MMCA Film and Video held The History of Visual Magic in Technology Pt.1: Canadian VR Films last year to examine various aspects of the changes in how images were represented in film art, brought about by developments in moving image technology. Creative passion for representing not only images of perceived reality but also the world of our imagination collided with the shifting environment of the film industry, and this prompted the development of innovative technical systems. Offering experiences similar to that of the real world, VR dreams of giving users a divine power of free movement in 3D virtual reality space and the technical progress in the early film industry had an impact on the modes of film narrative and visual representation. During the transition from black-and-white film to color in early films, attempts to represent colors close to natural through technical experimentation gave rise to Technicolor which could achieve a range of visual spectacles. Addressing the technical challenges of attracting audiences to the moving image, The History of Visual Magic in Technology Pt.2: Technicolor aims to offer an opportunity to rediscover the aesthetics of color films produced in Technicolor from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Early color films were made by hand-coloring each frame, then by stenciling, and later through tinting and toning. In 1918, the American company Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation pioneered the Technicolor system based on a two-color (green and red) additive process. They began to develop techniques to represent colors in film from 1914 which resulted in the two-color additive system. This was further improved and three layers Technicolor was perfected. Passing through color (green, red and blue) filters and a beam splitter, the light forms an image on each of sensitive emulsions of negative films. The exposed negatives were processed to make three layers positive films, then passed through the appropriate colored dyes (yellow, magenta and cyan). Technicolor films focused on providing ever bigger and more thrilling dramatic spectacles in order to survive the competition from television until, after World War II, Eastman Kodak introduced the technique of recording three color negative films with a single camera lens. In many Technicolor films in different genres such as musicals, animations, and westerns, color is often used to represent emotions by describing reality and the world of imagination. In The Wizard of Oz (1939), the main protagonist Dorothy’s ordinary reality appears in monochrome – sepia – and the world of her dream, full of color. In Black Narcissus (1947) color is used to depict psychological landscapes in scenes such as the agonized face of sister Clodagh in her white habit and the green view down a cliff where a church is located. The colors of the architecture, costumes, and landscapes in Leave Her to Heaven (1945) also link to the flow of the narrative. These masterpieces of Technicolor allow us to discover the beauty of pure color films as they capture archetypal emotions such as desires, anxieties and madness.