"World's first colour film unveiled"
Museum restores 1902 film shot by Edward Turner, a forgotten figure who captured colour moving pictures but died before perfecting his groundbreaking methods.
September 13th, 2012
The world’s earliest colour film, shot in 1902 by a little-known Edwardian photographer, has been unveiled by a British museum.
Edward Turner patented his method of capturing moving colour images more than a decade before the invention of Technicolor. He filmed London street scenes, a pet macaw and his three children playing with a goldfish in the family’s back garden.
But he died in 1903 and his process - recording successive frames through red, green and blue filters then projecting and superimposing them on top of one another - was deemed unworkable because the images came out blurred. His work was never seen in public and quickly forgotten.
The commercially successful Kinemacolor system was patented in 1906 and exhibited three years later. Technicolor followed in 1916.
Turner’s films were acquired in 1937 by the Science Museum as part of the archive of Charles Urban, a cinema pioneer who funded Turner’s experiments.
When the archive was relocated to the National Media Museum in Bradford, curators found Turner’s film and used digital technology to align the frames perfectly by following the method detailed in the original patent - something Turner was not able to achieve before his death.
Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the museum, said: “We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen.
"Film historians had known about this process but always regarded it as a failure. We proved that his process worked. But the number of people who saw Turner’s films can be counted on one hand and we had to wait for digital means to produce his images the way he envisaged them.”
The discovery should restore Turner, a forgotten figure, to his rightful place in the history of cinema.
Edward Raymond Turner was born in 1873 and worked as a studio photographer in London, working with early colour photography.
He believed the principles could be applied to moving pictures and sought financing from a wealthy horsebreeder named Frederick Lee. A patent was taken out in the name of Lee and Turner in 1899 and Urban came on baord as chief backer two years later.
Turner worked on his 38mm test films from late 1901 to early 1903, when he died suddenly at the age of 29.
Urban passed Turner’s equipment to an associate George Albert Smith, who attempted to make it work. But the method required a projection speed of 48 frames per second and the images to be exactly aligned, which proved impossible to achieve. The film came out as “a jumble of the screen”, according to Harvey.
Smith moved on to a different process, which became Kinemacolor.
While working on the film, National Media Museum curators traced Turner’s descendants. Through them, they were able to identify the children featured as Turner’s daughter, Agnes, and sons Alfred and Wilfred, filmed in their back garden in Hounslow, west London.
Paul Goodman, the museum’s head of collections, said: “This rewrites film history. Edward Turner is the father of moving colour images.”
National Media Museum...
The Kodak Gallery on the Lower Ground Floor plays host to one of our most amazing discoveries – the earliest moving colour film.
In 1899, just five years after British audiences first saw moving pictures, Edward Turner, a photographer and, and Frederick Marshall Lee, his financial backer, patented the first colour moving picture process in Britain.
A complicated process, it involved photographing successive frames of black-and-white film through blue, green and red filters. Using a special projector (which you can see in the gallery) these were combined on a screen to produce full-colour images.
Turner died in 1903 and Charles Urban turned to early film pioneer, George Albert Smith, to perfect the process. After working on it for a year, Smith deemed Turner's process unworkable and it was abandoned in favour of his own, simpler, colour process. Marketed by Urban as Kinemacolor, this became the first commercially successful colour moving picture process and made a fortune.
Between 1901 and 1903 Turner had created a number of short test films which Urban kept. By using digital technology and following Turner's method exactly, we have been able to reveal the full-colour moving images on these films so that they can be seen for the first time in 110 years.