The 1990’s were a seminal decade of vast change in the entertainment industry; one that witnessed the first broad embrace of digital tools in motion picture production, visual effects, and all that the coming “digital revolution” would portend. This decade would be another challenge for Technicolor innovation and its ability to reinvent itself.
The decade of digital was foreshadowed in 1988 with a watershed moment for the nascent digital revolution: Kodak’s introduction of their Cineon file-format, an early first attempt to standardize a common digital language that could bring together the existing, and rather disparate, facets of production and post. In the Cineon promotional video put together by Kodak in 1988, director James Cameron made a most prescient comment that (with the introduction of the Cineon) the whole notion of “post-production” had become an oxymoron and that the normal workflow had been turned on its head. Technicolor, like others, was paying close attention to the Kodak announcement, and from that moment, began plotting a new course for the incorporation of digital into the company’s theatrical and broadcast services processes. It would take another decade before his prescient notion would take full flight, but Cameron, along with directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (among others), understood the implication of digital and how its introduction would impact the entire entertainment ecosystem.
Cameron’s 1988 film The Abyss featured an extended scene commonly known in the industry as the “hydro-pod” sequence, rendered digitally, clearly announcing his belief in the future of digital visual effects. The digital transition was in full evidence by 1991 with Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Spielberg’s upcoming 1993 blockbuster, Jurassic Park. The films integrated practical analog effects (shot in camera) with key visual effects sequences rendered digitally. Shortly thereafter, Cameron determined the time was ripe to create his own visual effects company, Digital Domain, for whom he coined the phrase “Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open” – his statement that the only visual limitation from that point forward was a filmmaker’s imagination (and enough budget to cover those costs).
Technicolor, towards the end of the 1990s, while still under the British Carlton banner, began to make strategic investments to broaden the company’s portfolio of analog and digital services, providing a more robust offering for theatrical and broadcast productions. Both global theatrical release-printing as well as production for cable continued to explode – which these acquisitions served. It was at this time that Technicolor made its first true inroads into sound services, gaining a necessary foothold in broadcast audio that would pave the way for further investments after the turn of the century.
One of the key developments of that era was also the convergence of broadcast digital post-production compositing techniques into the toolset used for theatrical VFX. This digital convergence had already taken hold in editorial, and additionally in sound-services, but with affordable and available computer processing power, would soon overtake analog theatrical VFX production, which was then mostly consolidated by 1994.
The 1990s also witnessed continued expansion of the home entertainment market, specifically DVD replication, as a major industry driver for revenue and creative opportunity. This was a market that Technicolor led innovation in. The success of Technicolor’s home entertainment offering, along with the growing demand for theatrical release prints, particularly with the company’s capability to service global “day-and-date” releases around the world, allowed Technicolor to develop new digital capabilities so that, at the end of the 1990s, the company made a significant capital investment in digital theatrical distribution. By the turn of the century, the Hollywood studios had clearly indicated their resolve to move the exhibition model to digital. Technicolor elected to take the position of industry leader in this regard, providing capital for research and development of digital distribution of motion pictures.