Podcast: ‘Films more advanced than planes’ – inside DreamWorks

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DreamWorks animated movies delight audiences of all ages across the globe. But behind the cartoons is the most innovative technologies. Hear from Kate Swanborg, SVP of Technology Communications at DreamWorks Animation, about how these magical films are made.

“The technology and engineering organisation at DreamWorks is one of the most inspirational, incredible and innovative organisations on the planet.”

Strong sentiments. But why would Kate emphasise the technological capabilities of the animation studio to this level? After all, they just make kids movies. But, as she explained, magic doesn’t come from nowhere. It is made possible by the advanced digital image rendering and data processing solutions.

The numbers behind a DreamWorks production

With beloved franchises including Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and The Boss Baby, the animation studios’ movies and TV series are known all over the world. But Kate wanted to offer some data to show the work that goes into each moment of DreamWorks magic:

  • One of DreamWorks CG animated movies can take up to four years to make.
  • Each 90-minute film will include 100,000 storyboard images to help with development.
  • These storyboarded images are digitally processed, with up to 300 million hours of computation required to realise these images.
  • These designed images typically create an immense 500 million data files – per film.
  • DreamWorks will typically be in production of 10 films at any one time.
  • 10 films at 500 million files per film means there are around 5 billion files active on DreamWorks cloud production platform. And any DreamWorks artist or engineer can access any of this data from any film project, anywhere and at any time.

Blending technology with magic

Kate said that under the ownership of NBCUniversal, DreamWorks has expanded its artistry and engineering teams — as well as gained access to the latest animation technology — to increase the studio’s output, “when we started, we had the ambition to release one film every three years. Now, there are at least three DreamWorks Animation films produced per year.”

This increased number of films has done nothing to take away from the quality of DreamWorks’ product. Its films are still celebrated by critics and audiences alike with every new release, telling captivating stories that take viewers to unique and beautiful times and places. But, as Kate said, this magic is made possible with very real technology.

“Here’s the secret. We make movies that we hope everyone will love … but under the hood, DreamWorks is a digital manufacturer. We make data … our feature films are infused with more technology than the planes that got us here,” she said.

Upcoming DreamWorks movies include a second Puss in Boots film (a spinoff from the Shrek franchise) and Trolls 3. Whatever the project, however, you can be sure that the animation studio will continue to position themselves at the cutting edge of technology to ensure their films hold on to the magic that makes DreamWorks a household name.

Check out this incredible new episode of 🎙️ The Next Stage 🎙️ podcast. If you’re inspired by this episode, you shouldn’t miss out on Web Summit in Lisbon this November. You can even grab 2 for 1 tickets to the event if you sign up before May 19!

Main image of Kate Swanborg, SVP of Technology Communications at DreamWorks Animation, on Centre Stage at Web Summit 2021: Eóin Noonan/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

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