Computer Is Biggest

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-08-01 Print this article Print

Creative Tool"> "When we ran into rendering issues, we just looked at the ways we could solve them, using our hardware, software and on the production side," Gluckman said. "Once it became clear there was such a problem, we brought the production and technology sides together to brainstorm around this. It took us just a few months at most to develop a fix for this."

Rex Grignon, the head of character animation for DreamWorks Animation, told eWEEK in an interview that technological advances made over the past five years enabled a movie such as "Madagascar" to be made, saying the computer has become the tool through which all creative ideas are now expressed.

"Our desktop machines have benefited from the surge in available memory, and that allows us to now deal with those elements that were previously very complex far more easily at the desktop level," Grignon said. "We need to have access to a huge amount of data, and our software had to facilitate that."

DreamWorks E-motion operating system, developed in-house, is continually updated and expanded to meet both shorter-term and long-term technical needs. Grignon said that having its own internally developed software has often been debated at the studio but that, for him, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

"One of the best things about this is that I can talk to the people who wrote the actual software, explain to them my specific needs or problems, and know that they will start working on that immediately," Grignon said.

In addition, DreamWorks and its staff maintain complete control over that software, its legacy, and its development and architecture going forward, Grignon said. On the downside is the huge cost of maintaining the software, which has been continually developed for more than 20 years.

Another challenge with "Madagascar" was that it uses a stylized movement technique, where characters do not look like real animals and thus do not have to move like real characters. The animators still wanted any movement to be realistic for that animal form. In that quest, the animators have access to a mirrored room where they can act out possible moves. This lets them see how the moves look and how different body parts correspond when those movements are made, before they actually create these poses for the characters.

In addition, the stylized "squash and stretch" animation technique used had to be programmed in its own sophisticated, script-based language, which could take days to weeks, depending on the detail and complexity of the image being created.

While this technique had not been used before in a modern animated movie, Gluckman said he wanted to re-create the technique, as it gave the artists and animators as much freedom as possible, including the extreme definitions and the ability to squash and stretch out the characters.

"You cannot imagine the sheer complexity of these images," Gluckman said. "We had to find strategies to manage the jungle [a major element of the film], not only for the rendering of final frames but also to give our staff access to all this data."

When asked what they plan to do next, a common response from those who worked on "Madagascar" was to "take a long vacation." But, given that as one movie is completed, another is already in development, they acknowledged there will not be much downtime.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on image editing and Web publishing tools.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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