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Archive for March 28th, 2010

DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon – an Artistic and Technological Tour de Force

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Breaking News:

  • HP 12-core computing closer than you think
  • DreamWorks Animation boosts output from 2 to 3 Features a Year

Wednesday March 24, 2010 – The DreamWorks Animation Studio campus in Glendale California is one of the top five places to work in the U.S. and I experienced why during my visit today. Roman architecture and landscaped grounds evoke a relaxed collegiate atmosphere perfect for creating the entertaining and artistic animated feature films that this studio is famous for. Talented artists, animators and computer whizzes brainstorm in this kick back environment and then get down to business molding an idea into a feature film that typically takes three years to produce.

Their latest production, How to Train your Dragon, has taken this collaborative effort to the highest level of cinematic art, with a rich story line, characters that evoke a visceral and emotional response, and nonstop forward moving action amplified by 3D that draws the viewer into a truly immersive experience.

Film is a visual medium, and once the script has been finalized the first production step is a hand drawn storyboard, much like a rough comic strip, that provides the flowchart (or specification) for the entire film. The story board is constantly reviewed and revised until it’s just right, and while this effort is progressing CG artists are hard at work fleshing out each and every character getting them ready for the animation team who’ll bring them to life.

The DreamWorks Animation team uses a plethora of commercial software from vendors such as Adobe and Autodesk to do much of the 3D modeling and preliminary work and then move to their own proprietary software to smoothly animate each 3D modeled character. This is a tedious and time consuming artistic endeavor where a movement line is first laid down and the animator carefully maneuvers a partially constructed 3D model down this path while manipulating more than 2000 rigging adjustment points to create realistically smooth motion. In this process the CG animator sets up the initial character configuration and its next position on the path and the computer helps out by filling in the blanks between (tweening) the two points and so on until the final result is life like and believable.

The entire production process is much more detailed and complex than I’ve just described and includes lighting, colorization, editing, post production and more — but that’s an entire dissertation in itself. To give you a visual idea of the process I’ve created a Flash slide show here that highlights most of the creative elements used to make ‘Dragons.’

Click Play to Watch

The DreamWorks Animation team, like most studios, uses the latest computing technology from HP to get the job done fast by taking advantage of workstations featuring multi-core threaded processing.  HP DreamColor displays deliver consistent color across hundreds of their workstations, and DreamWorks uses HP rack mounted blade computers for their humongous rendering jobs.

Creative and business collaboration is key to far flung multi-site operations like DreamWorks.  HP’s Halo video conference centers make it possible to hold virtual and engaging real-time meetings that Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation’s CEO said are indispensible as a major contributor to their ability to turn fast with coordinated strategies.

HP Workstations Soon to Deliver Higher Performance with 12-Core Computing

The HP people also told me that within a few weeks they’ll be boosting workstation performance from eight cores to twelve using the latest Intel processors, a computing first that’s sure to favorably impact animated film production and have major time and money saving implications across the CAD world and a host of other compute intensive applications.

All this technology and talent plus years of experience has now enabled DreamWorks to announce that they’ll be boosting their annual film production rate from two animated features a year to three  – an animated film industry first!

Jeffrey Rowe, editor of our web site was also with me on our trip to L.A. and is writing an in-depth account of all the new technological and creative developments that we saw during our three-day trip.   Watch for a link to Jeff’s work from this blog when it goes live.


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