A Technicolor Camera That Works!

I’m down in Los Angeles looking for work - but I have lots of friends here too. One of them is a mentor of mine named Richard Edlund, ASC. Please look him up. He’s a Renaissance analog man who transitioned to the digital age seamlessly. I’m pretty sure, that if he has dreams about movie stuff, it’s not in the present day. He has an amazing collection of cameras that represent every significant advance in the art of cinematography. There simply isn’t anyone else in the world like Edlund. Part mad scientist, part inventor, storyteller, historian and four time Oscar winner, in short – our modern day polymath.

We talked about lots of things in our get together. I heard months before that he had just finished restoring a three strip Technicolor camera. Knowing him as I do, that meant that there is only one three-strip camera in our solar system that is operational – and it belongs to Richard. It was a cathartic moment for me to see this machine run. It sounded like a symphony of sewing machines. I know a little bit about fabrication and precision. I spent ten years in a business where if a shot wasn’t rock steady, it was unusable. The demands on the success of a three pass Technicolor shot in an age before estar base stocks is mind blowing to me. Don’t forget, the parts in use at the time were fabricated by hand, long before CNC mills and lathes. It’s photographic masochism on an unprecedented level.

What drives a man to salvage a Technicolor camera?  Richard reminds me of Gutzon Borglum - the man behind Mount Rushmore.

Anyway. Here is what a three-strip camera looks like on the inside. The white leaders are “dummy” loads. The actual black and white raw stock would have been grayish in appearance. Those of you who shot Tri-X know what it looks like.

The green record (predominate color in the visible spectrum) is photographed alone, where the red and blue records are captured in bi-pack with specially coated red stock and orthochromatic blue sensitive film. A one of a kind, multi-colored prism assists in dividing the light into red, green and blue bands. Amazingly complicated and mind blowing even by todays standards - much less - 82 years ago -  and on so many levels too. Not just the reproduction of color and image integrity but the precision required to make a perfect three pass composite color print that will be blown up from a poker chip sized negative to a fifty foot wide screen. Remember, a technicolor print is dyed in three registered passes. Color film had not been invented yet! The precision of the machining necessary to pull off this visual feat is something that never gets enough attention. Richard Edlund wants people to know a bit more about what went on behind the scenes in those machine shops and film labs in years gone by. He has breathed new life into a system that was left for dead, an amazing system that needs new recognition for it’s complexity, precision and it’s success in creating ruby red slippers at the end of the black and white era.

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