters break up the colors and pass them on to the three films. The drawing shows the arrangement of the optical parts and the films in this camera. A single film and a bipack are used. A green filter transmits green light to the panchromatic film. A magenta filter inside the camera transmits red and blue, light to two films with emulsion surfaces in contact. The front film has a blue absorbing dye and is sensitive to blue only. The rear film receives the red image.


Thus the Technicolor camera photographs the three primary aspects of a scene (red, green and blue) upon three separate film strips, which in turn are developed and processed to equal contrast and in handling are always considered an indivisible group.

From these color-separation negatives, prints are made on specially prepared stock processed in such a way as to produce positive relief images in hardened gelatin. These three hardened matrices in relief are then used as printing matrices that absorb dye. This dye is then transferred by imbibition printing to another film strip, which, when it receives all three transfers,comes the final color print ready for projection. (The imbibition process is a photomechanical process involving printing from a base relief image as in photoengraving.)

The development of the Technicolor camera and the related processing methods are so highly guarded that the cameras are not sold, but rented to Hollywood studios and the film must be returned to the company for processing.

© 1939 Fawcett Publications
HTML Version © 1999, The American WideScreen Museum

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