A month ago, What the Flicka? sent me on an incredible adventure to the DreamWorks Animation Campus for a prescreening of the upcoming film Mr. Peabody and Sherman, (you can read about the movie here,) which included a chance to learn, straight from the animators themselves, how an animated film comes together.
Let me tell you, I will never look at an animated movie the same way again. Here’s a recap of the five most fascinating things I discovered about digital animation at DreamWorks.
1. It takes a full work week for one animator to produce 3-5 seconds of animation. That’s right, seconds. This means it takes years for a completed film to come together. I don’t know about you, but I thought that the digitalization of animation meant things were quick and easy, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
2. Digital animation is not a one-stop shop. There are numerous departments within DreamWorks that deal with things like lighting, special effects, characters, story-telling, and more. Animation, like Shrek’s personality, is an onion, with many layers that all come together to create one exciting movie. According to DreamWorks animator David James, there are hundreds of animators working across different departments, just for one film.
3. Animated movies like Mr. Peabody and Sherman require a lot of factual detail, like how a body moves, or how a mouth changes shape while speaking. Jason Schleifer, animator for DreamWorks, told me that they rely on linguists to guide the artists on how a mouth should look when saying letters like “t” or “d,” and that the actors doing the voice work have to record their lines before animation begins, so animators can frame the characters’ movement around the words. They also rely on something called “video reference.” In a video reference, animators record themselves on film, acting out segments of the movie script, without speaking, kind of like pantomime. This is so they have another indicator for how each character should move his or her face and body throughout the movie. Many times characters are depicted in a very similar fashion to how they were portrayed in the video reference clip.
4. Animated movie scripts continually change during the creation of a film. Animation is limited to available technology, which means, sometimes, certain plot lines have to adjust because they just don’t work or look right on screen. Because of this, the end result is almost always completely different from the beginning movie script. As Walt Dorhn, head of story with DreamWorks Animation said, “Making an animated film is an organic process.” He shared that while Mr. Peabody and Sherman features several key moments in history, there were dozens of other time periods that were not only considered, but drawn and read-for by the actors, before they were scrapped. Imagine getting a look at all the clips of animated film that didn’t make it in the final cut. I’m guessing they are equally entertaining!
5. Animators love what they do. I left the DreamWorks Animation Campus with a renewed respect and admiration for the men and women who spend their careers creating these beautifully animated films. They are passionate, kind, humble, talented and incredibly intelligent people who repeatedly stated that they don’t even consider what they do as “work” because they have so much fun. I went home and spent the next week trying to convince my sons that they should be animators for DreamWorks, too. I’m still working on that angle.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman comes to theaters March 7th, and it’s a film that you don’t want to miss. Oh, there’s one more thing I wanted to share. Be on the look-out for what animators call “Easter eggs.” These are hidden animations that have nothing to do with the movie, and are merely for fun. Animators love to hide these little gems in their movies and see if attentive viewers, like you, can find them. I caught a few, will you?
Don’t forget to enter our giveaway! Click here to enter to win a prize pack for four including adorable Mr. Peabody-esque 3-D glasses, matching bow-ties, and a $50 Fandango gift card. Hurry though, time is running out.
Make sure to also check out the official trailer for Mr. Peabody and Sherman, below!