The Technicolor Company was founded in 1915 to exploit a two-color additive process. Their first film was an utter failure- so they changed direction and started working on a two color subtractive process.
The new process patented in 1922 used a beam splitter in camera to split the light onto two black and white film stocks - one which was ultimately dyed red orange and the other which was dyed blue-green. The resulting dyed positive images would be cemented together for a final color positive image which could be played back in the standard projectors with no special equipment.
The first film to recieve the Technicolor 2 strip subtractive process was The Toll of the Sea in 1922
The Toll of the Sea grossed over $250,000. Two strip technicolor was an instant hit. In 1928, Technicolor refined the process with a step called Imbibtion or IB - combining the color separations onto a third black gelatin coated film which gave technicoor a signature
As films evolved from the silent era to sound era, musicals became a big genre and perfectly suited for color. In 1930 Technicolor was under contract for thirty six major releases. But not all was perfectly rosy... just two years later in 1932, the production of Technicolor films had all but ended. The boom in technicolor resulted in many cameramen who werent trained to achieve quality results with the process. Also Eastman’ released a panchromatic film stock, a much more capable black and white film that produced beautiful images under normal incandescent light. This was much cheaper to use than the arc lights needed for Technicolor two strip.
But Technicolor wasnt out for long... they had an ace up their sleeve. In 1932, they perfected the three strip Technicolor system.
Using a beam splitter they captured light on to three pieces of film - Green on to it’s own strip and blue and red onto a bipacked strip. This three strip process was technically superior to anything that had come before it but it was really expensive - the cameras costing upwards of $30,000 a piece. And this time Technicolor would have an iron fist over quality control. In order to make a Technicolor film, you needed a Technicolor cameraman, use Technicolor makeup, have a technicolor consultant make sure your art direction had an acceptable color palette and have the film processed and printed by who else Technicolor,
Hollywood majors were hesitant to jump on board with this expensive process. So Technicolor offered the process to a small upstart - Walt Disney for his “Silly Symphony” cartoon series. Flowers and Trees (1932) and The Three Little Pigs (1933) -were both huge successes and even going on to winning Oscars for best animated short.
For live action, Pioneer Films produced Technicolor’s first feature film: Becky Sharp which had great buzz but was ultimately a failure. David O. Selznick’s independent studio produced the first commercially successful Technicolor feature with Garden of Allah in 1936.
But to me the showcase of technicolor would come from Warner Bros. with The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 which won three Academy Awards for it’s aesthetic use of color.
And then came 1939 - considered the greatest year in the golden era of studio controlled Hollywood, 1939 was also a great year for Technicolor. The Wizard of Oz demonstrated the incredible richness of Technicolor in creating a magical land of Oz. But it was Gone with the Wind that first put to use the company’s new faster fine-grain film stock- a major technological break through that reduced the light needed by 50%.
In 1941, Technicolor introduced the monopack - combining the three separations into one single roll of film that could be loaded in conventional cameras - great for location shooting.
Technicolor had come back with a vengence after the failure of 2 strip and now was on top of their game doing what Charles Urban could only hope to do with Kinemacolor… hold a virtual monopoly over color film production.