The AWN Showcase tour has a full day at DreamWorks.
written by Rick DeMott
For the third day of the L.A. leg, DreamWorks put together a full day of events for the nominees. Katie Koskenmaki, our host and artistic development coordinator for the studio, said that different departments were fighting to get a chance to meet the nominees. For the first time, French Roast director Fabrice Joubert joined the festivities.
First up, designer Pierre-Olivier Vincent, aka POV, ran through the visual development on DreamWorks' upcoming How to Train Your Dragon. The project began with the designs of the book, which was written and illustrated by Cressida Cowell. The designs and tone of the book was cartoony, but over the course of the film's development, which included three director changes, the script became more dramatic. For Cowell, she didn't mind the tone shift, but insisted that the core of the story remain the relationship between the main character Hiccup and his father Stoick.
When Chris Sanders came in as the director he wanted to redesign Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless the night fury. Sanders sketched out Toothless himself, but many thought it looked too much like his previous creation Stitch at first. As a result, the previous sketches for Toothless were moved to another dragon in the film, the terrible terror, a tiny traditional looking dragon instead of the more mammal looking night fury.
For the film's architecture, a naturalistic look was developed so that the excitement of fantasy was saved for the dragons. Not many sets were created, but the sets that were created were huge. POV showed us two steps along the evolution of the same set, which were created four years apart. For the Dragon Island set, it was suggested that the cliff look like a skull. POV hated the idea, but created the painting to show why it didn't work.
POV said the lighting of the sets was greatly influenced by famed live-action cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was brought in to serve as a virtual DP on the film. Someone asked whether POV felt more live-action professionals would be brought onto animated films and he believes that they should only be brought in if they love animation and its aesthetic.
Raul asked if 3-D affected the design work and he said that it doesn't. The main areas that are affected are set dressing and matte paintings, because previous cheats no longer work.
Speaking of 3-D, the nominees were next treated to a 3-D demo after tour host Ron Diamond introduced them to the screening audience. Phil McNally, officially known on his driver license as Captain III D, led the technical rundown.
For 3-D, DreamWorks has done extensive tests to work out problems with eyestrain. They discovered that strain occurs when objects appear too close in the foreground or too far in the background. Wider lens help alleviate problems, so 24 mm lenses or wider are always used. When framing puts objects in the foreground, the 3-D artists will go in and use multiple stereo rigs to minimize the depth on the foreground while not sacrificing depth for the background. Eyestrain is another problem across cuts when the depth changes, so depth blending must be used.
During the Q&A, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty producer Darragh O'Connell joked that while Brown Bag Studios was doing dozens of hours of TV animation, it was the five minutes of Granny that almost broke the studio's back. Brown Bag head and past Oscar nominee Cathal Gaffney told them they could make the film, but just not let him see them making it.
After lunch, Simon Otto, head of animation on Dragons, showed three clips from the film. For Fabrice, the stop was like a homecoming, having worked on such DreamWorks films as The Prince of Egypt and Shark Tale. He and Simon had made a student film together at Gobelins. Additionally Nico Marlet, who did design work on Dragons, also designed the characters in Fabrice's French Roast.
The first clip was the opening sequence introducing the characters and the dragons. The second showed the first meeting of Hiccup and Toothless and the last was an amazing bonding scene between the duo. The character animation in the final sequence had the filmmakers audibly reacting and wanting more.
Finally the tour took a quick tour of the 11-acre campus, which has recently expanded. As part of the expansion, the studio has gained a giant mo-cap stage. The new parking lot was such as big deal that Jeffrey Katzenberg had Hans Zimmer perform an orchestra concert on the roof upon its opening.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.
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