This film is part of Free

Animated Doll and Toy Town Circus

Roll up, roll up! Come witness staggering feats in what might be the earliest surviving animated film made in colour.

Animation & Artists Moving Image 1912 3 mins


A bubble-blowing doll and animated circus figurines might not seem the greatest show on Earth, but this film oddity contains hidden depths. Though the surviving print is black and white, alternating tones from frame to frame reveal that it was filmed with an early colour two-colour system known as Kinemacolor. Match alternate frames with a red or green filter, as has been done digitally here, and an impression of the colours of the original dolls reappears.

Surviving records show that a number of stop-motion animated films were released in Kinemacolor before WWI, including an epic for its time half-hour Love and War in Toyland (1913), but sadly none are known to survive. This circus film, named after the scrawled text etched into the opening part of the reel, is likely all that survives of this trailblazing colour experiment. Kinemacolor was more widely used with live-action filming, but its successes were marred by a fringing of colours caused by the slight movements its filmed subjects made in the fractions of seconds between successive frames. The version you can see here gains enhanced clarity from modern scanning techniques that take it far beyond the original effect. But it also retains the original benefit that stop-motion brought to the Kinemacolor process: as these puppets were filmed as static dolls, they could be guaranteed to hold still in front of the camera, showing off the colours to their full effect.