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Many older movies seem to have vivid reds and particularly realistic or noticeable skin tones (they certainly seem to stand out from typical skin tones on TV or the majority of movies). This applies even in DVD or online versions and is not, given the range of material I've noticed the effect in, an artifact of special post processing or deliberate colour manipulation.

All the movies I've noticed the effect in are from the film era, especially from when colour became common to the late 1960's. I used to think it was just Technicolor but I've seen things recently that don't claim to be Technicolor that also show the effect.

This site claims the effect was due to the final print being constructed late in the process for separate black and white film strips for each primary colour allowing the final dyes to be very vivid and clear:

The rich colors that the Technicolor process gave came in part from the fact that the color was not added to the process until the final stages. The color information was recorded and processed as separate black and white images which were relatively easy to control and preserve.

Is this a good explanation?

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I most recently noticed the effect in the Hammer Horror Quatermass and the Pit (1967). I have seen the effect a lot before and assumed it was Technicolor, but Quatermass isn't Technicolor. A quick review of old online digital movies online suggests North by Northwest (1959) and Charade (1963). I think Gone With the Wind (1939) exhibits is too, but the digital version I scanned was low res and not so clear. These were all Technicolor. – matt_black Jan 3 '14 at 14:55

3 Answers 3

I think you're referring to Color Grading, these days it's much easier to enhance and mix colors in moving pictures than it was years ago. Hence Color Grading was not done years ago because its not cheap, flexible and easy as it is today.

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No I'm not. The effect is obvious wherever and however the movie is viewed (cinema, DVD, digital) and I am specifically talking about movies that have not been digitally manipulated. – matt_black Jan 2 '14 at 13:01
Its generally determined by the grade of filmstock, and the camera equipment. I can give you a more detailed answer when I'm not in work, if you'd like to know more than this? – John Smith Optional Jan 2 '14 at 15:51

The way you describe this effect makes me think about Film Colorization by Hand. It is an older technique than the era you're suggesting. Here is a description of the technique from this site:

Painters colored each part of each frame of each copy of the reel by hand. This labor-intensive technology was only possible because the earliest films were very short (...)

Here is an example of a movie colorized using this technique:

As you can see the reds are more vivid than the rest of the colors.

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No, my examples were all shot on colour film and I can tell the difference with hand colouring. – matt_black Jan 3 '14 at 14:57

Many kinds of film stock have used color dyes which were notoriously unstable. Consequently, the colors shown on the films today may have little relation to the colors the films showed when they were first released. If the colors in a DVD appear unnatural, it may be either that

  • the film's colors looked that way when it was released,
  • during the years prior to the DVD release the colors have shifted to those shown on the DVD, or
  • the colors shifted in ways that may have been even worse than what's on the DVD, and the producers of the DVD have attempted, not entirely successfully, to correct them.

Some movie producers shot film of color reference charts and stored those films with their movies; if the filmed color reference charts were shot on the same type of film stock as everything else, and stored in similar conditions, someone wishing to transfer the film to a new medium will likely be able to use the color-reference footage to determine how dyes have shifted and compensate for that. Without such reference footage, however, color correction is often a matter of guesswork.

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Logically possible, but then many old colour movies were shot using processes that created 3 separate greyscale originals for each RGB colour (the cameras filtered the light into RGB components and recored the result in black and white film stock which doesn't deteriorate the way some colour does). As a result the original can always be recreated perfectly (or as perfectly as the colour filters) and without degradation over time. – matt_black Feb 5 at 22:57
@matt_black: Original Technicolor negatives include separate images for each color, but shooting three-strip Technicolor was difficult and expensive. Composite color was a lot easier, and in the 1960s it's what almost everyone was using. – supercat Feb 5 at 23:08

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