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  • Sohini Sarkar

How Colour Was Brought to Our Screens

The black-and-white era of film was defined by the lack of colours on the screen. As a child, I was one of the many people who thought that the world was completely devoid of colour during that period. How did we go from not knowing the colours on the screen to seeing such vibrant hues?

We all know our screens are made of thousands of pixels. These pixels are composed of three small dots of compounds called phosphors surrounded by a black mask. They emit light upon being struck by an electron beam produced by an electron gun at the end of the tube. The colour we see on our screens is made of pixels using only three colours – red, blue and green. Many pixels of these three primary colours come together to form more complex colours. The secondary colours made by mixing two of the primary colours in equal proportion are cyan, purple and yellow. Black is the absence of any of the colours and white made is when all three colours are lit. The shades of grey are made when all three colours are lit but at varying intensities.

The first step into a colourful screen was taken by an eight-minute British short film named ‘A Visit to the Seaside’ released in 1908. This film was made using Kinemacolor – a process that used red and green filters on alternating frames to simulate the colours of the film. While this was great, it left out a large part of the colour spectrum due to the distinct lack of blue. Then came the iconic Technicolor which revolutionised the cinematic world. Using the three primary colours, brought the next level of vibrance. The first film to use it was Disney’s short film ‘Flowers and Trees’ in 1932. It was improved upon and then used in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) which is popularly but falsely considered the first colour film.

Now, our screens at home are high definition and cameras capture colours that seem brighter than what we see with our naked eye. The addition of colour to the silver screen and in turn, to the screens at home, has breathed new life into our entertainment. We have truly come a long way from black-and-white and silent films and the science behind it all is fascinating!

Pixels are of three colours red, blue and green

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