Arrow Back to legacy

Over 107 years of iconic & vibrant work

Photographer Anthony Friedkin’s image, above, was taken on the Universal Studios backlot, sometime in the late 1970s.

The vault held any number of classic Technicolor 3-strip 35mm film prints, but we use it here in a metaphorical way – to suggest the value of preservation of our shared legacy and heritage. Aside from those cinematic assets in the image, we believe they represent the enduring value of the company’s celebrated past, that continues to resonate today, informing our future goals. What do we mean by legacy and heritage?

Curated by

Bob Hoffman,
Technicolor Historian
and long-standing
friend of the studio

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Copyright © Anthony Friedkin

A simple web search comes-up with definitions that contextualize these concepts, “…heritage is the history, traditions, and qualities that have been passed on for many years, and that define what it is today; legacy is a current situation that exists because of actions or events in the past…”

Reflecting on Technicolor’s twelve decade-long history, we’ve chosen to create a space for those many interested parties who wish to know more about the company’s celebrated past…BUT not as an exercise in nostalgia. William Shakespeare was quite clear-eyed when he suggested, “what’s past is prologue.” Obviously, he was addressing a very different context, while author William Faulkner once quipped, “the past is never dead. In fact, it is not even past.” This notion, of how the past continues to resonate, is something we plan to explore — while not pitting the past against the present. As Winston Churchill so wisely noted, “…if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find we have lost the future.” 

To guide this initiative, we’re focusing on three central attributes of Technicolor history. The first is the iconic nature of Technicolor. For many generations of cinema goers, and filmmakers alike, the company was universally regarded as “the greatest name in color.” That reputation was hard earned – and the story behind the company’s ascendency is one of great fascination, and at times, even greater wonderment.  

The second attribute addresses past generations of company talent that exhibited significant bravery in the course of their work. One tends to forget the fiercely competitive landscape Technicolor was continually challenged by. The company’s success over the last twelve decades was based on the accomplishments of its courageous talent, inclusive of its artists, color scientists, engineers, and leadership. Its history is rift with individuals who warrant much greater attention given their technology fearlessness – possibly the greatest among that pantheon was Dr. Leonard Troland. Troland worked at Technicolor for less than 15 years but the mark he left on motion picture history is indelible. And if not for his untimely death in 1932 his influence on motion picture color would be more widely appreciated.  

Last, but not least, is the vibrance and vitality of the Technicolor brand. The company may well be a very different enterprise today than the one imagined by its founders in 1915, but all those subsequent generations of color scientists, engineers, and golden eyes possessed a shared passion for creative excellence — as evidenced in the films the company served.  

The name, Technicolor, nearly speaks for itself to those familiar with the company’s rich history. The name was created to signify the marriage of technique and color. Today, on a regular basis, one will hear or read the word Technicolor referred to in a myriad of contexts and meanings – that have little to do with the company, its services and talent. It is an interesting challenge talking about Technicolor in an historical sense — the fact that the name is now used as either a pronoun, an adverb…or an adjective. Most often, the name is employed to denote something colorful, and it has become something of a benchmark in the lexicon — a claim no other brand in the domain of entertainment creation can truly make. 

Obviously, it’s a very different world in which the company now operates, but managing change was always a central hallmark of its success – how the company responded to ever-changing landscape of media production, distribution, and exhibition…how it responded to those technological shifts and fierce competition over the many decades. It’s a provocative question, how does the founding era of Technicolor, going back well over one hundred years ago, compare with the landscape of contemporary cinema, television, animation, and games?  

To aid our effort, we will bring together a diverse group of individuals to reflect on myriad interesting facets of the company’s history and legacy. Over time, we’ll platform voices from around the world that can provide a perspective on the ever-changing dynamics of global entertainment and advertising content production. 

An interesting starting point might be the principal focus of Technicolor Creative Studios …that of visual effects. Contemporary generations of VFX practitioners may see the practice of content creation as something shaped by the recent changes in digital methodologies employed today – without much regard for the fact that visual effects were always part-and-parcel of cinematic expression from the earliest days of photography, dating to the mid-19th century, and also the earliest moving pictures of the later decades of that century as witnessed in the work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, The Lumière brothers, and especially French illusionist Georges Méliès. 

Visual effects were always part of the basic fabric of filmmaking. One may still wonder what does VFX have to do with classic Technicolor? Color, like every other aspect of film production, remains a creative tool employed by filmmakers with narrative intentionality, to elicit a particular response. Color, historically, can easily be seen as a visual effect. By the mid-1890’s, Méliès was presenting his films in color, tints applied by hand by legions of skilled artists. By the time Technicolor cornered the market on realistic color, in the mid-1930s, the company had reinvented itself with great regularity, four times over the course of its first two decades.  

When Kodak introduced its first 35mm motion picture color negative stock, around 1950, Technicolor reacted quickly by introducing its Process Number Five – arguably one of the most significant achievements in color cinema history. The point is reinvention was part of the basic fabric of the company. And while color became readily available by way of Kodak’s success, Technicolor continued to lead the motion picture industry through its launch of bulk release printing in the late 1970s, and further through its support of the burgeoning home entertainment market. By century’s end, Technicolor again was leading the evolution of movies as it transitioned to digital cinema and digital intermediate color finishing. 

We are excited to share many iconic moments from our history – explore our interactive timeline to discover more.

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