Audio in Technicolor

It may surprise you to learn that Technicolor is now a French-owned company, with its main offices outside of Paris. It may also be new to you that, to a significant degree, the company is now involved in audio post-production work, rather than the film processes for which it is best known.

These were just a few of the details I learned on a recent tour of Technicolor's audio post-production facilities on the lot of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California. I was one of only two American journalists on the tour; the rest were on a visit from France. The tour was designed more as an overview than an in-depth technical look at the operation. The French were said to be more general-interest journalists than tech types, plus the language barrier would have made a deeper discussion difficult. In addition, Hollywood folks are more than a bit paranoid about technical and artistic security.

With eight mixing stages of various sizes, two ADR (automated dialog replacement) studios, 30 editing rooms, and a Foley stage, the building's 92,000 square feet (65,000 of it devoted to sound) is likely the newest, most up-to-date such facility in Hollywood, if not in the world. It is currently working on two feature films and 12 television shows—and this is during the TV summer hiatus. Typically, it does post-production for 24 television series over the course of a year. The building is also fully interconnected to Technicolor's many facilities around the world for near-instantaneous coordination when required.

All of the mixing stages, such as the one in the photo at the top of this blog, are equipped with the same equipment in the same configuration. If a mix is transferred from one stage to another because of a scheduling conflict, the move is transparent to the crew, which will not have to waste time adjusting to a new setup. Of course, this raises the issue of whether or not it will be financially feasible in the future to change all of the stages at the same time to make way for some new technological wrinkle.

On the latter subject, I asked if Technicolor was equipped to work with the new, immersive, multichannel audio systems, such as Dolby Atmos. The company is apparently looking into it, but has not yet made the move.

After the formal Technicolor tour, some of the group had the opportunity for a separate tour of the Paramount lot. Since I hadn't been to Paramount before, I jumped at the opportunity. (A similar tour of the Paramount studios is also available to the public, and I highly recommend it.) The lot was formerly the home of both Paramount and the now-defunct RKO studios, which was once owned by aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, who nearly bankrupted the facility by storing his airplanes in its sound stages.

The famously eccentric Hughes also tapped into the Los Angeles water system that ran under the lot to get "free" water for his studio. The trick wasn't discovered until years later when Lucille Ball spotted some hidden water pipes and had them traced to their source.

Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz had acquired the RKO facility in 1957, renamed it Desilu, and used it for many popular TV productions, including their own iconic show I Love Lucy. (Interestingly, the French journalists had never heard of Lucille Ball!) The tour included a visit to a small park, seen above, next to the building where Ball's offices were located. The park also adjoined a day care center established by Ball to serve Desilu employees—the first such facility at any Hollywood studio. Desilu was sold back to Paramount Television in 1967 with the proviso that the studio continue producing two television series—Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. The rest, as they say, is history.

K.Reid's picture

Thanks, Tom. Good to know a respected company like this adapted itself to a continually changing environment. Did you happen to ask if the company will be involved with the upcoming object-oriented surround sound?

Jarod's picture

Thanks Tom great write-up!

NatHeathcote's picture

I have a strong desire to own a home theater setup similar to the one you mentioned. It would be fantastic to watch movies and play games like geometry dash 23 with my friends.