The Oscar Showcase tour came to an end on Friday with a visit to DreamWorks. The filmmakers were clearly tired from their long week and a half, but their excitement hasn't wavered. Ron invited Academy board member Rick Farmiloe to join us for the day to experience the tour with the filmmakers. The day was a bit of a homecoming for Farmiloe, who served as a story artist on the original "Shrek." At Disney, he animated classic characters like Lefou in "Beauty and the Beast" and Abu in "Aladdin."
For the first time, the "This Way Up" filmmakers were able to join the tour. Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes have been busy though, spending much of the week meeting with execs around town on feature projects. Alan said they met with the Hensons, former Fox exec Chris Meledandri, and Sony's Hannah Minghella. Accompanying the famed commercials directors, their most recent work was seen during the Super Bowl — the Coca-Cola "Avatar" spot — were writer/producer Chris O'Reilly and producer Charlotte Bavasso, who I had met two nights prior at the AWN/Acme Filmworks party. She said the party at Ron's house was especially nice, because she was tired of restaurant after restaurant every night that she has been in L.A.
DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg introduced Ron to the standing room only crowd in the Campanile Theater on the DreamWorks lot. He said it was a great year for animation and that he was particular proud of the success of "Kung Fu Panda," as well as "Oktapodi" directors and DreamWorks India employees Julien Bocabeille and Thierry Marchand. Ron thanked the crowd for coming out and making the filmmakers, who came from all over the world, feel welcome.
During the screening, DreamWorks exec John Tarnoff took the filmmakers to get a hands on demonstration of the studio's newly developed virtual-set camera system, which like the system used at Sony on "Surf's Up," allows the filmmakers to layout shots in previs like a live-action photo shoot. The system can be scaled so that the camera can be used for helicopter shots and the like. The studio has also begun developing a game engine system that can light and provide effects in realtime over the previs animation allowing the filmmakers to get an even better idea of the shots and layout they are selecting. One surprise use the system is for location scouting. Modelers have been using the cameras to virtually walk through their sets and make sure their models are perfect from every angle. The system will get its big screen debut on "Monsters vs. Aliens," where the technology was used extensively in action sequences. Alan and Adam were quite envious, and hoped that one day systems like this one would be available on smaller houses.
The Q&A brought forth many of the same questions that were asked at the other screenings. John Tarnoff broke the ice asking what the most interesting question the filmmakers have been asked. Alan said the most annoying question was why did you use animation.
After lunch, the filmmakers were treated to 20 minutes of "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 3-D stereoscopic. Head of character animation Dave Burgess was asked if 3-D makes animating more difficult. He said that cheats that once were used no longer work, because the depth of field needs to be so precise. Alan asked if they have to spend more time on background characters that were previously no more than decoration. Dave said that their new crowd simulation software helps in this area, giving the crowds more life. Dave also revealed that they finished animation six weeks ago, and he is eagerly awaiting the first test screenings. He told me that it was nice to finally watch the footage with a group of people who haven't be entrenched in the process.
After the screening, the filmmakers broke up into smaller groups to accompany animators to their offices to get a look at what they are working on. I joined Rick Farmiloe, FX, and Konstantin in a visit to Kristof Serrand's office to see footage from "How to Train Your Dragon." We had the chance to see early animation test and scene work featuring the main character Hiccup and his dragon. Hiccup, his dragon and other characters' designs have changed over the course of the project and we saw the different stages as well. The most impressive peek was at one of the fully rendered characters. The hair work on the character's large bushy beard and long mustache was another step forward in realism. Konstantin was curious how much animation each animator is required to finish in a week. Kristof said the average is supposed to be four seconds, but it depends on what they are animating. For instance, this week he is doing simple reaction shots so he might get as much as 10 seconds done, while in weeks with heavy action shots he might only get two seconds done. As he was showing us some of the wonderful dragons, he pointed out that the snake-like movement of a long-necked two-headed dragon was particularly hard to animate. He made the observation that what was easy in 2D is tough in CG, and visa versa.