As Technicolor entered the 21st century, the company was poised to engage the challenges of another decade of vast change to the entertainment landscape: the prospect of digital, as well as an accelerated rate of change, escalated through a dramatic maturation of digital processes at all points of infliction along the entertainment content continuum. The first major turning point and milestone of the decade for Technicolor was the company’s acquisition by the French global electronics corporation, Thomson SA, with facilities situated around the globe. The sale to Thomson by Carlton was confirmed in the first quarter of 2001, and would lead to continual theatrical features being inextricably married to the burgeoning world of digital broadcast electronics. This industry trend would find its fullest expression in the development of Technicolor over the coming years.
Although it was Technicolor’s preeminence in theatrical features that garnered the most public visibility, it was actually the company’s home entertainment division that became the biggest revenue-earning facet of Technicolor’s offering. With little fanfare, Technicolor Home Entertainment became the quiet giant for replication and ancillary services associated with DVD and later Blu-ray discs. It was no secret that the revenue being generated from home entertainment was one of the most significant drivers of content finance — for all forms of moving entertainment.
By the summer of 2001, Technicolor had begun putting the pieces together for its digital intermediate business. DI color-grading would, by decade’s end, become a de facto standard for theatrical features. The company’s nascent DI division was called “Technique” — in deference to company founders, Herbert Kalmus and Daniel Comstock, as Technique was the name of their college publication at MIT — and it became the root of Technicolor’s name…technique being married to color.
The initial DI operation was co-located with Technicolor’s Digital Cinema lab in Burbank, CA. The DI process had started a few years earlier, in Europe and Hollywood, in fits and starts. (It’s been argued that Pleasantville and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? were both early attempts at the nascent DI process.) Technicolor’s first full theatrical feature DI was produced for director David Fincher, his 2002 hit Panic Room starring Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart. The digital intermediate process had the obvious advantages of allowing filmmakers to creatively control every pixel of the color and editorial finishing processes. And in short order, motion picture producers came to realize that by way of the DI process, there were great cost-saving advantages downstream for their projects.
Filmmakers’ engagement with the DI process quickly followed suit: Technicolor produced the first DIs for legendary filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Spielberg. Scorsese’s 2004 film, The Aviator, became a watershed moment for Technicolor as the DI process allowed Scorsese and his creative team to recreate color from its celebrated 2-color and 3-strip dye transfer films from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s. The Aviator won Academy Awards that year for cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE.
Less well known was Technicolor’s burgeoning broadcast business in Los Angeles, anchored by its Complete Post division for the editorial and finishing work on television content. That division became the quiet backbone of Technicolor creative services for the entire decade. As the decade progressed, the company’s sound division also started to grow, establishing itself in broadcast, then more recently with the industry’s state-of-the-art sound studio for theatrical and broadcast, located on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, CA.
It was the visual effects side of the industry that arguably became the most strategic aspect of growth over the decade for Technicolor — made possible by Thomson SA purchasing the London-based Moving Picture Company (MPC) and aligning it under the management of Technicolor. Technicolor was committed to growing MPC’s profile in the theatrical world which had been originally built with a global VFX presence in London (Soho), then expanding to Los Angeles (for pre-visualization), across Canada (Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver), and also in Bangalore, India. Film by film, the MPC theatrical contribution grew into one of the motion picture industry’s global powerhouses. The MPC division received its first Academy Award for Achievement in Visual Effects for director Ang Lee’s 2012 theatrical hit, Life of Pi. At this time, and further aligned with MPC in India, Technicolor created a start-up children’s animation division for broadcast business.
Over the course of the decade, Technicolor’s cinema lab business peaked with staggering volumes of theatrical prints, particularly for the eight films in the Harry Potter franchise that peaked towards the decade’s end with “day-and-date” rollout of the last installments of the original seven books. The last two Harry Potter films hold the records for the most theatrical release prints in motion picture history. Technicolor’s laboratory Large Format business also arose over the decade, in parallel with the IMAX Corporation’s continued growth. Unfortunately as a consequence of the success of digital, it became evident towards the end of the decade that the Hollywood studio establishment was resolved to remove the cost of celluloid from their theatrical operations. Subsequently, Technicolor began curtailing the manufacturing of theatrical release printing. It was once suggested by a senior Disney executive that, “Technicolor has consistently shown the industry how to do it.” And the notion of Technicolor being a pedagogical leader in the industry is prevalent especially given the humble roots of the company being founded by two professors from MIT. More than anyone else in Technicolor’s 100-year history, it was Dr. Herbert Kalmus who understood the prospect of color, but also the importance of technology, engineering, color-science, and reinvention. The first decade of the 21st century clearly established how those values continue to serve the company, and an expanded global content industry.