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Day One: ILM's Big Rock Ranch and PDI/Dreamworks

Day One of the 2010 AWN Oscar Tour begins at PDI/Dreamworks and continues on to ILM's Big Rock Ranch.

By Tara Beyhm-Berger

Day One of the Whirlwind Oscar Tour Northern California Leg begins!

I met Ron Diamond, Javier Gracia and Raul Garcia (the director and one of the producers of The Lady and the Reaper for breakfast) at a Hotel near SFO.  Javier just flew in from Spain, although he barely looked affected by his journey.  We all jumped in the rented minivan to head down to PDI/Dreamworks in Redwood City-our adventure begins!!  

We arrived a little early for our screening and scheduled tour so we killed some time in the lobby.

Another Kung Fu Panda Knockout - Javier Recio Gracia gets a faceful!

Javier accepting Dreamworks' first animated feature Oscar


After Ron introduced the films we took a tour of the studio.  We weren’t allowed to take any pictures (you are going to read this a lot I’m guessing), which is disappointing, but understandable. Armando and Carlos (a story artist and a modeler at PDI) take us on a tour of where the magic happens. Two features, Madagascar 3 and MegaMind are currently in production. We got to see a lot of the artwork for Megamind (being released in Nov 2010), which has recently been renamed, so a lot of the posters and artwork are still titled “OoberMind.”  There were a bunch of huge 8 foot panels on the walls and stacked on the floor called sequence panels.  Each sequence pictured every prop needed for that sequence.  When a prop is no longer used it remains on the board but folded in half - I think there’s a whole legal process for this. These are the kinds of pipeline details we have the privilege of seeing (it helps to hangout with Oscar noms!) We passed by a conference room where some of the lighting artists were celebrating the completion of the MegaMind trailer, so be on the look out!

Day One: PDI/Dreamworks

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing a huge conference room that has an entire wall devoted to video conferencing.  The Dreamworks Glendale studio has the same exact room, so it looks as though you are looking across at someone sitting in the same room at the same table as you – it’s amazing! PDI developed this technology.

We had a great lunch with some of the top story artists from Madagascar 3 and MegaMind. Javier and Raul really found the conversations about production pipeline interesting and reassuring to know their small studio implements some of the same procedures as this huge company - Dreamworks just does it on a much larger scale - video clips from lunch coming soon! We had to rush out after lunch to drop off film prints at ILM, pick up Ricky Posner (one of the Executive producers of The Lady and the Reaper) then make our 4:30 screening at Lucas’ Big Rock Ranch.

The Screening at Big Rock went really well. We got a behind the scenes tour of the studio. This time the no photo thing REALLY stung. First of all, when you walk into the lobby of Big Rock, hanging over the mantel is a huge Gustav Klimt.  It has the presence of being genuine but the employees at the ranch said it’s not real, Raul and I aren’t convinced. Then, once you enter the Lucas Arts, where Clone Wars happens, there’s about a million maquettes of every Star Wars character ever created, plus lots of vintage Kenner action figures.  I had three cameras in my purse and I couldn’t pose with any of this stuff! I know Javier felt the same way, saying that his friends back in Spain wouldn’t believe where he was! 

AWN Blogger Tara Beyhm-Berger, Enrique Posner, Javier Recio Gracia after the screening at Big Rock

We got to meet with a lot of the creative team that puts together the animated television series. It’s a beautiful building - Story Artist Spyros Tsiounis took us in the story room, which overlooks a man-made lake, he reassured me they never forget to look out the windows during the day. Spyros who has story credits from, Kung Fu Panda, Flushed Away and Coraline to name a few, sits down with us and pitches a film he’s working on outside Lucas. He says that Lucas is one of the few Studios that lets its people work on projects outside the company, (way to go, GL!) The short film is titled Them Greeks and it’s a really exciting project because he is collaborating with artists from all over the world! After he shows us the animatic - complete with acting out sound effects and character voices, he shows us how he file shares using Google Wave and other software. It’s an inspired project that requires a lot of version tracking and file management, but the film is the first of its kind. Spyros says there is less miscommunication between an artist half way around the world then between the 2nd and 3rd floor of this building for example. Because there is only a small window of opportunity to Skype about the project one needs to be very clear about the details, unlike when you bump into a coworker in the hallway, where communication is very casual.

With that we leave Big Rock. It’s been a jam-packed day, but something tells me this is mild to what we are about to experience. I heard Ron saying that by the time these guys show up to the Oscars they are going to be within an inch of their lives, or maybe something not quite as dramatic. 

Dan Sarto's picture

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