Color: Bringing Film to Life

Film Before Color

When the phrase “The Silent Era” is brought up in the context of the film, your mind immediately thinks in black and white. Up until the 1930s, the majority of films produced were filmed on rolls and lacked any essence of color. Directors were forced to get creative and manipulate lighting if they wanted to emphasize different objects on the screen. Chiaroscuro is a technique in capturing light that focuses on contrasting bright light areas with dark shadows. This lighting technique was used most often in murder mystery films, to build suspense and allude to mystery. 


The introduction of Color 

“The Wizard of Oz” (1939) is remembered as the first film to introduce color to the big screen. Although The Wizard of Oz is one of the first major films to use the technicolor technique, color in film came many years before in 1895. The Edison Studio is accredited for producing the first hand-tinted film “Annabelle Serpentine Dance” (1850) which featured a ballerina who wore a veil that would appear to change colors as she danced. Hand tinting was first used as a method to deter films pirating, as hand-tinting was a tedious and laborious process. 

At the beginning of film tinting each reel was hand-painted by several artists (the majority were women). Later, film tinting became a process of adding color to film by means of soaking the film in dye and staining the film in an emulsion. As the light shone through and filtered, the white light would have an essence of color. 

Women in Color

Alice Guy-Blache, a pioneer in narrative film, was also known for adding color in her films. In “Pierrette’s Escapades”, produced in 1900, Alice Guy-Blache hand-painted each individual shot to add over three different colors to the film. The Stencil color process allowed for more of an assembly-line design to add color to films. Pathe Freres successfully commercialized the color stencil process and created the Pathechrome in 1905, which became the most accurate and reliable coloring system. By 1910, Pathe had employed over 400 women as stencilers in his Vincennes factory. 


Color’s Long-Lasting Impact

Production studios like Pixar, Studio Ghibli, and Disney would have never existed if it were not for the early innovations of color in film. Adding color in film not only brought life to the screen but also created so many more jobs in the industry. Women with little to no experience in the film industry were hired as stencilers and a domino effect of innovation came along with color. Color in the film is now even an area of study, how certain combinations of colors can evoke certain emotions. The innovation of this technology allowed for people to stop seeing the world in black and white, but instead in color.


Works Cited

“Color Motion Picture Film.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Sept. 2019,

“Film Tinting.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Nov. 2019,

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