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Technicolor

Published : 21st December 2003


>...I was informed Technicolor had sold the Technicolor camera system >to China...

No. The technology sold to China was to make dye imbibition prints not three-strip camera negatives. The Chinese bulldozed the plant.

It no longer exists.

For more information see "Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing" by Richard W. Haines, ©1993 McFarland, ISBN 0899508561. Haines is a director who had one of his features, _Alien Space Avenger_ printed at the China laboratory.

Jeffry L. Johnson



Technicolor sold their dye transfer printing equipment to China in the 1970's. The Chinese were interested for a number of reasons -- for one, once you create the matrices, the system become cost-effective with large print orders, which the Chinese needed. The basic materials are cheaper than the Kodak monopack printing technology. What the Chinese did not count on is that dye transfer printing is really ALL about registration -- i.e. incredible quality control. China has since discontinued the dye transfer process apparently.

Technicolor, under new management since the death of Herbert Kalmus, decided at the end of the 1960's that the future was in processing for TV and opened their Universal City lab and closed the dye transfer facility on Cole Ave. Print orders for features had been in decline through the 1970's. If only they had predicted the 4000 print orders of modern times... By the mid 1970's, they had also discontinued dye transfer printing in their London and their Italy lab ("Star Wars" had a few rare dye transfer prints made for its release in the U.K. in 1977 and Lucas owned one copy, which was used as a guide during the late 1990's restoration since it hadn't faded, unlike all the Eastmancolor prints.)

The 3-strip Technicolor cameras were not sold to China because those were discontinued in 1955, not the mid 1970's. Most of the 3-strip Technicolor cameras were gutted by Technicolor for their new 8-perf Technirama process of the late 1950's. Petro Vlahos converted a few for his sodium matte process, whereby a beauty pass and a matte pass were recorded simultaneously with the subject against a sodium-lit screen (last used for one shot in "Dick Tracy".) I'm not saying that no 3-strip cameras ever surfaced in China but at the time of the sale of Technicolor's equipment to China in the 1970's, 3-strip photography had been dead for nearly twenty years.

A lot of confusion exists because of the casual use of the term "Technicolor" to describe either or both the 3-strip camera process and the dye transfer printing process, enough that people swear that "Suspiria" was photographed in 3-strip Technicolor when it was actually one of the last films printed in dye transfer at Technicolor Italia (it was shot on Kodak color negative).

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>No. The technology sold to China was to make dye imbibition prints not >three-strip camera negatives...

Obviously I misunderstood what I was told.

Arturo Briones-Carcaré
Filmmaker
Madrid (Imperial Spain)



>Technicolor, under new management since the death of Herbert >Kalmus, decided at the end of the 1960's that the future was in >processing for TV

Don't know why but I always remembered the name of Natalie Kalmus as color consultant(?) on those Technicolor films. Was (Is) she the wife or daughter of said Herbert? Case of nepotism or was she really responsible for those candy colors.

Another myth that needs exploding or confirming: So much light was needed to expose that 3 strip camera, for early sound reasons fully enclosing the cameraman that they were issued fresh milk periodically. OK so it must've been hot, still, this was told to us in an early CSC meeting in Toronto by one of the best Hollywood/British cinematographers visiting us. It might be a grand
case of leg-pulling us colonials...

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland

I plan to live forever. So far, so good.



http://www.widescreenmuseum.com
http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/index.htm
http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/oldcolor.htm
http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/technicolor1.htm

Jeffry L. Johnson
Cleveland, Ohio
Projectionist, Great Lakes Science Center OMNIMAX Theatre
http://www.glsc.org/omnitech.html
Officer, Executive Board/Trustee/Examining Board, IATSE Local 160



The whole Natalie Kalmus thing is a weird chapter in Herbert Kalmus' autobiography. She is never mentioned by him in his book so his second wife had to write a chapter at the end (so keep that in mind.) She was his wife but they had separated by the 1930's. He gave her work at Technicolor as the chief color consultant, a job which she took seriously, telling DP's and art directors what colors could and couldn't be used, etc. She obviously got on a lot of people's nerves.

She also tended to do business out of Dr. Kalmus' house so everyone assumed that they were still a couple. When Kalmus tried to legally divorce her in the 1950's, I believe, she fought it in court for many years. I think he spent a decade in various court battles with Natalie -- she did not want him to remarry.

On the other hand, a first wife should never have her biography written by a second wife...

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



David Mullen wrote :

>The whole Natalie Kalmus thing is a weird chapter in Herbert Kalmus' >autobiography. etc

Thanks. Fascinating story, that. You know the name of his book? I'm going to search Amazon for that one for my library.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland



David Mullen wrote :

>On the other hand, a first wife should never have her biography written >by a second wife...

Is it that good a chapter?

Jeff Kreines



> Thanks. Fascinating story, that. You know the name of his book?

"Mr. Technicolor" by Herbert Kalmus.

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>Technicolor sold their dye transfer printing equipment to China in the >1970's

Bernard Happe, who was the Technical Director of Technicolor London till he retired in around 1971, was rehired to supervise the installation of the Technicolor plant in China. He told me that it was in fact all NEW equipment, manufactured in London and shipped out, rather than the actual machines from the existing London lab. (Knowing what's involved in installing and then running regular processing machines, and then knowing the additional complexities of the Technicolor process, I can't imagine that the old equipment would have survived the removal and reinstallation.).

David's right about registration - that's the key to the process. The Harmondsworth (London) lab had about 80 staff involved in quality control, mainly "register control".

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia



Dominic Case writes :

>David's right about registration - that's the key to the process...

Five years ago (before they gave up, again, on the dye transfer system) I tried to get Dick Goldberg at Technicolor to consider using a four color system to beat their registration problems. Printing color images on paper has been YMCK (yellow, magenta, cyan, and black) for many years and significantly reduces the precision needed for color printing while providing great control over contrast. The black image carries the high resolution fine detail while the 3 color channels easily fill in the color at lower resolution.

YMCK separation images are very easily achieved in the digital domain with a simple matrix. I guess the notion of digital matrices was off in never, never land. Its a little late, but I am still a great believer in dye transfer.

Incredibly beautiful images at low cost.

John Lowry
Lowry Digital Images
Burbank



Hi,

> Incredibly beautiful images at low cost.

I have to agree. I once projected one of the very limited-edition modern prints of "Funny Girl" and, being inherently a video moll... er, person, found myself reaching for the "matrix" control, so powerful were the reds.

Particularly in the title sequence, where they were clearly playing with the process. It doesn't get any redder than that.

Unfortunately, the print broke. Grngh. I went from loving 35, to hating it, for making me feel like I'd wrecked something special.

Phil Rhodes
Video camera/edit
London



>I guess the notion of digital matrices was off in never, never land. It’s a >little late, but I am still a great believer in dye transfer. Incredibly >beautiful images at low cost.

I'm with you.

I'm surprised that no one is doing a dye transfer process from a digital intermediate. Save the silver for the OCN.

It seems as though it would be relatively easy (?) to use a dye printer the way an ARRI Laser is used. A Dye Imbibed print from a Digital Intermediate - you could call it a DIDI.

Best,

Anders Uhl
cinematographer
ICG, New York



Anders Uhl writes :

>I'm surprised that no one is doing a dye transfer process from a digital >intermediate. Save the silver for the OCN.

I believe MPC was experimenting with this, or talking about experimenting about it several years ago.

The person responsible is now at Cinesite, maybe Martin can respond?

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based
www.cinematography.net



"I think he spent a decade in various court battles with Natalie -- she did not want him to remarry."

Did Kalmus have a daughter (or niece) who would have been in her early teens in the mid-fifties and lived in Arlington, VA? I briefly knew such a girl when I was that age and...it's odd how we remember such detail....she told me that her father was a "color consultant" (or some such expression) for
Technicolor.

I am pretty sure her name was Kalmus.

Jerry "even then interested in faithful color reproduction" Cotts
DP/LA



Anders Uhl wrote:

>I'm surprised that no one is doing a dye transfer process from a digital >intermediate. Save the silver for the OCN.

It's a great idea if the entire QC process that Dominic hinted at could be semi-automated. The problem is that the matrices need to remain in contact with the blank over a long period of time, which means either a slow running line or a long line (just like processing machines).

I suppose, to simplify mechanics, one could have a series of large drums with teeth on them, each carrying a different blank, that the matrices hit sequentially. The far slower speed of this system would be compensated for by the fact that a bunch of prints could be struck simultaneously. But I doubt it could ever compete with the speed of the souped-up ECP lines at Deluxe, et al, that run so fast it's scary.

Jeff Kreines



>Did Kalmus have a daughter (or niece) who would have been in her >early teens in the mid-fifties and lived in Arlington, VA?

Looking back in "Mr. Technicolor", the whole Kalmus divorce thing is more complicated than I remembered. He divorced Natalie Kalmus in 1921. Several years later, the mother of his partner, Daniel Comstock, told him that Natalie was dying and doctors only gave her a year to live, but she needed a job (???). So Kalmus agreed to hire her as a color consultant. She did business out of his home and most people assumed they were still married.

However, he then met Eleanor King, a columnist and author, in 1945 and wanted to marry her in 1949. At this point, Natalie went to court claiming that their original divorce wasn't legal, there was a decade on ongoing litigation as she asked for greater amounts of alimony, demanded half-ownership of Technicolor Corp., etc. Natalie even got the archdiocese of Los Angeles to cancel an agreement to let Kalmus marry Eleanor King (who was Catholic) in a church because she claimed she was still legally married to Kalmus, so they got married at the courthouse instead.

What's confusing though is the story that that Eleanor King says she met Kalmus in 1945. She was previously married and had two daughters, Diane and Cammie. Diane was cast to play Bonnie Blue Butler in "Gone with the Wind" but production took so long that her 4-year old sister Cammie was cast instead (even though her eyes were brown, not blue like Diane's). "Gone with the Wind" was made in 1938 -- I find it hard to believe that King and Kalmus didn't meet then since Kalmus was heavily involved in the GWTW production. Most film history books point out that Bonnie was played by Herbert Kalmus' "step-daughter" or "niece" but that would have been a connection discovered years after the movie was made.

But if it was Cammie King Kalmus you met, she would have still been with Dr. Kalmus & Eleanor King, who had homes in Los Angeles, Boston, New England, etc. -- but I don't know about Arlington, VA. Perhaps it was a niece or something you met.

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>The far slower speed of this system would be compensated for by the >fact that a bunch of prints could be struck simultaneously.

Like, I should add, the old newsreel printers...

Jeff Kreines