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DreamWorks Turns Magic into Reality

By Sadie Smith


I’ll never forget the iconic opening to DreamWorks movies: a silhouette of a boy fishing while sitting on a crescent moon. Growing up, whenever I saw that animation and heard the calm, whimsical background music, I knew I would be watching a great animated film. Shrek, Trolls, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar, and The Croods are just a few of DreamWorks’s most successful movies. Each year, they continue to create crowd-pleasing hits.

DreamWorks films and characters have become icons, inspiring toys, theme park attractions, and countless other spinoffs. Have you ever wondered how some of your favorite DreamWorks movies are made, or how they invented and rendered your favorite characters? The complicated process will probably leave you even more impressed with these films.

DreamWorks’ very first film, The Prince of Egypt (1998), was made using traditional cel animation technology, which means that its scenes were hand-drawn. This process is slow-going and challenging because animators have to create a new drawing for each movement a character makes. Later, DreamWorks switched to computer animation, which uses advanced computer imaging, instead of individual drawings. This way, its artists are able to create footage more quickly so that they can review countless scenes and perfect their storylines and animation.

Shrek, one of DreamWorks’ most successful films, won the very first Oscar Award in the Animated Feature category. Its sequel, Shrek 2, was one of the most successful movies of 2004, making 919.8 million USD in the box office. Shrek and its follow-up movies, combined, have made DreamWorks over a billion dollars. This success, however, was not without its share of challenges and hard work.

Unlike live action movies, animated movies cannot rely on actors to bring a story to life. Instead they create images out of millions of pixels, which makes them magical, but also tiresome to create. The process begins when a director, screenwriter, or storyteller comes up with an idea, like showing the world from a bug’s perspective, for example Antz. Once they have their general idea, they create characters and develop descriptions and images of the characters. A team of screenwriters will create storylines, like Shrek saving Fiona from a tower, and dialogue for the characters, and directors will piece together storyboards to set the stage for action scenes and more. These animators take ideas and pixels and turn them into fantasy worlds, like in Rise of the Guardians.

Movies with complex storylines or high-tech scenes might have required 100,000 storyboards to create the final images of the film. And, when all is said and done, a DreamWorks animated movie will probably require about 270 billion pixels to create the beautiful images, characters, and fascinating stories we know and love. While the final films are typically under 2 hours long, the animation process often involves tens of millions of hours worth of footage.

DreamWorks animators truly take dreams of magical characters and turn them into reality.




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