Technicolor stores Hollywood history in a bottle


By Frankie Taggart, AFP

LOS ANGELES — A Technicolor scientist surrounded by the latest virtual reality technology inspects a vial containing a few droplets of water — and 1 million copies of an old movie encoded into DNA. The company has come a long way since the Hollywood golden age, when the world gazed in awe at the lush palette of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” provided by its three-strip cameras. Now celebrating its centenary year, Technicolor’s laboratories are at the cutting edge of the science of filmmaking, leading a worldwide revolution in immersive entertainment. “We are bigger today in LA than we were 70 years ago or 50 years ago,” Technicolor chief Frederic Rose said at a recent ceremony where he accepted a “star of recognition” from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Rose used the occasion at Technicolor’s Sunset Boulevard studios to showcase the company’s latest jaw-dropping innovation — the encoding of movies into artificial, “non-biological” DNA. Jean Bolot, vice-president for research and innovation, held up a vial barely bigger than a bullet containing a million copies of 1902 French silent film “A Trip to the Moon,” the first movie to use visual effects. DNA is almost unimaginably small — up to 90,000 molecules can fit into the width of one human hair — so even such a large library is totally invisible to the human eye. All you can see is the water in the tube. “This, we believe, is what the future of movie archiving will look like,” Bolot said.

Scientists have been experimenting with DNA as a potential storage medium for years but recent advances in modern lab equipment have made projects like Technicolor’s a reality. The company’s work builds on research by scientists at Harvard University, who in 2012 successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a factor of 1,000.