For many people the name Technicolor is just another word for "colorful". But when we say that "Optical Radiance enables your camera to "see" in the spectrum of three-strip Technicolor (circa 1935 - 1955)" we are referring to a specific, measured set of color values that we arrived at through a comprehensive study of Technicolor films, patents and archival internal paperwork.
There were many variables to how an original three-strip Technicolor film could look.
The technicians at Technicolor were always working to improve the quality of their service and as such there were different tools and techniques at play giving different looks depending on which era of "Technicolor" people are referring to when they romanticize about how "glorious" it looked.
Each film also had its own production, art, set and costume designers. As well as their own lighting and camera personnel. Technicolor had their own advisors, "color consultants", on set as well to try to keep the look of the process consistent with company standards.
The inks used in prints could vary. So an original print of "The Wizard of Oz" from 1939 can look different from an original print of the same film from 1954.
The physical films themselves (that still exist) can be found in a variety of conditions from pristine to decrepit. Transfers of films onto home video, DVD & Bluray each go through a variety of processes by various technicians that can change how they look depending on each tech's taste, intent or skills (or what they had to work with if the film print was in poor condition).
This list of variables in how a classic Technicolor film could look today goes on and on. But there is still something unifying about that "Technicolor" look. You know one when you see it despite those variables. We set out to find out why by studying every single Technicolor film we could get access to.
Using tools that measure color values we studied thousands of frames from hundreds of films. Compared real physical film prints to Bluray and DVD transfers. Compared multiple transfers of the same films (480 vs 1080 vs 4k, scanned in 2k vs 4k vs 8k) and spoke with technicians to learn about the lineage of different transfers so we could weight their accuracy accordingly.
Looking at the data from a handful of frames won't tell you much, but over the course of hundreds of films we found a pattern. A "color footprint" that was different from the "footprints" of modern film negative and digital cinema cameras examined in the same ways.
When we tried to replicate this footprint through digital color manipulation (grading, LUTs and other process) we found it wasn't possible to get close, regardless of camera model or codec (even camera RAW files are limited by the hardware that creates them)! There were multiple roadblocks, including but not limited to modern camera hardware itself.
After finding a way to properly manipulate camera sensors we found that not just any light would do; requiring us to build a custom lighting package that matched specs from the lights of Technicolor's golden era.
Along the way we also created some other new tools to help make better lighting choices on set and better color choices in pre-production; leading to predictable, reliable end results for designers.
The three-strip Technicolor look was the result of a complex, multi-faceted process that used hardware, unique in its own day and still unique now; which is why people still feel attracted to a look that has been out of use for over 60 years... until now.
If you're interested in working with us to film your next project in Optical Radiance, please fill out the contact form on our site and tell us a little about your project, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.