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Restoring Technicolor – DIASTOR at the Berlinale Film Festival

This year’s retrospective of the Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin is dedicated to Technicolor. The program showcases a series of Technicolor films selected by the Deutsche Kinemathek in collaboration with the George Eastman House in Rochester as well as other archives.

Based on her research for the Timeline of Historical Film Colors, DIASTOR project leader Barbara Flueckiger contributed a major article to the publication Glorious Technicolor, edited by Connie Betz, Rainer Rother and Annika Schaefer for the Deutsche Kinemathek. The article sums up the various technological, aesthetic and economical hurdles that had to be overcome by the Technicolor company in its initial tumultuous and difficult years before the advent of the famous and successful three-strip dye-transfer process in 1932. Starting with an additive process – Technicolor No. I – soon after its foundation in 1915, Technicolor invented three different color processes with varying success, all of which were two-color processes. Technicolor No. II attempted to combine two colors on two thin film strips that were glued together, with the effect that they cupped and scratched as a result of the heat in the projector. Technicolor No. III was the first dye-transfer process, combining two records in green and orange-red.

To this day, most of the early Technicolor films circulate in versions that do not provide an authentic impression of the aesthetics of early Technicolor. Therefore Barbara Flueckiger inspected and documented approximately 20 nitrate prints and various single frames from the 1920s in archives such as the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, the Packard Campus of the Library of Congress in Culpeper (see report on filmcolors.org), the Moving Image Collection of the George Eastman House (see report on filmcolors.org) in Rochester and the National Film Archive of the Czech Republic in Prague. The close analysis, inspection and documentation of the film material is an important source to improve the translation of the historical films’ properties into the digital domain in the process of their digitization and restoration.

In addition, DIASTOR currently works on several Technicolor restorations related to three-strip Technicolor, supervised by DIASTOR senior researchers Claudy Op den Kamp and David Pfluger. With a completely new feature-based transfer algorithm developed by Simone Croci, Tunç Aydin and Aljosha Smolic from DIASTOR implementation partner Disney Research Zurich in collaboration with the Federal Institute of Technology ETH in Zurich, it becomes possible to reconstruct the specific Technicolor look with its dark saturated colors and the specific image texture created by the dye-transfer process from a chromogenic negative. This approach is connected to a thorough material analysis including colorimetric measurements executed by the DIASTOR research team in collaboration with Giorgio Trumpy (Digital Humanities Lab University of Basel; National Gallery of Art Washington) who contributed to the spectral analysis.

Various insights will be presented at the panel discussion Challenges and Opportunities in Restoring Technicolor, in which Barbara Flueckiger will be joined by some of the leading experts in the field: Paolo Cherchi Usai, Head Curator at the George Eastman House, Ulrich Ruedel, analytical chemist and film restorer, and Schawn Belston, Executive Vice President, Media and Library Services at 20th Century Fox Film. The discussion will be hosted by Martin Koerber, Head Curator of the Film Archive at the Deutsche Kinemathek.

Berlinale_Retro_Publication

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