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I wanted to know how a fade-to-black was done in the old days (before digital editing and non-linear editing) but could not find any information.

In older movies and TV-productions (analog, before digital editing), the picture vibrance often changes visibly in a scene, that eventually fades to black or beomes a freeze frame. It is most significant in 1970s/80s TV-series like A.L.F., Simon&Simon or Remington Steele.

It is not the quality of the picture that changes, it is more a change in the colors.

How where these transitions produced and what kind of equipment introduced these artifacts?

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    I imagine it was done manually with different exposures in developing the actual print...but I'd love to hear from someone who was actually involved in the process. – Paulie_D Oct 21 '17 at 17:04
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Most analog TV effects were done in a luminance/chrominance color space, like Y'CbCr (sometimes mistakenly called YUV). In these types of color spaces color is defined by its luminance (referred to by the variable Y) which is similar to the brightness of the color. (Brightness is a poorly defined word, unfortunately, so there's no solid scientific definition of it.) The chrominance is the hue and saturation of the color and is defined by 2 other color channels. They roughly represent the amount of red and blue in the signal. (They're the difference between the luminance and the blue channel, and the luminance and red channel respectively.)

When you decrease just the luminance value in a Y'CbCr color, the colors will become more saturated as they become darker. If you want to maintain the saturation as you decrease the luminance, you need to also move the Cb and Cr channels proportionally closer to 0. Similarly, if you change the contrast of just the luminance channel, the colors will become more saturated as you decrease contrast and less saturated as you increase contrast.

If you have access to a copy of Apple's Motion, they have a "Contrast" filter where you can choose to only affect the luminance channel. It shows the effect nicely.

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