How are black and white films colorized?
(Lansing State Journal, Feburary 26, 1992)
Computers have allowed many companies to add colors to black and white films to increase their appeal to the public.
Even with computers, this painstaking process needs an average of four hours of work per minute of film.
The film is first digitized. This is a process where each image is divided into 525,000 dots called pixels. The digitized images are then stored on a magnetic tape. The most delicate step of the procedure: an art director assigns specific tones to everything from the carpet in a room to the actor’s hair and eyes. A conscientious art director will carefully select the colors appropriate to the time and setting of the movie. Time and money constraints limit the number of different tints in a single image.
Once the art director has decided on all the colors in a certain scene, a color operator applies them to the first frame like a paint-by-number picture. After the frame is painted, the computer follows the pixels through the other frames in the scene until a change in the colors occurs. On average, no more than 4 percent of the pixels change from frame to frame, allowing the computer to process the tape at 24 images per second. When the process is complete, the colorized film can be transferred to video tape for sale, rental or television.