The founders of Technicolor clearly understood the fundamentals of the nascent motion picture business that emerged at the end of the 19th century, as well as the huge stakes at play. Technicolor grew out of the engineering research company KCW, formed in 1912, by Dr. Herbert Kalmus, Dr. Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Westcott, firstly addressing projection-related issues that were limiting the potential growth of the nascent movie industry, and then quickly turning their full attention to early motion picture color.
Almost by definition, the problems and solutions they addressed were to be found in the inter-relationship between photography and theatrical presentation…very much analogous to today’s movie industry technology challenges. At that time, the common denominator however, was the celluloid running those early motion picture cameras and rather primitive film projectors.
Engineering can be defined as the application of science and mathematics to solve a particular challenge. Solving technical challenges through the creative application of technology and color-science has, for the last 100 years, been a major achievement of Technicolor. The company was solidly grounded in re-invention, that which became a facet of Technicolor’s basic DNA, informed by the company’s constant willingness to address changing times, changing technological requirements, in addition to filmmaker’s creative demands.
Over its first two decades of trial and error, Technicolor developed a series of motion picture cameras, under the direction of Westcott, that evolved over the next two decades as Technicolor moved from additive 2-color (red and green), to subtractive 2-color, then 2-color dye transfer printing, and finally 3-strip IB dye-transfer printing that revolutionized the industry and was the mainstay of movie color until the mid-1950s, when the company evolved again (in response to challenge of Kodak’s first color-negative stock) with another in a long-series of innovations, the latest being a way to extract 3 separate color-records from the Eastman negative stock, thereby extending the life of IB dye-transfer printing for another two decades and to be found in early films of the new generation of filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Dr. Kalmus and Dr. Comstock were both professors at MIT, color scientists of immense imagination that which they applied to the challenges at hand. Mr. Westcott was self-taught and equally brilliant mechanical engineer. Both KCW and early Technicolor recruited incredible talent: laboratory geniuses like E. J. Wall and “Doc” Willat; mechanical engineers like J. A. Ball; and pure scientists like Dr. Leonard T. Troland.
KCW continued to operate under that name until the mid-1920s when Dr. Kalmus left its board of directors and turned his full attention to Technicolor and the growing industry based Hollywood. In the early 1920s, Dr. Kalmus built key relationships: with directors Cecil B. DeMille and William Wellman; actor-producer Douglas Fairbanks; producers Samuel Goldwyn and later David O. Selznick; and early industry giants like Walt Disney. By 1935, having overcome huge obstacles, the company had clearly demonstrated its singular expertise in creating a sustainable model for both color photography and motion picture theatrical release printing, earning its well-deserved reputation as “the greatest name in color.”