At the time Gone With the Wind was being filmed, Technicolor was not widely used and carried several inherent disadvantages. The Technicolor corporation owned the heavy, cumbersome cameras required for shooting, all seven of which were rented to Selznick. Each picture was required to have a color consultant who had the power to veto any color scheme she felt was incompatible with color cinematography. In addition, technical advisors were required to assist cinematographers who had only worked with black-and-white film. Technicolor, for example, required twice as much lighting for proper illumination of a scene. Selznick had previous experience with Technicolor filming and knew that it would be vital to giving Gone With the Wind the visual richness necessary for an epic drama. In fact, Selznick was so determined that the film’s color have as much impact as the characters’ emotions that he fired the original cinematographer Lee Garmes for favoring a color scheme Selznick deemed too subdued. His replacement, Ernest Haller, succeeded in obtaining more vivid effects.
Selznick knew that using shadows was an important part of a scene’s visual impact and persuaded his color consultant to shoot Scarlett and her father in silhouette on the hill at Tara. With the plantation glowing brilliantly in the distance, the resulting framing effect powerfully underscores Gerald’s feelings about the importance of the land. Selznick uses this silhouetting to the same effect in the film’s final scene, when Scarlett stands on the same hill as she comes home to Tara. Selznick also uses shadows to emphasize moments that focus on the relationship between characters in Gone With the Wind, first seen in the form of the looming shadows Scarlett and Melanie cast on the walls of the makeshift hospital. Later, the delivery of Melanie’s baby is lit only with slivers of light that appear between the window slats, the darkness making the scene more intimate and giving it a powerful simplicity.
Another technique that Selznick brought from black-and-white film to Technicolor was the use of matte painting. While a shot was filmed, the area to be painted in later was masked with black matte paint on a glass screen placed in front of the camera. Later, a full-color scale illustration of the missing portion was shot onto the rewound negatives to cover the blacked-out area with calibrated precision. Previously used only for background shots, Gone With the Wind’s special effects cinematographer Clarence Slifer adapted the technique to complete a number of sets that were only partially finished. Tara’s side views, outhouses, and background vegetation were all matte paintings, as were portions of the Twelve Oaks plantation, the train station roof, the decorations in the Old Armory, an entire street of burning houses, and even some of the wounded soldiers lying on the ground in long shots.