Everything we look at from the distant past is always seen in black and white; this is largely due to our collective audiovisual imagination. Although the first film to use the newly developed Technicolor production dates back to 1935, Becky Sharp, this colour technology did not become widespread until years later. For example, it arrived in the United Kingdom and much of Europe in 1967, with the television broadcast of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, and two years later the Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast in full colour in Spain. Until then, video cameras only recorded in black and white, so many of the videos in SEAT’s documentary archive are devoid of any colour. That too is now a thing of the past.
A historic archive. 193,739 documents, photos and videos fill the SEAT archive, and the material is stored using specific protocols. “We have everything from paper and slides to audiotape and film, so we must control their appropriate atmospheric conditions with certified processes for their preservation”, explains Isidre López, the head of SEAT’s Historic Car Collection. The archive continues to grow with inputs of a multitude of documents, so work is underway to digitise all the material, taking advantage of technological breakthroughs. In turn, these very advances have made it possible to add colour to videos that were previously in black and white, and this material is now seeing the light for the first time.
The power of colour. Colours enable us to clearly appreciate the details that used to go unnoticed in black and white. We see shades, expression and light and discover a range of colours far beyond the blacks, whites and greys we remember.They also help to reveal change, evolution and the differences between eras. The Zona Franca factory, formerly with darker tones, contrasts with the brightness of today’s workshops of the Martorell plant, where light tones predominate. “In terms of car models, SEAT’s early days saw a shift from the black, moss green, dark blue, milano red and Havana tobacco of early vehicles to brighter colours such as moon grey, water green, ivory, mustard and beach beige”, says Isidre, although it is almost impossible to make them out on the old black and white reels.
The magic of transformation. The latest technology, which is so deeply rooted in SEAT, is also behind the project of colourising the company’s old images. The company Sinedie is adding colour to archive videos from the brand’s early years in the late 1950s. The production company, based in Madrid and specialised in post-production, is applying a time-consuming tinting technique that consists of two parts, one digital and one manual: first, using an algorithm, the resolution of the image is increased and an artificial intelligence code interprets it to obtain colour information; then comes the manual work. “To better define the actual colour of each element in the video, we separate it from the clip, mask the rest and tint it frame by frame”, explains Pablo Cambronero, a project manager at Sinedie. This lengthy technological process is clearly reflected in the end result. “This is how we achieve greater definition and a historically accurate colour”, he adds.
Keeping it real. This desire for historic fidelity was the main requirement for the colourising. All prior documentation, with colour photos and real archives of the time, as well as the advice from Isidre López, have been key in the final result. “The most difficult thing is to maintain the naturalness and authenticity of the image; it’s important that the colours are true to reality”, says Pablo. Meanwhile, Isidre is well aware of the significance of these images: “The accuracy regarding the colour adds invaluable historical and emotional value to them.”
A story of evolution. Either in black and white or full colour, time goes by and technology advances. Thanks to these advances, we can now see the grey images of the past in a new light, but at the same time discover much of the present in them. At SEAT, this change is evident - in its first year of production, five cars were made daily and the factory employed just over 900 people. Today, in addition to much higher production, design and innovation are props for the brand. “Investment in R&D&I, with the Technical Centre at the forefront of innovation, and a clear internationalisation strategy are all a step forward in SEAT’s consolidation efforts.”, explains Isidre. But some things will never change - the values, the capacity to adapt and the spirit of improvement remain intact.