Many references may be found regarding two-strip Technicolor. I have been guilty of discussing Walter Lantz’s King of Jazz (1930) and the animated cartoons that Ub Iwerks did when he left the Disney Studios in the 1930s as being done in “two strip” Technicolor. Technically, that is probably incorrect terminology.
The Technicolor two-component system used a single roll of black & white negative film that alternately recorded both the red and green color records. Multiple films were not used until the introduction of three-strip Technicolor in 1932 that was infinitely superior to the two component system and is what is thought of as truly Technicolor when people use the term.
The October 1934 issue of Fortune magazine stated: “Walt Disney saw a sample, liked it, began using color in Silly Symphonies. One of the Silly Symphonies, the Three Little Pigs, stole the program from every ‘feature,’ and everybody in Hollywood began talking about and thinking of color films again. Merian Caldwell Cooper, producer for RKO-Radio Pictures, saw one of the Symphonies and said he never wanted to make a black and white picture again …”
Walt Disney in 1940 said, “The Silly Symphony didn’t give Mickey much competition until we added Technicolor in 1932. We thought that color would be worth the heavy extra cost. Color was part of life. A black-and-white print looked as drab alongside Flowers and Trees, as a gray day alongside a rainbow. We could do things with color! We could do many things with color that no other medium could do.”
H.T. Kalmus, the founder of Technicolor, wrote an article entitled “Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland” for the December 1938 Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Editors. It was basically the text from the address he made at the Fall meeting of the S.M.P.E. in Detroit, Michigan in October of that year. Here is an excerpt from that article that relates to Disney’s use of Technicolor:
“But Technicolor had persisted in its research and development work so that by May 1932 it had completed the building of its first three-component camera and had one unit of its plant equipped to handle a moderate amount of three-color printing.
“The difference between this three-component process and the previous two-component process was truly extraordinary. Not only was the accuracy of tone and color reproduction greatly improved, but definition was markedly better.
“However, we could not offer the three-component product to one customer without offering it to all, which required many more cameras, and the conversion of much of our plant. To allow time for this and to prove the process beyond any doubt, we sought first to try it out in the cartoon field.
“But no cartoonist would have it. We were told cartoons were good enough in black and white, and that of all departments of production, cartoons could least afford the added expense.
“Finally Walt Disney tried it as an experiment on one of his Silly Symphonies. This first attempt was the delightful Flowers and Trees, following which Disney contracted for a series. For Christmas, 1932, came Santa’s Work Shop, the following Easter, Funny Bunnies; in May 1933, came Three Little Pigs, which made screen history, and in March, 1934, Big Bad Wolf.
“I needn’t relate the story of Disney’s extraordinary success with Technicolor. The Silly Symphonies in Technicolor surpassed the ‘Mickey Mouses’ in black-and-white, and then both ‘Mickies’ and ‘Sillies’ adopted Technicolor.
“Both the Disney Company and Technicolor were rather undersized at birth and in recent years both have grown rapidly in importance. A frequent conversation has been as to which helped the other most. Much like the conversation between two Irishmen after a considerable session at the bar: ‘Yer know Clancy, when I was born I weighed only five pounds’. ‘Yer did, and did yer live?’ “Did I live? Yer ought to see me now.’
“What Technicolor needed was someone to prove for regular productions, whether short subjects or features, what Disney had proved for cartoons. But the producers asked, ‘How much more will it cost to produce a feature in three-component Technicolor than in black and white?’
“This question is always with us and it seems to me the answer must be divided into two parts; the added cost of prints, negative raw stock, rushes, and lighting can be numerically calculated and requires little discussion.
“But then there are the less tangible elements about which there is much discussion. I have said to producers and directors on many occasions: ‘You have all seen Disney’s Funny Bunnies; you remember the huge rainbow circling across the screen to the ground and you remember the Funny Bunnies drawing the color of the rainbow into their paint pails and splashing the Easter eggs.
“You all admit that it was marvelous entertainment. Now I will ask you ‘how much more did it cost Mr. Disney to produce that entertainment in color than it would have in black and white?’ The answer is, of course, that it could not be done at any cost in black and white, and I think that points to the general answer.
“A similar analogy can be drawn with respect to some part of almost any recent Technicolor feature. If a script has been conceived, planned, and written for black-and-white, it should not be done at all in color. The story should be chosen and the scenario written with color in mind from the start, so that by its use effects are obtained, moods created, beauty and personalities emphasized, and the drama enhanced.
“Color should follow from sequence to sequence, supporting and giving impulse to the drama, becoming an integral part of it, and not something super-added. The production cost question should be, what is the additional cost for color per unit of entertainment and not per foot of negative.
“The answer is that it needn’t necessarily cost any more. In 1932 we marked our base print price down from 7 cents to 5 1/2 cents a foot.”