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Picture Mill Takes a Bow for Dreamgirls Main Titles

Hollywood design studio Picture Mill created a colorful, high-voltage, show-stopping, curtain call for the main title sequence of DREAMGIRLS, nominated for eight Oscars, from Paramount/DreamWorks. The concept was to celebrate the performances of stars and supporting cast, much like the rising curtain at the end of a Broadway musical.

As Picture Mills creative director William Lebeda says, [Director] Bill Condon wanted the sequence to be a real celebration of the cast and give the performers the same opportunity for a curtain call that stage performers receive. For the audience, it was a chance to go crazy at how terrific Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy were, without having to restrain themselves and sit quietly in their seats.

The project came to Picture Mill through Dreamgirls editor, Virginia Katz, A.C.E. (KINSEY, GODS AND MONSTERS). Katz had worked with the company on Jet Lis FEARLESS in 2006 and that experience left little doubt in Katzs mind that Picture Mill could handle the assignment. Picture Mill came in with an incredible presentation, Katz enthused. They had thought it out, totally understood Bill Condons curtain call concept and what he wanted to do with color and music, and they came in with all these terrific ideas. Not only that, they came on board at a time when we were starting to have screenings and they had to turn things around for us very quickly. For every screening, they had to turn over a cut that wasnt completely final, but always worked beautifully from start to finish.

Bill Condon had a very specific idea about that transition out of the last scene of the movie and into the titles, added Picture Mill art director David Clayton. His idea was to end the movie with the title song; then begin the end sequence with a driving instrumental version of one of the show stoppers, I love you, I do underneath the picture as the title lets loose with a sequence of almost blinding kinetics.

To facilitate the transition, Picture Mill created a deep 3D background animation of soft-focus circular shapes that floated through the screen throughout the titles. Clayton explained, For one of our original tests, we bought some sequins and shot them right here in our bathroom, in the dark with a flashlight. Bill loved the texture and the circular blurs, so for the final, our 3D people came up with a number of textures and elements of all sizes that we animated together and racked focus in and out to push the depth. It became a backplate for the entire piece.

Katz and her editorial team supplied Picture Mill with a large reel of select takes for each actor, along with additional wild clips from the movie. To show as many looks as possible of each actor as quickly as possible, a design decision was made to use double and triple-split screens that slid in and out of frame. Clayton said that all the split-screen animation was done within Final Cuts motion keyframer. This allowed our editor, Kye Krauter, to work very quickly and focus on the creative side of the edit, instead of having to export shots in and out of another program. For each characters ID shots, we used garbage mattes and some light compositing within Final Cut to achieve just the right look.

But it didnt stop with the performers. After numerous tests, Condon asked Picture Mill to expand the concept to include many of the key below-the-line players on the production, including director of photography Tobias Schliessler, costume designer Sharen Davis, editor Katz, production designer John Myrhe and choreographer Fatima Robinson. Each discipline required acquiring elements such as costume sketches, production art and conceptual designs that were then intercut with the final shots from the movie so that the audience could see the transitions going from idea to reality.

What we thought was going to be a very simple, short sequence ended up going over four-and-a-half minutes, said Lebeda. But since the art matched the shots so well, it proved to be very effectiveDREAMGIRLS is a stunning piece of cinema, and we were proud to be a part of it.

Picture Mill credits include:

* Creative director: William Lebeda* Exec producer: Ty Van Huisen* Producer: Ryan Mosley* Art director: David Clayton* Designer: Grant Nellessen* 3D animator: Bryan Thombs* 2D animation/compositing: Josh Novak* Additional 2D animators: Chad Bonanno, Akemi Abe* Editor: Kye Krauter

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