The quest for ‘natural’ colour had consumed the photographic world since its earliest days; many complex and intriguing processes were conceived and patented during this time. Most of these inventions involved manually adding colour to film (hand-painting and stencil colour) or required the use of filters in the camera and projector (for example, Kinemacolor and Kodacolor), or tinting the entire film stock.

The first colour motion picture film system not requiring any additional filters or special equipment was Dufaycolor. Based on a similar principle to the Lumières’ autochrome process, Dufaycolor employed a colour grid (the réseau) inherent in the film itself, through which the emulsion was exposed, and later, projected. Using a matrix of red, green and blue, the method was similar in principle to how a television monitor displays a colour picture.

Originally patented by Frenchman Louis Dufay in 1908 for stills photography, the Dufaycolor process was developed and perfected for cine use by a company based in Sawston, Cambridgeshire. Following the introduction of 35mm Dufaycolor in 1931, 16mm cine film was launched onto the market in 1934. The 16mm cine film was popular amongst amateur film-makers eager to experiment with the new world of colour cinematography. A 9.5mm format followed in 1937. Although halted by the war, production of the film continued into the late 1940s. Unfortunately, by this time other colour processes had established themselves on the market and Dufaycolor’s popularity declined.

Fortunately, examples of this fascinating and innovative colour process do still exist today and can be found in most of the regional and national film archives throughout the UK. An example of a film produced using Dufaycolor held in the Screen Archive South East is Silver Jubilee Celebrations (1935) made by members of the Chichester Cine Camera Club.

Text courtesy of Louisa Trott, Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound


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A still from 'Silver Jubilee Celebrations' (1935) showing dufaycolor film stock
Silver Jubilee Celebrations (1935)

close-up image of the dufaycolor red, green and blue grid
Dufaycolor matrix close-up