Cinecolor was an early subtractive color-model two color motion picture process, based upon the Prizma system of the 1910s and 1920s and the Multicolor system of the late 1920s and 1930s. It was developed by William T. Crispinel and Alan M. Gundelfinger, and its various formats were in use from 1932 to 1955.
A bi-pack color process, the photographer loaded a standard camera with two film stocks, an orthochromatic strip dyed red, plus a panchromatic strip behind it. The ortho film stock recorded only blue and green, while its red filtration passed red light to the panchromatic film stock.
In the laboratory, the negatives were processed on duplitized film and each emulsion was toned red or cyan.
While Cinecolor could produce vibrant reds, oranges, blues, browns and flesh tones, its renderings of other colors such as bright greens (rendered dark green) and purples (rendered a sort of dark magenta) were muted.
The Cinecolor process was invented in 1932 by English-born cinematographer William Thomas Crespinel (1890–1987), who joined the Kinemacolor Corporation in 1906, and who went to New York in 1913 to work with Kinemacolor's American unit. After that company folded in 1916, he worked for Prizma, another color film company, founded by William Van Doren Kelley. He later worked for Multicolor, and patented several inventions in the field of color cinematography.
Crespinel founded Cinecolor, Inc. (later Cinecolor Corporation) in 1932 as a response to the success of the Technicolor Corporation, which held a partial monopoly on motion picture color. William Loss, a director of the Citizens Traction Company in New York, was its principal investor. The company bought four acres of land in Burbank, California for its processing plant. Crespinel retired as president of Cinecolor in 1948.
The company was largely founded on the patents and equipment of William Van Doren Kelley and his Prizma Color system, and was in direct competition with Multicolor, which folded in 1932. At that point, Cinecolor bought its equipment. Although limited in tone by comparison, Cinecolor's chief advantages over Technicolor were that color rushes were available within 24 hours, that the process itself cost only 25% more than black-and-white photography (the price grew cheaper as larger amounts of Cinecolor film stock were bought), and could be used in modified black-and-white cameras.
Before 1945, Cinecolor was used almost exclusively for short films. From 1932 to 1935, Cinecolor was used in at least 22 cartoons -- including Fleischer Studios cartoons for Paramount, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising for MGM; and Ub Iwerks, whose Comicolor cartoons were released by independent distributor Pat Powers – the period when Walt Disney held an exclusive contract with Technicolor for the use of its three-strip process for animation. Among the best known animated short subjects series made in Cinecolor were Poor Cinderella, the first installment of Max Fleischer's Color Classics and Ub Iwerks' ComiColor cartoons, several 1930s and 1940s Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, many of Famous Studios' late-1940s Popeye the Sailor cartoons, and Screen Gems' Phantasies from 1947 to 1949.
The first feature-length pictures released in Cinecolor were the documentary feature Sweden, Land of the Vikings (1934) and the independently made western The Phantom of Santa Fe (1936, but filmed in Multicolor in 1931), followed by Monogram Pictures' release The Gentleman from Arizona (1939). No other Cinecolor features followed until 1945. Poverty row companies such as Monogram, Producers Releasing Corporation, and Screen Guild Productions were Cinecolor's chief employers. A 1945 PRC Cinecolor release The Enchanted Forest was the highest grossing film of that studio. The commercial and critical success of the film led both major and minor studios to use Cinecolor such as MGM's Gallant Bess (1946). The system could produce acceptable color pictures at a fraction of the cost of Technicolor. Most features made in Cinecolor were westerns, because the main color palette in those films consisted of blues, browns and reds; the system's limitations were thus less apparent.
Cinecolor was also prominently employed in processing Paramount's Popular Science series of short films – although later prints were made by Consolidated Film Industries under their Magnacolor process. Hal Roach Studios made all four of its features in Cinecolor in 1947–1948, becoming the first Hollywood studio to do an all-color schedule. The last American feature released in Cinecolor was Allied Artists' Pride of the Blue Grass (1954).
Republic Pictures began using CFI's Trucolor from the end of 1946 for a variety of films ranging from Westerns, travelogues, and epics of the life of Richard Wagner (Magic Fire) and the battle of the Alamo (The Last Command). Trucolor differed, however, in that it used a dye-coupler already built into the film base, rather than the application of chemical toner.
The year 1948 was a major one for the Cinecolor Corp. Aside from growing film stock prices, they introduced a new, hyper-sensitive stock and 1,000-foot (300 m) film magazines, which cut back on the on-set lighting costs by 50%, and kept the cost of shooting in Cinecolor only 10% more than black and white.
The same year, Gundelfinger also developed a three-color process called SuperCinecolor, but did not begin using it until 1951 with The Sword of Monte Cristo. Other films of note that used the SuperCinecolor process were Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952), Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), Invaders From Mars (1953), Gog (1954), and Top Banana (1954). The latter two were both also filmed in 3-D.
SuperCinecolor utilized black-and-white matrices made primarily by monopack color negatives made with Ansco/Agfa, DuPont, Kodachrome, or Eastmancolor film, for principal photography. After the negative was edited, it was copied through color filters into three black-and-white negatives. An oddity of the system was that rather than use cyan, magenta and yellow primary subtractive colors, SuperCinecolor printed their films with red, blue and yellow matrices in order to create a system that was compatible with the previous printers. The result of the combination of color spectra was an oddly striking look to the final print.
Printing SuperCinecolor was not a difficult process as it was engineered to utilize the old process' equipment. Using duplitized stock, one side contained a silver emulsion toned red-magenta, and on the other side, cyan-blue. A yellow layer was added on the blue side through means of imbibition. The soundtrack was subsequently applicated on the blue-yellow side in a blue soundtrack, but separate from those records. The final prints had vivid dyes that did not fade, were of acceptable grain structure and sharp in focus. The common perception of Cinecolor prints being grainy and not easily focused is perpetrated by 16 mm, regular-process Cinecolor prints, where these elements are an issue.
The last years of Cinecolor
Cinecolor Corp. operated at a net loss from 1950 through 1954, partly because the weak financial position of its division in England made it necessary for the parent company to refinance it, and partly because of its own operating losses. Donner Corporation, a private investment organization, acquired Cinecolor Corp. in June 1952. In 1953, it became the Color Corporation of America, and specialized in SuperCinecolor printing, as well as being a major Anscocolor processor. It also made Eastmancolor prints, did commercial film processing and printing of non-theatrical films, and black-and-white film processing for television. To stimulate its theatrical film business, Color Corp. financed independent movie producers. The last theatrical feature with a SuperCinecolor credit was The Diamond Queen, released by Warner Bros. in November 1953. Thereafter, "Color by Color Corp. of America" was used for films like Shark River (1953) and Top Banana (1954).
Color Corporation of America was bought out on April 8, 1954 by Houston Color Film Laboratories, which processed Anscocolor at its plant in Los Angeles, and Houston Fearless Corp., which made processing and developing equipment. It became strictly an Anscocolor processor. Color Corp. sold its film processing laboratory in mid-1955 to provide its television and motion picture equipment-making division a laboratory in which to test its equipment, and the corporation was dissolved.
- Social Security Death Index
- "William Crespinel, 96; Pioneer in Color Films", New York Times, June 24, 1987, p. B10. Passenger list of the S.S. Carmania, Port of New York, 3 February 1913, p. 16.
- World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, State of New Jersey, County of Bergen, Draft Board 3, 5 June 1917.
- Gate for Multiple Films, 1930; Method and Apparatus for Placing Sound Records in Color Photography, 1930; Method of Producing Films in Natural Color, 1930; Colored Photograph and Method of Making Same, 1932.
- Gene Fernett, Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930-1950 (Coral Reef Publications, 1973), pp 15-19.
- Including Betty Boop in Fleischer's Poor Cinderella (1934); two Merrie Melodies cartoons, Honeymoon Hotel (1934) and Beauty and the Beast (1934); two of MGM's Happy Harmonies cartoons, The Discontented Canary (1934) and The Old Pioneer (1934); and Ub Iwerks' Comicolor series that began in November 1933. The Big Cartoon Database. Two-strip Technicolor became available for non-Disney cartoons in September 1934, and three-strip Technicolor in September 1935.
- "Movies: Profit through Loss". Time. September 23, 1946. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
- "New Sensitized Film Cuts Lighting Costs." Boxoffice Magazine, 17 July 1948: 43. Print.
- Original separations for "Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd" (WB, 1952)
- Color in Motion Pictures and Television by Lyne S. Trimble was a textbook for Professor Trimble's class, who had worked for Cinecolor for many years, and it described the process and it might not have used the word "imbibition" for re-exposure of the duplitized stock, after toning.
- "Cinecolor Corp. Plans To Lay Off 'Substantial' Personnel Temporarily", The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1952, p. 8.
- "Abreast of the Market", The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 1955, p. 15.
- "Abreast of the Market", The Wall Street Journal, June 22, 1953, p. 11.
- "Donner Corp. Sells Interest In Color Corp. of America", The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 1954, p. 6.
- California Secretary of State, California Business Portal Archived 2007-08-07 at the Wayback Machine.
- John Belton, "Cinecolor," Film History 12:4 (2000), pp. 344-357.
- Gene Fernett, Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930-1950 (Coral Reef Publications, 1973), pp 15-19.
- Cinecolor History at The American Widescreen Museum
- Cinecolor on Timeline of Historical Film Colors with many written resources and many photographs of Cinecolor prints.