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Earliest Color Moving Pictures Unearthed in U.K.

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The National Media Museum and the British Film Institute have worked on the restoration of inventors Edward Turner and Frederick Lee's 1901 work.

LONDON –  The world's earliest color moving pictures are being claimed to have been unearthed and brought to life digitally and will be put on display by the National Media Museum in Bradford, England.

The films were made by photographer and inventor Edward Turner using a process he patented with his financial backer Frederick Lee in 1899.

Experts at the museum have dated the films to 1901/2, making these the earliest examples of colour moving pictures in existence they claim.
Lee and Turner’s invention has always been regarded by film historians as "a practical failure" but it has now been "unlocked" through digital technology, revealing the images produced by the process for the first time in over a hundred years.

Turner developed his complex three-colour process with support, first from Lee and then from the American film entrepreneur, Charles Urban.

Using a camera and projector made by Brighton-based engineer Alfred Darling, Turner developed the process sufficiently to take various test films of colourful subjects such as a macaw, a goldfish in a bowl against a brightly striped background and his children playing with sunflowers, before his death in 1903 aged just 29.

Urban went on to develop the process further with the pioneer film-maker George Albert Smith which resulted in the commercially successful Kinemacolor system, patented in 1906 and first exhibited to the public in 1909.

On discovering the film Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the National Media Museum worked with film archive experts Brian Pritchard and David Cleveland to reconstruct the moving footage in colour following the precise method laid out in Lee and Turner’s 1899 patent.

They also turned to BFI National Archive experts who were able to undertake the delicate work of transforming the film material into digital files.

The National Media Museum opens an exhibit Wednesday to the public to see the vivid images of a macaw, a goldfish and the children in "all their Edwardian finery."

A BBC documentary about the discovery of the Lee and Turner footage will air Sept. 17 on BBC One here.

The discovery brings a whole new meaning to "found footage" in filmmaking.