Discovered in the archives of a Bradford museum; eight short films in colour dating back to 1901. Now they have been brought to life for a digital age and we may be among the first to see them.
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(National Media Museum, Bradford; Paul Goodman interviewed)
It's an entirely unremarkable scene - children watching a few goldfish swim round a bowl in front of a striped background. Only these goldfish were filmed, in colour, in 1901, years before the first known colour film.
The movies are some of eight short clips discovered in the archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford. Now they've been digitally restored by technicians there, they are set to rewrite the history of early cinema.
"We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen," said Michael Harvey, the museum's curator of cinematography who discovered the original negatives. "I realised we had a significan find on our hands."
The films were made between 1901 and 1902 by professional photographer and inventor, Edward Turner. He partnered with a wealthy investor, Frederick Lee, and American movie entrepreneur, Charles Urban, to pioneer colour cinema. His idea, now the basis for all colour fim and TV, was ahead of its time - using a mix of three colours, red, green and blue, to create a true colour image.
Colour film was still decades from being invented, so Turner's idea was to use coloured filters to film, three separate black-and-white images for each frame of film. The film was then projected back through the same colour filters while lenses recombined them. The result: a true colour moving image.
"The quality was unbelievable given the technical challenges Turner had to overcome," said Paul Goodman, head of collections at the National Media Museum.
We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen. Michael Harvey, National Media Museum
The projector to show Turner's films still survives, but the film proved too fragile to play. Now curators at the National Media Museum and the British Film Institute have brought the films back to life by reproducing the colour from the filters digitally and recombining the images using modern editing techniques.
The eight surviving films were all short test runs. But the projector which was supposed to play them was highly complex and was never seen as commecially viable. After Turner died in 1903, aged 29, his backers abandoned the process.
"If you like, this was a project conceived in an analogue age, but wasn't truly realised until the digital age," said Mr Goodman.
The curators behind the discovery can't be certain Turner ever got the clips to play successfully on his projector - so we may be the first people to see them. However, they still represent the first true colour moving images of the world before 1909.
Charles Urban went on to pioneer Kinemacolor, which made its debut in cinemas in 1909 and became a commercial success. Kinemacolor, however, and its successor Technicolor, were based on a two-colour process which gave an approximation of "true" colour in a scene.
Full three-colour movies didn't make their appearance until later Technicolour processes were invented wilth colour film in the 1930s.
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