The AFI festival was the premiere Fall film festival in Los Angeles, which was the perfect way to start our 100th anniversary, as part of a year-long series of events.
As one of the lead sponsors of the new Technology facet, Tim Sarnoff, president of Production Services, delivered a keynote address on November 10th, 2014.
Over that decade our Creative Services’ team have worked with some wonderful emerging talent, by way of the Cinematography division of the AFI Conservatory, in Los Angeles, CA.
As far as we know, there have always been storytellers. Human kind has an almost innate desire to experience the emotions that are tapped into by stories, especially those that elicit a sense of wonderment, laughter or tragedy.
A quarter of a million years ago, way before CGI and Hollywood soundstages, opening weekends and yes even the Kardashians… men and women, kids of all ages, sat around a campfire and were engaged in something that is fundamental to the human experience. Around the safe confines of that fire, they were an audience for each other’s stories. Those stories would transport them away from feeling hungry, scared, injured – even if only for a few minutes.
In Medieval times there were minstrels, plays and books to amuse and take people away from their daily reality. Starting in the 1890s the new art form called “flickers” came into being.
In the 1920s families would huddle around their radio – their link to a world at large – and that was a main source of news and entertainment for thirty years until that thing called “television” provided a new “channel” of possibility.
But however great those experiences were – it wasn’t the viewing experience people got in a movie theater. You’re in the dark, the image before you is 40 feet high, 75 feet wide, you’re IN the moment, and you’re sharing an experience with the people around you.
Today entertainment is literally everywhere – on phones, computers, pads, tablets, TVs, cars and yes still on the “silver screen” too.
Technology – particularly with the fantastic evolution to digital – has created a common fabric that allows almost any art form to not just be available where and when we want them; we can actually carry our gateway to cultural expressions wherever we go, and experience them in any way we wish.
Culture, art and entertainment are not just readily accessible they are now fully integrated into who each of us is. But no matter HOW you view your entertainment, it still comes back to the same wonderful, ethereal thing that drew audiences to Nickelodeons in 1905, or got early man to gather by the fire pit and view shadow images on the walls of caves – stories…and creating a sense of WONDER.
The dictionary defines wonder as “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected or unfamiliar.”
It’s what made your jaw drop the first time you experienced Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…and it’s what got your chest tight and made you short of breath when you watched Sandra Bullock floating hopelessly in a remarkable interpretation of space in Gravity.
It’s what touched your emotions when you first experienced Walt Disney’s animated feature classics. It’s what made you howl with laughter when Dustin Hoffman turned into Tootsie in the comic masterpiece directed by Sydney Pollack. And it’s what made you tear up when Jack slips off the floating debris in the North Atlantic to leave young Rose alone in the ice field of James Cameron’s Titanic.
This month marks the beginning of Technicolor’s 100th year in the entertainment industry. And we are all part of this wonderful legacy to be sure.
From its humble origins as what would now be referred to as a “tech start-up,” with its principle concern being the creation of a sustainable model for motion picture color, Technicolor today continues to reinvent itself. Like you, we too are experiencing the vast changes that have overtaken the motion picture industry. The “rate of change” we are now witnessing is almost unprecedented.
A process of reinvention is very much a part of the basic DNA of Technicolor, but it has always been based on the needs of those storytellers we’ve served for these last ten decades.
The historical record is pretty unequivocal as it relates to Technicolor. The company was one of the first to develop a lasting model for motion picture color – but it was not until the early 1930s that Technicolor really found its footing – prompted by filmmakers like Walt Disney, David O. Selznick, Marion C. Cooper, and investors like Jocko Whitney.
Later, the company became the dominant force in the world as it related to full color, by way of three-strip IB dye-transfer Technicolor, used both here and abroad, on a remarkable array of films that to this day remain many of the classics of the medium.
Masters of the medium, directors like Michael Powell, Jean Renoir, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and Stanley Kubrick took Technicolor to places that were almost unimaginable. Their films remain perennial favorites on those lists of top 10 or top 100 motion pictures of all time.
Victor Flemings Wizard of Oz came out in what arguably is one of the watershed years in film history, 1939, and it certainly was for Technicolor. The usage of color into that narrative has taken audiences breath away for the last 75 years. From dustbowl Kansas to Munchkin-land…that filmic gag could serve as the poster child why filmmakers and audiences alike embraced motion picture color. It likely served as a creative epiphany for generations of filmmakers who followed.
One short year later, director Walt Disney and producer Alexander Korda found an equal level of creative success on their seminal films: Fantasia, and The Thief of Bagdad. Disney was as much responsible for the success of 3-strip Technicolor as any other filmmaker in history. And Korda was responsible for elevating the talents of director Michael Powell to an emerging global audience.
Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger, just after World War 2, started producing a string of Technicolor classics unmatched by almost other filmmakers in history: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; Black Narcissus; The Red Shoes; and The Tales of Hoffmann…all remarkable cinematic achievements in full British Technicolor.
By the 1950s Technicolor found its way into the creative palette of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, William Wyler, and shortly David Lean. These filmmakers, and their work, were studied and celebrated by the generation of filmmakers that emerged from the late 60s to take over the motion picture industry in the 1970s – filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg…all filmmakers that Technicolor has been blessed to aid in their respective creative quests.
Technicolor, by way of staying up with or in front of these world-renown filmmakers almost by definition had to continually reinvent itself…and it did so…almost continually over 10 decades.
Here and Now:
60 years ago the post-production business was nearly as volatile as it is today. Even then the writing was on the wall, that like today only those who could innovate aggressively would survive. And this was not something that was accomplished in some kind of isolation.
What excites us now is what we can do to empower this and future generations of storytellers – those intrepid filmmakers committed to creating new spectacles and furthering the advancement of wonder!
How does one create wonder a sense of wonder?
Visionary storytelling helps to create wonder. But it’s really all about emotion. The genius of those cinematic magicians is their ability to tap deeper into your dreams, as well as their own, to convey those feelings to audiences whether they’re in Syracuse or Shanghai. When an audience starts to take ownership of those feelings, to personalize them, then you have created a wondrous story.
In our history, there are quite obviously way too many films to cite more than just a handful here – films that have, or likely will stand the test of time. But we thought you’d be more interested in the more recent past – delving into a few projects over the last decade that reflect both how we’ve addressed “change” but also projects that exemplify how we’ve creatively served the wishes and needs of some of our more high profile clients.
Director Martin Scorsese had the rather novel notion of unfolding his biography of aviator/filmmaker Howard Hughes by way of a color palette right out of his love of Technicolor films from the 1920s through the late 1940s…both 2-color and 3-strip Technicolor. Our digital color scientists and analog lab teams, working with VFX supervisor Rob Legato figured out solutions to take cinematographer Robert Richardson’s breathtaking imagery and bend the rules of how contemporary analog-photography could be employed.
For director Brad Bird’s wonderful ode the nascent chef in all of us, and for the many other animated theatrical features, our North Hollywood lab came up with a technology, appropriately known as RATS, which animation teams at Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks and others could pre-visualize color – at the start of the project, giving them a target which they could accurately forecast to match their digital processes of around color, lighting and modeling…leaving little to trial-and-error guess work. For this, the Academy awarded our guys a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award.
Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s remarkable survival on the high seas drama won for our visual effects team at MPC an Oscar. Their digital water was in great measure one of the key indisputable elements of the film that had to be credible, revealing equal measures terrifying and southing. MPC was one of the lead houses on the film, as was Technicolor’s color finishing at our Seward Street facility.
Working with cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki (“Chivo” to his friends and associates) is always challenging…in the best sense of the word. He continually operates on the creative bleeding-edge of what is possible. With his director Alfonso Cuaron, Chivo broke-out of the traditional confines of how films are supposed to be shot and completed, between principal photography, editing, post-production, and visual effects. Led by our senior supervising digital colorist, Steven J. Scott, Chivo’s entire team at Technicolor is well versed in bringing their “A” game to the effort…
Guardians of the Galaxy
…which they brought in full measure to James Gunn’s summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. But the finishing work as significant as that was was also dwarfed by the visual effort delivered by MPC. As the lead house, MPC delivered one of the film’s signature animated creatures, Groot. Pretty remarkable for a character that only utters the same three words throughout the film.
And now Technicolor’s most recent noteworthy achievement: the new film directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman. All these other films were big studio driven projects. Birdman was essentially an “indie” project…with a budget under $20 million, shot over 30 days in a singular fashion by, again, Emanuel Lubezki. Mr. Inarritu brought to the project a stringent set of requirements, both related to the staging of the production and the narrative flow of this magical exploration into the psyche of an actor on edge. The tool set our talent brought to the party is fully in evidence.
The movies I’ve mentioned each have an interesting connection to our central themes of wonder, emotion and spectacle – empowered through our talent, technology and thinking. These movies describe the “universal truths” that cut to our most basic humanistic core, universal truths that when you see or hear them fill you with something that resonates in your bones. Such is the power of cinema when done right.
But what else do you now need to create wonder?
There was a rather noteworthy prediction from the head of the US Patent Office in the late 19th century, Charles Holland Duell, that essentially stated that: “everything that can be invented has already been invented.” And much like today, we’ve apparently come to an inflection point whereby people are convinced that “we’ve seen it all already.” Or have we, and how does this translate to motion pictures, and all the other emerging channels of distribution and viewing?
Reel 2: Behind the wonder- convergence of technology and talent (MPC breakdown reels)
It’s our belief that we can only succeed by staying in front of the needs of our customers and that in this current digital and technologically-driven age, we must continue to bring together talent and technology that is grounded in hard science and innovation. If we don’t, some of our most wondrous moments might not exist. And can you imagine not having experienced the scenes from that last reel?
We believe that the creative tools of tomorrow will grow from the kind of exploration that is ongoing at our research labs around the world. Human perception is one such remarkable area of exploration for our scientists and engineers at Technicolor.
There are studies today that focus on the viewing of content through FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). They take individuals from all walks of life, show them content and see what parts of their brains are triggered by the images. These same studies then take individuals who are considered comatose and show them the same content. And you know what? Across the board, the brain is triggered in the same areas. Hopefully it wasn’t the content that made some of subjects comatose.
One might infer from this that neurologically speaking regardless of our state of consciousness we are actually responding to content in the same way. So while we may have individualized emotional responses to content, there is a base neurological awareness and unity in our response.
That’s pretty amazing for a world so often focused on the divides.
Today, the audiences’ expectations are so high that there is a fine line in creating hyper-realistic images and maintaining a suspension of disbelief. The filmmakers we’ve included into this presentation are emblematic of those whom in fact did not believe that “we had seen it all.” Rather they had a vision, a vision that with the right teams, the right budget and the right technology, they could bring wonder to life.
They did not settle for what had been done before. They had a vision and pushed the envelope to achieve it. And yet, none of us knew, until we saw it for ourselves, that our own expectations had been surpassed.
Looking to the future, what will the next platform delivering wonder look like? Will it unite all of our 5 senses? Current trends have immersive sound and “helmet viewing” at the forefront. Immersive sound continues to develop with the maturation of ATMOS, AURO 3D and MDA. We already have the tools to mix those formats in our sound facilities ensuring the most dynamic theater experience, but we must now also bring that experience conveniently into the home. And when I say conveniently, I mean easier than IKEA instructions.
Oculus Rift-inspired viewing platforms also come to mind as the next immediate immersive experience. Providing an interactive 365° view of content, this helmet is a platform that we are already developing production and post-production workflows for in our research and innovation labs. Because let us not forget, having the platform is just the first step — you then need the content to populate those platforms. And while Oculus Rift will immerse our eyes and new audio formats our ears, there has yet to be an experience that rivals that of a movie theater.
So while companies like Technicolor and others work feverishly towards the next generation of experiences, let us also not forget the core value of strong storytelling. That’s where we find ourselves… still serving the story.
It’s probably been much the same for the last two hundred fifty thousand years that humankind sat around campfires, with silhouetted images dancing on the walls, while storytellers narrated tall tales of wonder and enchantment. It’s been much the same for Technicolor, over the years – serving storytellers and their narratives.
Thank you for joining me around our proverbial campfire. Please pass the Graham crackers.