The world's first colour moving pictures go on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford

PUBLISHED: 19:06 02 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:17 20 February 2013

Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the National Media Museum, with the precious Lee and Turner find

Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the National Media Museum, with the precious Lee and Turner find

The world's first colour moving pictures go on display in Bradford

Film fans from around the globe will be queuing popcorn in hand at the National Media Museum in Bradford to see the earliest colour moving pictures ever made in a new exhibition of vivid images not seen for more than 100 years.

The films were made by photographer and inventor Edward Turner using a process he patented with financial backing from Frederick Lee in 1899. Experts at the museum have dated the films to around 1902, making these the earliest examples of colour moving pictures in existence.

Lee and Turners invention, previously regarded by film historians as a practical failure, has now been unlocked through digital technology, revealing images for the first time in more than a century.

Turner developed his complex three-colour process with support from American film entrepreneur Charles Urban. Using a camera and projector made by Brighton-based engineer Alfred Darling, he developed the process sufficiently to make test films of colourful subjects like a macaw, a goldfish in a bowl against a brightly striped background and his children playing with sunflowers.

Turner died in 1903 aged just 29, but Urban went on to develop the process further with the pioneer film-maker George Albert Smith, resulting in the commercially successful Kinemacolor system, patented in 1906 and first exhibited to the public in 1909.

On discovering the original 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 Turners 1899 patent.

We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen, said Michael. The image of the goldfish was stunning: its colours were so lifelike and subtle. Then there was a macaw with brilliantly coloured plumage, a brief glimpse of soldiers marching and, most interestingly, young children dressed in Edwardian finery.

I soon realised we had a significant find on our hands. We had proved that the Lee and Turner process worked.

The public can now see the footage for the first time at the Bradford museum as part of a free display also featuring the unique and complicated projector used for the system along with related items from the Charles Urban Archive.

Paul Goodman, the museums head of collections, said: This wonderful rediscovery highlights the untapped potential of the National Media Museums collection. The Lee and Turner films can now take their rightful place alongside other unique artefacts and world-firsts which the museum holds.

Moreover, it highlights our leading role in validating and challenging received wisdom about the subject matter it represents: film history can now be rewritten as a result of this marvellous find. But the National Media Museum is not just concerned with the history of film, its also interested in the intricacies of the modern industry.

This month its going to be gleefully wallowing in the glories of animation in the company of experts from two of the worlds leading studios as part of the 19th Bradford Animation Festival (November 13th to 17th). US studio LAIKA (Coraline, ParaNorman) headlines this years festival alongside Bristol-based Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists) in a series of events celebrating the best in new animation from around the world.

LAIKAs Mark Shapiro will present a behind-the-scenes look at ParaNorman, the tale of a misunderstood boy who can speak with the dead and takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

He (Mark, not Norman) will also take part in a Q&A session prior to a screening of the film in 3D.

Will Becher from Aardman Animations will offer an insight into his career and talk about his work as character lead animator on The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

This years Lifetime Achievement Award will be given posthumously to seminal animator John Halas, co-writer and director of the first British animated feature film Animal Farm (1954) to mark 100 years since his birth.

A documentary about his achievements, Animated Utopia: The Life and Achievements of John Halas (1912 to 1995), will have its world premiere at the festival. Additional festival guests include award-winning filmmaker Robert Morgan, writer-director of The Cat With Hands, a dark tale of a cat that wants to be human, and Chuck Jones granddaughter Valerie Kausen, who will be talking to Professor Paul Wells about working with her grandfather and introducing a classic selection of Jones shorts.

The game element of Bradford Animation Festival takes place on November 13th and 14th, with headline speakers including Neil Thompson, director of art and animation at Canadian studio BioWare, creators of the world-conquering Dragon Age and Mass Effects series; Lucas Hardi, concept artist and designer on Bethseda Games Studios groundbreaking The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; Christine Phelan, animator on Valves epic online battle arena game Dota 2; and CD Projekt RED, creators of the multi-award winning The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Deb Singleton, director of Bradford Animation Festival, said: This year we have one of our most diverse line-ups ever. Were showcasing a brilliant programme of films from all around the world, from undiscovered gems to some of the most acclaimed feature animations of 2012. Were certain there will be something to delight animation fans of all ages.

Full programme details and booking are available online at or by calling the box office on 0844 856 3797.

Latest from the Yorkshire Life