Brian R Pritchard Motion Picture and Film Archive Consultant






Kinemacolor Project

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David Cleveland, retired head of the East Anglian Film Archive, and I decided that to celebrate the 100 years of Kinemacolor we would like to  project  some Kinemacolor films using a Kinemacolor projector.  David found a projector at the Birkenhead Museum;  the museum said the we could borrow it and use it. 

When we went to see it we found that there were some missing parts and that the lamp house was fitted with a carbon arc. We decided that we would not be able to use the carbon arc so we had to construct a light source.

Examination of the projector was rather puzzling as it had a shutter on the front of the lens which also rotated once per pull down of the film. The Kinemacolor system used a red and green filter wheel which was attached to the shutter shaft between the gate and the lamp house and rotated once for every two frames.  There should also have been a shutter between the gate and the lens.  In addition the projector had a facility for hand cranking; it appears that this model was designed for New York where it was not permissible to run nitrate film using a motor. The first task was to make a crank handle. When this was completed attempts to turn over the mechanism failed as the shaft with the shutter was bent. The shaft was removed and it was found that it was identified with Number 19 and that it had an extension riveted on to it.


1. Before renovation Machine No 19 2. Front shutter 3 Thrust Bearing 4. Bent Shutter shaft
5. Riveted extension 6. Gear ratios 7  Beater or pull down rollers 8.Bradford shutter gears
9.  Dowser mechanism 10. Bradford Filter Wheel 11. New Dowser 12. New Filter Wheel
13 More Gear Ratios 14 New Gears for shutter shaft 15 Show at National Archives, Berkhamsted with David Cleveland 16 David Cleveland, Luke McKern, Bruce Mounsell ,Steve Foxon


When we borrowed the projector it was agreed that as it was a museum piece we could only make alterations that could be undone, this meant I had to make a new shaft for the shutter without an extension; I also straightened the shaft. This shaft was driven from the main motor drive shaft through two sets of crossed helical gears. The other end of the shaft had a thrust bearing and was where the filter wheel was fitted. .In order to find out what modifications had been made to the projector I visited Bradford where Mr Michael Harvey  allowed me to examine and photograph their machine.

I was also allowed to look through the associated paper work. I came across the interesting information that Kinemacolor Films always had their first title in green, this meant that the title was on alternate frames only and allowed the projectionist to lace up the projector so that the green frame was projected through the green section of the filter wheel. After much measuring it was found that the pair of crossed helical gears from the vertical drive shaft to the shutter shaft was different on the two projectors.  The Bradford projector had a 1:1 gear ratio,  the Birkenhead machine had a 2:1 reduction.

The Birkenhead projector had been modified to show black and white; the filter wheel and intermediate shutter had been removed and  the shutter shaft had been extended so that a 4 bladed shutter could be put in front of the lens.  The dowser was also missing.

The next stage was to remove the vertical shaft, make a new one and purchase a new set of crossed helical gears with a 2:1 ratio and fit them to the vertical shaft and the new shutter shaft.  The governor that operated the dowser  was also fitted to the vertical shaft. A new dowser was made  and a filter wheel which was fitted with filter that visually matched the filters on the Bradford machine.  The filters were Sunset Red and Fern Green from the range supplied by Strand Electric.

The booklet produced by Kinemacolor titled "Instructions for Projectionists" said the the filter wheel was fitted with a red filter and a green filter.  The green filter had a section that was double strength.  The projectionist was instructed to adjust the size of the double layer so that the colour on the screen was slightly yellow.  In addition it said that the 'black' sections that covered the gate during pull down were violet.  We found that having the double section increased the flicker and as the Bradford machine did not have this section nor the violet sections we made our machine similar.  As the Bradford machine had a two blade shutter between the gate and the lens there was no point in having a violet filter as no light would pass through the film because of the shutter.  A new shutter was made to match the Bradford machine.

The chain that drove the lower take-up was missing and as I was not able to find a replacement chain I had to fit new sprockets.

Our first show was to the students on the MA in Film and Television Archiving at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.  Our second show was at the bfi National Archive at Berkhamsted.  This was one day before the 100th anniversary of the first public show 26th February 1908. Amongst the guests were Luke McKern and also Charles Urbanís step-grandson Bruce Mousell and his daughters. We had two projections which were extremely well attended by staff from the National Archive.  The show was presented by David Cleveland who give much detail on Kinemacolor and also supplied an extremely interesting handout.

David Cleveland addressing the audience at Berkhamsted

Digital photograph of the projected film - Lake Garda -1910 - print by courtesy of the Nederlands Filmmuseum


The Kinemacolor process was invented by George Albert Smith. His patent No: 26671 of 1906 was eventually repealed by the High Court after a legal battle with William Friese-Green.

This patent appears by kind permission of:

The Director
European Patent Office
80298 Munchen
Espacenet Home Page

   You will find more information on the Bioscope Blog website

David and I are most grateful to the Wirrel Museum, The National Media Museum at Bradford, The bfi/National Archive, and the Nederlands Filmmuseum  for the generous help they have all given us.

Go to Recreating Kinemacolor on the Screen