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Making Films & Videos/Conversion Process from Black & White Movies to Color Motion Pictures.


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QUESTION: Dear Chris

What is/are the Process/es for converting old black & white movies to Color motion pictures ?.

There will be so many old movies which were black & white since there were no color video cameras at that time, now if the same old movies are to be watched as Color Picture motion picture/s how this is achieved ?.

For examples :

1. Schindler's List (1993) - Steven Spielberg
2. Charlie Chaplin's movies viz The Kid, The Great Dictator etc
3. Gregory Peck's - The Omen, Roman Holiday etc


As for some above examples, if those same black & white movies are to be converted to be watched as color film movies, what is the technology in photography, film editing etc ?

Awaiting your reply,

Thanks & Regards,
Prashant S Akerkar

ANSWER: Hi Prashant, it's been a while.

"Colorization" of BW movies is just a manual, frame at a time, digital operation.  It's made easier with custom software help, but it's still largely manual.  I'm sure Google will provide great detailed results.

Schindler's List, however, is somewhat unique.  The film was shot entirely on BW film.  The inserts of the little girl with the red coat were partially "colorized" to add color to the red coat and the filmout was on color film retaining the red of the coat, while most of the scene was retained in BW.  Release printing was a difficult problem.  By 1993, the ability of Hollywood film labs to develop large quantities of BW print film was minimal.  Kodak's ability to supply large quantities of BW print film was minimal.  The color inserts would have to be spliced into the BW release prints and the capacity, in Hollywood, to do that was minimal.  All of this was further complicated by the fact that it was a really long movie, 9 reels, I seem to remember.  We ended up having to convert two high speed color developers to BW to supplement our one slow speed BW developer

Another problem was that BW film, which contains metallic silver, creates lots of friction heat in projector gates.  In the day of lots of BW films, the problem was solved by applying a beeswax base lubricant to the edges of the film.  The compound used was legislated out of existence due to environmental restrictions.

So here's what we ended up doing.

One hundred "show prints" were printed on BW print stock.  The color inserts were printed and processed separately, about 9 segments I think, were manually spliced in.  The prints were then manually "lubricated" to reduce projection problems.  Didn't work very well, the prints generally didn't last too long, but they looked great the first couple of times through the projector.

The bulk of the release, around 5000 prints?, was made on splice-free color film stock.  We  made color interpositives from the the BW original neg and color interpositives from the girl inserts and spliced them all together.  From that spliced color interpositive we made several sets of splice-free production internegatives for high speed printing.

The quality printing of BW images on color print film is extremely difficult.  When printing color images on color film, the eye and the brain are very forgiving and small color errors go unnoticed.  Gray is a concept that color film is just not very good at.  Any TINY color error is VERY apparent, especially at reel changes.  I had to institute extreme color control measures when printing the film on color printstock.  I spent two, 20 hour days making sure the first 200 "show prints" were as good as they could be.  I am absolutely sure that no release prints ever produced by Hollywood were as closely color controlled as those prints.  I apologize to anyone viewing prints 201-5000 if the small color errors were distracting.  We did the best we could.

An even more intriguing question on the same topic would be "How did those color sequences end up in the 1926 version of 'Ben Hur'"  That was one of my grandfather's films, but I never got the chance to ask him.

Chris Bushman
ex Deluxe Labs Control Foreman

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Chris

Thank you.

On a personal note can you list us some movies and documentaries which were made Black & White and you would like to convert those Black & White movies and documentaries to Color Movies with reasons ?.

As a example : Would you like to convert all Charlie Chaplin's movies and
documentaries to Color Films ?.

i.e. Can you list me movies and documentaries which were Black & White but you would like to convert those B&W movies to Color movies & Documentaries ?

Awaiting your reply,

Thanks & Regards,
Prashant S Akerkar

I'm not an advocate of colorizing movies.

Color can be a creative tool as can BW.  Sometimes color can be an unnecessary distraction from the creative intent.  BW is not necessarily bad and color is not necessarily good.

Movies are made with the palates available to their creators when the movie was made.  In the still photography world artists like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Alfred Stieglitz would be totally insulted and baffled if anyone were to suggest that their images could be "improved" by adding color.  Steven Spielberg would go ballistic if anyone were to undo his creative decisions by completely colorizing "Schindler's List'.

If reel 1 of 'Wizard of Oz' were to be colorized it would seriously detract from the incredible impact of the blazing Technicolor of reel 2 and beyond.

One should not assume the right to "improve" the artwork of another.

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Chris Bushman


I`ve been involved in the technical aspects of the motion picture industry for the past 35 years. In 2007 I received a Scientific/Technical Academy Award for my contribution to archival film preservation.


In late 2008, I retired from managing a small motion picture film laboratory in Hollywood, California. I have broad experience in many technical aspects of the motion picture business. I have worked as an animation cameraman, production manager, optical printing foreman, still photographer, color timer, sensitometry control foreman, video engineer, customer service foreman, analytical chemist, director of quality control.

Member, Society of Motion Picture/Television Engineers - Member, American Radio Relay League - Member, Quarter Century Wireless Assn. - President, Zen Nippon Airinkai, So Cal Chapter - Member, Maltose Falcons Homebrewing Society - Alumni, American Brewers' Guild

UC Davis, BS Zoology

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