Designing Big Dreams

To celebrate DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition, we invited established and emerging animators to submit their work to DreamWorks Animation for our Designing Dreams Studio program.

Aside from invitations to all of our opening week events, the successful applicants also had the chance to learn directly from DWA’s animators.

Below they’ve shared with us their experiences working with the DWA team and what they learned during the opening week.

DreamWorks Animation Special FX Supervisor Doug Cooper signing an exhibition catalogue.

DreamWorks Animation Special FX Supervisor Doug Cooper signing an exhibition catalogue.

Andrew Bowler

As a successful applicant of ACMI’s Designing Dreams Studio I was lucky enough to suit up and attend the opening night of the DreamWorks Animation exhibition (which involved walking the red carpet through the legs of a massive Melman the giraffe statue). It was packed inside as we mingled and ate fancy food while big boss man Jeffrey Katzenberg officially opened the exhibition. Walking downstairs into the exhibition space felt like sneaking behind the scenes of DreamWorks Animation.

Filled with heaps of amazing concept art, character sculptures, storyboards, highly detailed environment designs and models, the exhibition was a great source of inspiration and motivation, as it showcases all the stuff that I love and hope to be a part of one day. In the middle of the gallery lies a big 180-degrees point of view animation which simulates flying around the Isle of Berk. I’ll have to go back again and go through everything slowly!

It was great seeing Nico Marlet’s work up close, but also all the early scribbles with lines going everywhere, as that’s something that I can relate to. Looking at his designs also made me reflect on my own work and process of creating animation, as the animators go through the same steps, but of course in much greater detail and on a larger scale. It was cool to see all that and then hear the actual creators talk about those processes and more at the Inside the Studio talk. It really made me want to get creating!

Friday was the day of the Masterclass which was pretty cool, as the different creatives from DreamWorks stepped through what they do in detail, giving us an insight into the films with handy tips along the way. It was interesting to see the amount of work and research, with constant refinement, that is needed until everything really feels right and works for that particular story and theme.

For Christophe Lautrette (DreamWorks Animation Production Designer), the theme for a film is the key when approaching his work. He believes everything should always relate back to the core theme of the film and influence its characters and environments.

The highlight of the day was meeting the DreamWorks crew up close, geeking-out and talking animation over breakfast. It was great chatting with Jason Schleifer (Head of Character Animation) about cartoony animation and how they animate at the studio, and to get some advice on planning out a scene. A big part of the experience was seeing how the creators collaborate together, and all the time and energy they put into it (even just for their own challenge) to make something awesome and everyone happy. It really makes me want to be involved in something like that, and by checking out the exhibition and going to the talks and Masterclass, it’s helped me in figure out in which way.

Production Designer Christophe Lautrette puts pen to paper.

Production Designer Christophe Lautrette puts pen to paper.

Fi Dalwood

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to animation, but the painstaking and laborious process feels like coming home to me. Making things move on screen is the culmination of many years of creative output, exploring different media and techniques, and finding ways to communicate an idea through story and character, colour and form, and timing. By the time an idea trickles out of my brain and onto the screen, I have a truckload of drawings, documents, post-it-notes, blobby sculptures, stanley-knife scars, glue-gun burns and a whole cast of new friends in the form of puppets and characters who inhabit my house and become part of my family.

The DreamWorks exhibition has opened my eyes to the sheer volume of creative material that’s generated when hundreds of people mind-meld to give birth to an animated feature film. Every item in the exhibition is an artwork unto itself, a tiny fragment that contains the DNA of the film it belongs to, and also the artist who created it. And every single part of it is a necessary atom in the structure of the film. Walking through the show inspired me with new ways of searching for ideas, from the intuitive feel of the colour scripts to the lovingly sculpted baobab trees. Hearing the head creatives discuss their development process felt like hearing parents agonise over which school to send their kids. Their passion and commitment was infectious.

Meeting the team behind these inconceivably large projects has given me the courage to dream large. Every film starts with a single idea and evolves into a brand new beast, nurtured on the way by passionate people who are hardwired to innovate. I feel inspired to bite off way more than I can chew and see what happens.

The Designing Dreams group with the DreamWorks Animation team.

The Designing Dreams group with the DreamWorks Animation team.

David Blumenstein

I was very surprised to get the call telling me I got into the Designing Dreams Studio because I’m not a 3D animator and I have no youthful exuberance. Nevertheless, I did!

I went to all the talks during the week. Virginia Trioli’s chat with Bill Damaschke was pretty interesting. From this, and from the later talk with him and the DreamWorks creatives, I got the impression that he was an exec with a strong creative sense, which is possibly a rarity and definitely an asset.

The talk with DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg was notable for the bit where host/ad-man Russel Howcroft spent a lot of time at the outset talking about DreamWorks’ “brand”. Later, he compared Shrek with Mickey Mouse, physically injuring some animators in the audience.

Great to hear from the extraordinary talents DreamWorks sent over. The workshop day was full of interesting tidbits. I was particularly interested in what they had to say about the mechanics of a large-scale animation production.

The exhibition is pretty great whether you’re a DreamWorks tragic or not. My favourite bits are the story artist pitch demonstration and the Dragon Flight (which is so immersive it almost made me fall over).

The exhibition’s star-studded opening night was fun. It was a special occasion, so I wore a small cape I stole from my wife. I was pleased to meet Oscar-winning animator Adam Elliot for exactly twenty-five seconds (he moves so fast, this is kind of like a half-hour sit-down with a normal person).

I also met my Studio-mates – a very talented group – and Oscar-nominated animator Anthony Lucas, who will shepherd us through the DreamWorks-y silliness to come. This was all very cool and I look forward to whatever happens next!

David Blumenstein's sketch of DWA Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke and journalist, author, broadcaster and presenter  Virginia Trioli.

David Blumenstein’s sketch of DWA Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke and journalist, author, broadcaster and presenter Virginia Trioli.

Nirali Somaia

Being part of ACMI/DreamWorks’ Designing Dreams Studio has been a wonderful experience so far and the events during the week were amazing. The Opening Night for DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition was fantastic, as we were able to explore the exhibition and meet many industry professionals from both DreamWorks Animation and the Australian film/animation industry.

The highlight of my week was having the opportunity to have breakfast with the DreamWorks artists who had come from LA – Kendal Cronkhite, Jason Schleifer, Christophe Lautrette, and Doug Cooper. It was wonderful to be able to meet and learn from these amazing professionals in such an intimate setting. We talked about many things during the breakfast, but one of the most memorable moments for me was when we were discussing stop-motion – I began to talk about how I had never been very good at stop-motion because I’m not very good with my hands. Jason Schleifer asked, “How so?” I was just about to explain, when my hand knocked the (luckily empty) breakfast plate sitting in front of me – the plate jumped up and landed with a loud bang. The timing was uncanny, and we all laughed!

The Masterclass and evening talks were also an incredible learning opportunity. It was fantastic to be able to hear the experiences of such inspirational people. One of the things I found particularly interesting was learning about the colour theory behind the Kung Fu Panda movies. I never realised exactly how much of an impact colour can have both obviously and subliminally. During the week I was also able to briefly meet and talk to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bill Damaschke, and meeting these astoundingly inspiring visionaries was just incredible.

I’m looking forward to applying all I have learned to the rest of the Designing Dreams Studio program. I would really like to thank DreamWorks Animation and ACMI for providing us with this fantastic and rare opportunity – it is one I will never forget!

Relive some of the opening week awesomeness with our video of  DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg’s In Conversation event.

Learn more about the successful Designing Dreams Studio applicants.

DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition runs from Thursday 10 April – Sunday 5 October 2014. 

Check out the full program of events and don’t forget to visit our ACMI DreamWorks Online Hub for exclusive behind-the-scenes videos, concept art, articles and insight into the world’s largest animation studio.

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