The Voice of the Nightingale (1923) | MoMA FILM VAULT SUMMER CAMP

Made almost 20 years after the introduction of stencil-coloring, this delightful animated short demonstrates the apogee of the artificial coloring technique. Directed by Russian-emigré Władysław Starewicz, The Voice of the Nightingale mixes stop-motion animation of real beetles and birds alongside live-action scenes, creating a modern fairytale about why the nightingale only sings at night. At times unrealistic, but always artistically applied, the coloring in this film excels most in the animated scenes—particularly the delicate nighttime shots—at times combining a toned image with three or four other color dyes.

La voix du rossignol was released in the United States in 1925 and was winner of the National Board of Review’s prestigious Hugo Riesenfeld Gold Medal for best short subject of the year. Throughout the late 1910s and into the 1920s, color shorts were prevalent. In fact, when going out for an evening’s entertainment at the movie theater, audiences at the time would have expected to see a colored short on the program alongside a newsreel, a cartoon or comedy, and the feature presentation. Stencil coloring was used on hundreds of “scenics” (travelogues), documentaries, and fashion shorts, as well as some feature films. But other “natural color” techniques were also common, from Kinemacolor to Prizma and Technicolor, among others.

Watch this more early color shorts:

The Infernal Cave (1905)

Technicolor Tests (1933–1936, compiled 1954)

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