The history of color motion picture film is linked to two companies: Technicolor and Eastman Kodak. Technicolor was formed in 1915 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott, who realized that color film could enhance motion picture entertainment. Introduced in 1932, it was a three-color process that was widely used into the late 1950s. The three-color process utilized a camera with one lens that exposed three black and white negatives simultaneously by splitting the incoming visible light through a prism. The prism would create two beams of light which would then expose one film negative to green light and the rest of the split light exposed a red and blue bi-pack comprised of two film negatives placed emulsion to emulsion.1 One film negative would be sensitized to blue light while the other to red light, once exposed, the two negatives would be separated to be processed. The Eastman Color process, developed by Eastman Kodak Company in 1950, was similar to Technicolor. Eastman Color used three light-sensitive emulsions that were sensitized to red, green, and blue light which were then coated onto a single film base.2 Having all three emulsion layers on one film support does away with the bulky three-color process camera used in the Technicolor process. Eastman Color prints were less costly to produce than Technicolor prints. This was because Eastman Color only used one film negative versus Technicolors three. Within a decade, Eastman Color films began to show evidence of fading in the negatives and prints. The film industrys shift from Technicolor to Eastman Color film resulted in a shift in the color, tone, and color balance of the film prints. Technicolor three-color dye process produces a very stable color 1 Scott Higgins, "Demonstrating Three-Colour Technicolor: "Early Three-Colour Aesthetics and Design," Film History 12, 4 (2000): 358-383." 2"Doug Nishimura, Email correspondence with author, June 3, 2015." 2" that doesnt easily degrade with hues that were “warm,”"whereas Eastman Color tended to be “cooler”"and almost neon-like. In this thesis, I will discuss the differences in dyes used by Technicolor and Kodak and illustrate how the dyes have altered over time. To do so, I have made measurements on dyed film test strips by using a spectrophotometer that was created specifically for this testing. I sampled twenty-five test dyed film strips and twenty-five Technicolor film reels. In addition, a single Eastman Color film reel was tested. This sample size of fifty-one items yielded raw data that was calculated into absorbance and transmittance wavelengths. These spectral curves allow for comparison between the dyes used and for an evaluation of the colors. In the discussion, I describe why knowledge of dye fading is important to museums and how spectral information on dyes could improve film preservation efforts. This data is analyzed by reviewing scholarly journals, case studies, and first-hand accounts of dye tests in an effort to further the knowledge for museums and professionals with a focus on information on motion picture film, preservation, and spectrophotometry.
Museum Studies (BS)
Department, Program, or Center
Department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture (CLA)
Sagen, Melissa, "Testing and Evaluating Dye Color: A Study Using Spectrophotometry on Technicolor and Eastman Color Motion Picture Film" (2015). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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