You know this scene from The Wizard of Oz.
It happens just after Dorothy croons in sepia-toned Kansas,
Toto wags his tail, and the house gets caught in a tornado.
She travels from a faded film strip to a Technicolor world.
But there are three things about this scene you might get wrong.
And each one helps show the real history of Technicolor.
These misconceptions explain what the “Technicolor triumph” really was,
from the technical aspects that made it work,
to exactly why it took over the movies
to the way in which the technology shaped the look of the 20th century.
Lie # 1 – Wizard of Oz is not the first Technicolor movie.
Not even close.
You might know that, but a lot of people don’t.
Come on Maryland Science Center, you’re better than this.
Historian Barbara Flueckiger has an exhaustive timeline
of color in film, from
hand-painted film to the first movie filmed in “kinemacolor,”
A Visit to the Seaside.
But Technicolor stood out,
and even it has a history that long predates The Wizard of Oz.
Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock,
and W. Burton Wescott founded the company in 1914,
with the “Tech” referring to MIT, whereKalmus and Comstock met.
It started by merging red and green –
into a new image that roughly looked like this.
You can see the look in this range
of movies from the late 1920s and early 30s.
It could do passably well with skin tones,
but there’s no blue in these dresses for a reason.
Blue came into the mix in 1932,
when Technicolor added the key third strip.
They showed off the process in Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees,
a gorgeous animated feature
that was a botanist’s nightmare.
You know, there are evil trees in Wizard of Oz, too.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Anyway, in order to get Technicolor to work,
it was an insanely difficult process.
Technicolor distributed guides like these
and we can make a reasonable simulation digitally, with a scene like this.
So here’s a scene of some Lego people
who are apparently worshipping Lawrence of Arabia?
Not sure what’s going on here, but it’sour starting image.
A technicolor camera would typically take
that picture and shoot it through a prism
that split the light into red, blue,
and green negatives for the picture.
Those negatives were then flipped into positive “matrices,”
which eventually got soaked with dyes of the complementary colors.
So the red matrix turned cyan, the green one magenta,
and the blue one yellow.
Then the dye was transferred
— this was called a “dye transfer process” to create
a final gorgeous Technicolor image.
So if you’re anything like me,
that explanation might make you feel like the scarecrow.
“哦 我好挫 因为我没脑子”
“Oh I’m a failure because I haven’tgot a brain.”
So let’s try it again,
but only look at that red channel.
So keep your eye on the View-Master,
the red in the Rubik’s cube,
or maybe the Lego guy’s hat.
It is all kind of dark now,
because that’s just the red color in the negative.
Now flipped in the matrix, that red is really bright,
which means that when it’s dyed,
it won’t get a lot of cyan.
And that makes sense.
Cyan is the complementary color — it’sthe anti-red.
So where you want a lot of red,
you do not want a lot of cyan.
That way, when it comes together,
you get a ton of magenta and some yellow.
You don’t have a lot of cyan,
because the cyan cancels out the red.
In the earlier days of Technicolor,
they also had to amp up the contrast.
The company would add a black and white layer
underneath the matrices to serve as something called “the key”.
You can see the results early,
in films like 1934’s La Cucaracha,
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, and Robin Hood,
all of which came out well
before the Wizard of Oz.
It’s easy enough to roughly copy
the technology that “ Technicolored ” the Wizard of Oz.
红绿蓝通道 色彩浴 网眼 副本
RGB split, color bath, mesh, repeat.
But the film strip processes are just part of the story.
Lie #2 the scene?
It’s not going from a black and white world to a color one.
The set was actually painted sepia-tone
so the same Technicolor process could be used
for the bright Oz reveal.
Today, it’s much easier.
I can draw a box with my hand and with a click,
black and white and color play together.
They even had techniques to do stuff like this in the Oz days.
But the fact that they built a sepia
house shows how Technicolor’s technical limitations
shaped all color movies.
“This is one of the cameras that was used to film The Wizard of Oz.”
“It weighs 4 to 500 pounds,
and these cameras were bigger than ordinary motion picture cameras
because they had to run three strips of film
through them at any given time.”
So remember — this scene?
That had to be done with this beast of a camera.
Those three strips didn’t just require more space,
they needed tons of light.
That set had to be blazingly overlit to get enough light
through to these three strips of film.
The set was reportedly 100 degrees Fahrenheit at times.
Sound was an issue, too.
“It’s so loud when you’re running three strips
of film through a camera, so they had
to build this blimp around it.
It’s filled with soundproofing material
so when you’re making a sound film you don’t
get all the sound from the camera throughout the studio there.”
Technicolor’s advantages outweighed its limitations.
It’s main advantage was the way
in which it could capture the tone of a scene.
Two movies made in the same year could have a different look,
not just because of the
choices made in front of the camera.
Technicolor consultants and directors tweaked the palette
of the film by adjusting the cyan,
magenta and yellow dyes.
The complicated dye transfer process gave Singin’
in the Rain some of its magenta-hued
skin and deep saturated colors.
The film and technology weren’t the only things that gave Technicolor movies
their distinctive look.
It also shaped the world that they chose to film.
Lie #3: This isn’t the real Dorothy.
It’s Judy Garland’s body double.
She wore specially designed clothes and makeup to match the sepia world,
so Judy Garland could swoop in,
in the same shot and a blue dress,
to join Technicolor Oz.
These movies, and Oz,
were shaped around Technicolor’s abilities, from head to toe.
“The second page that you see here is the part
of the script that shows the ruby slippers
being unveiled, but what it shows is
that they were still silver shoes at this point,
but the producers of the film really wanted
to show off that Technicolor that they were
paying for, so they wanted them to
be sparkly ruby slippers that would look good against the yellow brick road.
So they changed it at the middle of production to ruby slippers.”
Today the shoes are kept under low light to preserve them,
but during the shoot they
were blasted with light to accommodate the camera and make those sequins sparkle.
These weren’t just on-set decisions —
Technicolor was always pulling strings behind the curtains.
Look at the credits for Wizard of Oz,
and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, and A Star is Born,
and so on and so on.
You’ll see one name over and over.
Once married to Technicolor cofounder Herb Kalmus,
she ruled with an iron fist over
Technicolor productions for many of the early years.
Kalmus had over 300 film credits
where she gave Technicolor advice —
and sometimes told directors what to do.
This is the IMDB page for a woman born in 1882.
In documents like “Color Consciousness,”
she extended her reach into art — the essay includes aesthetic color theory.
“红色：危险 血腥 生命 高温
“Red: danger, blood, life, heat.
绿色：自然 户外 自由 新鲜”
Green: Nature, outdoors, freedom, freshness.”
Kalmus’s influence was significant,
but it’s as important as a reflection of Technicolor’s power.
Technicolor had its own processing facilities,
and its own camera crew that continued Natalie
Kalmus’ work after she left the company.
The technology and the production process gave Technicolor a significant competitive
advantage to alternatives being used.
Despite all those alternatives shown on Barbara Flueckiger’s website,
studios stuck with Technicolor for a long time.
It had a reliable system and
could be shown in any theatre in splendid color,
without requiring special equipment.
Technicolor eventually fell to cheaper processes
through the 1950s, like Eastman Color,
that used a single strip.
The Godfather, Part II was one
of the final major releases to use the Technicolor we recognize.
But old prints remain surprisingly vibrant today due to the dye transfer process used.
Today, I can snap my fingers and be
in The Matrix or in Stranger Things’ Upside Down.
What are all these dust particles?
Is this asbestos?
Am I covered in asbestos right now?
Technicolor was never just a click —
the look was formed by the camera’s strengths
and weaknesses, the artistic choices made for color,
and the Technicolor company’s
infrastructure and supervision.
In that key scene from the Wizard of Oz,
you might not have known the trivia about Dorothy’s double,
or the sepia doorway,
or even that it wasn’t Technicolor’s debut.
But one thing is easy to understand, intuitively.
The movie is all about it.
Technicolor wasn’t a switch or a doorway.
It was a whole world,
just waiting on the other side.
You can nerd out a lot more on Technicolor
by checking out Barbara Flueckiger’s website,
or Eastman House, which was really generous
with their time and a lot of the images that you saw in this video.
I’ve linked both of those below.
You can see the director’s commentary
for this video in an additional video that we’ve
made where I share some behind-the-scenes info and a few
of the details that couldn’t quite fit in.