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Oscar Tour NoCal: PDI/DreamWorks

PDI/DreamWorks was a major stop on the NoCal leg of the 2012 Oscar Showcase tour and it did not disappoint.

(From left to right, top row) Carol Frank, Ron Diamond, Lampton Enochs, William Joyce and Marc Bertrand. (From left to right, bottom row) Patrick Doyon, Brandon Oldenburg and Bonnie Thompson, outside PDI/DreamWorks.

By Lauren Brown

This morning we visited PDI/Dreamworks in Redwood City. Victor Fusté, our host, greeted us at the entrance. Victor currently works in the pre-visual development training department. The lobby area of PDI had a life-size model of our favorite Kung Fu master, Po the panda, and it was a big attraction for a couple of the filmmakers. Patrick Doyon, Marc Bertrand, and Bonnie Thompson took pictures with the life-size Po. Bonnie Thompson said “it was a must” in order to impress her grandkids.

We started out the tour on the lighting and effects floor, but were not allowed to venture off too far. Some of the departments were under wraps because they are currently working on secret projects. We were able to see displays on every floor of various awesome things. There were maquettes of characters like Gloria from Madagascar, a diagram of how the DreamWorks pipeline works and a number of models. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg checked out the model of the fairy tale castle from Shrek 3. Brandon said, “I love seeing the maquettes and models… anything visual is always great to see because we get so immersed in technology in our jobs.”

Patrick Doyon spars with Po.

The next floor was the Animation floor. The animators have little work areas that look like hobbit bungalows. The work areas are made up of desks, computers, some have couches and some areas are decorated with action figures. The halls were lined with visual development work and caricatures of the animators that work in the department. It is a pretty amazing place. I would love to be able to work in a comfortable environment like this.

Brandon Oldenburg said he thought the visit to PDI was really cool. He was glad to see old friends and wished he could see more of what people were working on. Lampton Enochs said he thought it was a really neat place. His studio, Moonbot, has 35 people and he said it was funny to think about comparing themselves to PDI because Moonbot is so much smaller. PDI has over 600 employees, so Moonbot has some room to grow.

We go to see a display of the new PDI building being built not for from the current building. The new facility will be in the same complex they are in now, with a move scheduled for June of this year. They have a live video display from the construction site – pretty nifty.  They will be shutting down each department and moving them individually. It seems like quite an ambitious endeavor to move 600 people. I definitely would not want to be in charge of that project.   

A model of fairy tale castle from Shrek 3.

The screening at PDI had a good turnout. As usual, the filmmakers gathered at the end to answer questions. One person asked about the technique used in Wild Life. Bonnie Thompson talked about the long and exacting production process. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby took their time experimenting with different styles and finally settled on a technique of painting with gouache. Brandon Oldenburg added, “The texture is built up and that is part of the beauty of the technique they used.”  Patrick Doyon of Dimanche/Sunday was asked if his film was based on childhood memories. He said that, yes, they were made up of his memories, but in reality his memories were “more boring.” He told the audience about having to visit two grandmother’s houses on Sundays and mentioned that it was “twice as boring.” This brought a laugh from the crowd.

(From left to right) Ron Diamond, William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg, Lampton Enochs, Patrick Doyon, Marc Bertrand and Bonnie Thompson field questions at the PDI/DreamWorks screening.

(From left to right) Ron Diamond, William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg, Lampton Enochs, Patrick Doyon, Marc Bertrand and Bonnie Thompson field questions at the PDI/DreamWorks screening.

A follow up question was asked, “What was the motivation behind the sound used in the film?” Marc Betrand, the film’s producer, said that Luigi Allemano, a musician was also an animator, handled the sound after the film was finished. Doyon really wanted to isolate the kid, so there was no dialogue. He wanted the character to look bored and isolated by the adults. There are muffed voices and tones in the film because he wanted to achieve the lonely atmosphere the kid feels. I really felt that came across in the film. It reminded me of when I used to visit my Grandmother by myself and there were no children there to play with.  I remembered being extremely bored. I usually just sat staring at the walls and bookcases. Another audience member said that it reminded him of his visits to his grandmother’s house and that he used to flatten pennies at the train tracks like the boy in the film.

With the screening finished, we went to lunch. Long time PDI employee Rex Grignon joined us. He mentioned how great it was for the films to come to PDI and that the employees could watch them on a large screen. Francesco Giroldini, a lighter and Brandon Carroll, a previs artist, joined Brandon and William for lunch. They knew each other from Ringling, a school in Florida, and took the time to catch up. Bonnie Thompson and Marc Bertrand spoke to Randy Nelson about his pre-training programs at all the DreamWorks studios. Randy was discussing different techniques of how to motivate people. They said they found it fascinating and very useful.

Lunch at PDI/DreamWorks.

(Clockwise from the top left) Brandon Oldenburg, William Joyce, Francesco Giroldini and Branden Carroll. Francesco Giroldini is a lighter at PDI, Branden Carroll works in previs.

Bonnie said that visiting PDI was a great experience.  She was amazed by all the projects and activities that were going on there. The tour at PDI was really enlightening and we all enjoyed it very much. 

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.