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DreamWorks Day on the Oscar Showcase Tour

When it comes to development of stories, John said they have the entire story department brainstorming on the projects at the beginning then pare down the writers on each film. He added that usually the scribes will be the first on the project and can stay involved with the project as late as three months before release.

At DreamWorks, the group poses with famed children's author Bill Joyce (center in black jacket). © 2008 AWN Inc.

At DreamWorks, the group poses with famed children's author Bill Joyce (center in black jacket). © 2008 AWN Inc.

With the Oscar Showcase beginning to slow down, Thursday marked our chance to see DreamWorks L.A. While the screening was taking place, John Tarnoff, the head of the DreamWorks’ “incubator” department, showed us around the facility. After seeing production art from Bee Movie, Kung-Fu Panda and Madagascar 2, we got to see some production art and CG characters from DreamWorks’ 2009 releases Monsters vs. Aliens and How to Train Your Dragon. Being that Monsters vs. Aliens is the studio’s first stereoscopic production and the release date was moved up to March, the production is in furious mode. In regards to the challenges of working in 3-D, John said that DreamWorks looks at stereoscopic as they do stereo sound – a subtle enrichment of the movie going experience. Though the release will not be in 3-D, a test was done using the opening action sequence from Kung-Fu Panda to discover the limits to which they could push the technology. David Verrall, the exec producer of Madame Tutli-Putli, who has a hand in every English language film produced at the NFB, said they have artists working on eight foot screens for stereoscopic productions so they can get a better idea of how the mind processes the images as they are working on them.

I Met the Walrus director Josh Raskin talks with DreamWorks' John Tarnoff. © 2008 AWN Inc.

I Met the Walrus director Josh Raskin talks with DreamWorks' John Tarnoff. © 2008 AWN Inc.

When it comes to development of stories, John said they have the entire story department brainstorming on the projects at the beginning then pare down the writers on each film. He added that usually the scribes will be the first on the project and can stay involved with the project as late as three months before release.

When it came to research on their films, karate demos were done for Kung-Fu Panda, and John said that one of the lead animators is a karate guru, making him the go-to guy for any questions. For Madagascar 2, a group of 25, including the producers, directors, art directors and department heads, took a trip to Africa where they went on photo safaris to help inform the design of the film. Peter and the Wolf producer Hugh Welchman asked if any of the staff got in any trouble while there, because while in Russia doing research on Peter, director Suzie Templeton was picked up by the police, thinking that she might be an eco-terrorist, for taking photos in the wrong spot. Lucky no such incidents happened in Africa for the DreamWorks crew. The look of Monsters vs. Aliens is very influenced by the work of Jack Davis and Mad Magazine, while How to Train Your Dragon is trying to stay true to the illustrations featured in the original young adult novel by Cressida Cowell.

Because some of the tour crew missed the screening at PDI/DreamWorks, we caught the clips from Madagascar 2 and Kung-Fu Panda a second time, in addition to the opening sequence from the latter film. Next up the filmmakers had a chance to see the “magic” conference room that I had told them about, which we weren’t able to see up in San Fran. An entire wall of the room is a screen, which is directly linked to the Northern California campus with no delay. John said that they often have parties in the room uniting the two studios clear across the state. Unlike Pixar and Disney who use different software, PDI/DreamWorks and DreamWorks in L.A. do share staff on projects with members working at both locations sometimes on the same film.

Peter and the Wolf producer Hugh Welchman returns a serve from tour host Ron Diamond. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Peter and the Wolf producer Hugh Welchman returns a serve from tour host Ron Diamond. © 2008 AWN Inc.

With a bit of time remaining before the Q&A, the lure of more ping-pong was hard to resist. After hearing great praise about Hugh’s skills at Disney TV yesterday, Ron Diamond, the owner of Acme Filmworks and host of the tour, challenged the Peter and the Wolf director to a match. Though Hugh kept his title as the tour’s reigning table tennis champ, Ron gave him a run for his money. Next up James Braithwaite, illustrator on I Met the Walrus, demanded a rematch against Hugh for the honor of Canada. However, the game was interrupted when famed children’s book author and illustrator William Joyce walked out of a door close by and James and Walrus director Josh Raskin couldn’t pass up the chance to meet him.

The filmmakers answer questions from the DreamWorks employees. © 2008 AWN Inc.

The filmmakers answer questions from the DreamWorks employees. © 2008 AWN Inc.

The Q&A touched on some old and some new questions. With the directors not there, producer Marcy Page handled the #1 Madame Tutli-Putli question – how did you do the eyes? Next up Josh was asked what was his process in developing the look of his film, replying that he listened to the tape of producer Jerry Levitan’s interview with John Lennon hundreds of times, and played many games of ping-pong. The Peter and the Wolf producers Hugh Welchman and Alan Dewhurst where asked how they controlled the boiling effect that happens in stop-motion with furry characters. Hugh said that they used a great deal of digital clean-up, and Alan added that hairspray help a lot as well. Lola did the clean-up and few CG touches for the film. Because the print of Alexander Petrov’s My Love has no subtitles and is in Russian, Ron explained that the story follows a young man, who falls for a servant girl, but spurns her for the town beauty. But when he discovers that the beauty is not perfect, he falls into a fever and the servant girl promises to God that if he saves the boy she will become a nun. In the end, the boy lives and loses both his loves. “A very Russian story,” as Ron described it.

At DreamWorks lunch, Marcy catches up with animator Dave Burgess. © 2008 AWN Inc.

At DreamWorks lunch, Marcy catches up with animator Dave Burgess. © 2008 AWN Inc.

After the Q&A, we had lunch with some of the DreamWorks staff. We were joined by tour veteran Sharon Colman, who was nominated in 2006 for Badgered. She claims that the tour is responsible for why she is now working in the story department at DreamWorks. Hugh asked John Turnoff about their indie label Go Fish and John said that various people in the organization want to bring it back from its dormant state as a venue to release foreign produced animated features in the U.S. The lunch was also an opportunity for old colleagues to catch up. Marcy and David chatted with former NFB artist Dave Burgess and Hugh and Alan had worked with Rejean Bourdages, head of story on Shrek the Third, in the past.

After the lunch, the tour moved on to our next stop the William Morris agency. Check back for a peek at the Q&A and some photos.