Researchers at the UK's National Media Museum have unearthed the world's first color moving pictures, dating back to 1902. As the BBC reports, the footage was shot by Edward Raymond Turner as part of a test reel that includes images of marching soldiers, birds, and Turner's own children. The film had been gathering dust in a tin for more than a century before being discovered by Michael Harvey, Curator of Cinematography at the National Media Museum.
Turner patented his three-color process in 1899 with the support of American entrepreneur Charles Urban, but died of a heart attack just four years later, at the age of 29. Urban went on to expand upon Turner's process, and, in 1909, successfully launched the two-color Kinemacolor system. Prior to Harvey's discovery, Urban's Kinemacolor films were considered to be the world's earliest natural color footage.
Restoring the film required some painstaking efforts, since the footage was shot in a non-standard format larger than 35mm. Harvey, alongside film archivists Brian Pritchard and David Cleveland, ran the frames through color filters (following Turner's notations) and copied them on to 35mm film using a custom-built gate. The resulting footage was then digitized by the British Film Institute National Archives.
Bryony Dixon, a silent film curator at the BFI National Archives, told the BBC that Harvey's discovery marks an important moment in cinema history, hailing the images as "the first example of trying to get color photographically or naturally."
She went on to describe the inherent shock value in seeing such rich colors within an antiquated context. "There's something about watching film in color that deceives you into believing it's more real, so to see this from 110 years ago adds something very substantial," Dixon said. "It's really quite beautiful."