National Media Museum blog

We explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image, and its impact on our lives.

We have discovered the world’s first colour moving pictures

Today the Museum made an astonishing announcement to the world. Are you ready for this? We have discovered and restored examples of a colour moving picture process which is older than any other known example. Needless to say this has re-written the history of early film.

Three years ago two rolls of film were discovered in our archive. Our Curator of Cinematography, Michael Harvey, recognised that the film may relate to what was historically thought to be a failed attempt to produce colour moving images by inventor and photographer Edward Raymond Turner.

Michael arranged testing to find out if the original content on the film could be viewed. After research into Turner’s processes, from blueprints and other documents, three frames of the film were copied digitally.

Using Photoshop, a full colour image was reconstructed by colouring them red, green and blue and combining them, just as they would’ve been using Turner’s original equipment. The result is stunning.

Image taken from original footage by Edward Turner, National Media Museum Collection

With funding kindly provided by the Digital Film Archive Fund, through the Yorkshire Film Archive and Screen Yorkshire, and with help from film archive experts and the British Film Institute’s National Archive, we were able to begin frame-by-frame analysis. This showed that there were several sequences on the rolls of film, each more amazing than the next.

Image believed to be Edward and Edith Turner, kindly lent by a family member

The film was created by Edward Raymond Turner. Born in Somerset in 1873, he was schooled in London and worked as a photographer from around 15 years of age. In 1891, he worked in the first London studio making colour photographs and it is likely that at some point it dawned on him that he could use a similar process on the latest invention and craze – moving pictures.

Financed by Frederick Marshall Lee, Turner patented the first colour moving picture process in 1899. The process itself is quite complicated. Have a look at the animation below to get a sense of how Turner’s invention worked.

“Today’s announcement here in Bradford and at the Science Museum in London was a fantastic moment enabling us to show a new and incredibly significant example from the collections we hold and care for. It’s amazing to be able to show all our visitors what the Museum has been working on for the past three years, since the moment the potential of the film reels was first recognised by curators. Journalists from TV, print, radio and online attended the unveiling of this footage, which was shown in public for the first time in 110 years, and possibly for the first time ever.”
Paul Goodman, Head of Collections, National Media Museum

To coincide with today’s announcement, we have opened a new display in our Kodak Gallery. This gives you the chance to see Turner’s projector whilst watching the original footage restored by the Museum.

Find out more about the Lee and Turner discovery on our website

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About bethhughes

Assistant Exhibition Organiser at the National Media Museum, avid reader and sugar addict.

3 comments on “We have discovered the world’s first colour moving pictures

  1. Elak Swindell
    September 13, 2012

    Really amazing to see this lost color film in motion. Would be even better if it was cleaned up and the colors balanced.

    • Pablo Herrera
      September 14, 2012

      No it is in its true form leave it alone and appreciate it for the technical achievement it was for its day

  2. Curtis Clauson
    September 14, 2012

    When I showed this story to my mother, she remembered her father complaining bitterly back in the late 1940s that the man who actually invented the first color film process back at the turn of the century was getting no credit for the new color films being produced.

    Also, I remember a lecture back in the late 1970s by a professor of Archaeology (I don’t remember who) who prophesied that, when the amount of Archaeological artifacts and records exceeded a threshold of accounting, there would come a new professional classification he called “Smithsonian Archaeologist” whose sole purpose would be to delve through the collection in much the same way a traditional Archaeologist investigates an ancient site. I think Mr. Harvey might now be realizing this new classification. DSA – Doctorate of Smithsonian Archaeology.

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