In 1994, three media moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen got together and decided to create a new Hollywood studio they named DreamWorks Studios (the initials of the three founders make up the SKG you see at the bottom of the logo), and the rest is animation history.
Twenty years, thirty animated features, nine Academy Award nominations and two wins for Best Animated Feature later, DreamWorks has become the largest animation studio in the world.
To help celebrate the studio's twenty years of visionary filmmaking and amazing animations, Ramin Zahed - in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation and Abrams Books - crafted the definitive visual chronicle of the studio's history titled The Art of DreamWorks Animation. The book covers concept art, preproduction designs, and characters sketches - many of which have never before been published - from the studio's first animated feature Antz (1998) to its latest film Home (2014).
The Art of DreamWorks Animation has over 300 color ilustrations, covering the many diverse styles of the studio. From hand-drawn cel animation of The Prince of Egypt to claymation in Chicken Run and (my favorite) Wallace & Gromit, along with computer animation of Shark Tale and How to Train Your Dragon. Alongside the gorgeous pictures are insights, insider perspectives, and running commentary from the artists and directors of the films.
Abrams Books has kindly provided Neatorama with an excerpt of 15 gorgeous artwork - and a free copy of The Art of DreamWorks Animation that you can win (see below for details). Enjoy!
"Tim Johnson and I were first-time feature filmmakers on Antz. In some ways it made us insecure and vulnerable; but it also made us really creative and inventive. You always need to have a great story that you could describe in a sentence or two that can bring a smile to people's faces. For Antz, it was this: What if you had a colony of ants where everybody was the same, except there's this one ant who wants to be different - and what is that ant was Woody Allen? People immediately get the concept and potential of the film." - Eric Darnell, Director
"We had gone down different roads with Shrek for a while, and the project was struggling tonally. Shrek wants to be a knight, or he is a nobleman in an ugly body. He is ugly and mean and wants a heart. All these directions felt very typical. We were at a point where we were wondering whether to continue with the movie or not. One day after a particularly tough screening the directors came in and sat the whole storyboard team down and we brainstormed the opening. Together we came up with the idea of taking fairy-tale characters to Shrek's swamp. So we started riffing on ways to make fun of these old fairy tales. A lot of those gags were put in. Those gags seemed to define the tone of the movie and launched us in a new direction." - Conrad Vernon, Story Artist
"The production design of Madagascar was based on a mash-up of the cartons of the 1950s and '60s, Golden Books from that era, and the jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau. The design rules that came out of the '60s informed our characters and their world. The pushed proportions and squash and stretch in the animation style came from the cartoons, and the naive, landscaped garden jungle style came from Rousseau. The contemporary translation of these ideas came from the imaginations of our character designer and art team." - Kendal Cronkhite, Production Designer
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
"Everyone responds to the classic double act of a man and his dog. We realize that Gromit is much smarter than Wallace. It's a situation that is eternally humorous. Gromit is also silent, and that appeals to people in every language. It allows viewers this great way to see the world through Gromit's eyes." - Steve Box, Director
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
"We weren't able to go to China for the first Kung Fu Panda movie, but fortunately, we got to visit between the two movies for the first time and do hands-on research. When people found out who we were, we would be mobbed on the streets, and they were amazed by the fact that a group of artists in Glendale, California, had captured the art, the spirit, and all the details fo their culture in an animated movie. They were struck by things that you wouldn't notice in a million years - like the color of the jade on a scroll. They'd say, 'The color of the jade is exactly right.' It's so interesting how those little details shape someone's perception of your work." - Melissa Cobb, Producer
Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
"Monsters vs. Aliens is at its heart a very silly movie about what were, at heart, very silly movies. The design of the film pays homage to the golden age of B-movies with irreverence and affection. The whole production felt a bit like we were all reading Mad Magazine by flashlight after lights out. Monsters was also the first film that we made entirely with stereographic virtual filmmaking, which proved to be a huge learning experience for all of us. One of the most spectacular stereo moments in the film takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge as Ginormica and the other monsters battle a 450-foot-tall robot and in the process manage to destroy the middle section of the bridge. We actually chartered a helicopter so we could photograph the entire structure to help us more convincingly demolish it. I live in the Bay Area and every time I cross the bridge I still get a little nervous on that one section." David James, Production Designer
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
"How to Train Your Dragon was a movei about Vikings and dragons - and all of the energy, vitality, and drama that comes when you mix the two. It was essential that we create artwork that had the kind of Viking spirit and bravado appropriate to the story, so we brought in our art director Pierre Olivier Vincent, and set him to work. The environments in the film portrayed the dynamic eruptions of a volcanic land, characteristics to the Northern European geography, but stylized to give them a unique flair. The buildings were designed as if they'd been constructed with machismo, an ax, and some logs. The character design by Nicholas Marlet added whimsy, individuality, and style to both the Vikings and dragons. The weather and lighting were dramatic, enhanced by the cinematic eye of Roger Deakins." - Kathy Altieri, Production Designer
"Megamind was a great change of pace and lots of fun for me, because in Madagascar, we really didn't have a strong villain, and I have a passion for villains. This movie had a great supervillain, and I grew up on the superhero genre. It was really fun to get inside the mind of a villain, and the tone of the movie was slightly different from Madagascar, since we were speaking to a slightly older audience and playing with tropes of the superhero genre. In this world, we needed to believe that characters would get hurt if they fell off buildings, so the tone needed to be less cartoony. When you have cartoon physics in your work, it's like Bugs Bunny's world: You know your characters aren't going to get hurt even if they have anvils thrown on their heads. Here we created an environment where there was real risk involved just like the real world. Our hero had to be vulnerable: The audience had to feel that he might get hurt or killed at some point." - Tom McGrath, Director
The Croods (2013)
"Had we anchored the movie to a world like 10,000 B.C. where you had straight-up mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, we'd have lost any of the whimsy that you want for an animated feature, especially tone that involves people seeing things for the first time. We wanted our audience and the characters to be seeing things for the first time together. In our vision, it's like 'Oh, look here are some cute birds, oh man, wait, they're not cute birds.' I think that's what kept the audience involved in it." - Kirk DeMicco, Director
"The anatomy of our snails proved to be challenging. Because they don't have shoulders, hands, eyebrows, or noses - things we normally use to communicate character performance with the audience - we were forced to emphasize other attributes. We had to really micro-shape the eyelids, smush the eyeballs together and bring the eyes closer to their heads, push the mouth higher on the head - we had to really create their faces." - David Burgess, Head of Character Animation
"Turbo was different from most movies I'd worked on because it didn't involve completely imagined environments or faraway fantastic lands. It has a very real, contemporary backdrop - Van Nuys, Studio City, the 134 Freeway, the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, places that feel extremely familiar - which we had to make look as spectacular as possible. We traveled to Indianapolis, and we looked at the L.A. River, which is about 150 feet from our studio. I ate at every taco truck and taco stand in L.A. It's funny because as artists we are used to looking at books and Internet images, but for this all we had to do was really observe our commutes to work and look at things that you try to ignore during the course of your day - the highway overpasses, the power lines, the street corners and railroad tracks. We had to go there, photograph, study, and draw them, and rediscover what is beautiful about all the things we often see as white noise." - Michael Isaak, Production Designer
Founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, DreamWorks Animation instantly became a world-renowned animation studio with blockbuster franchises including Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda.
Though its earliest films, such as The Prince of Egypt, feature traditional hand-drawn cel animation, DreamWorks soon forayed into claymation with Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, and pioneered advanced computer animation with films such as Antz, Shark Tale, and How to Train Your Dragon.
Brimming with concept art, preproduction designs, and character sketches, DreamWorks Animation marks the studio’s 20th anniversary and offers unprecedented behind-the-scenes access into its archives. An introduction by DreamWorks cofounder Katzenberg provides insider perspective on the studio’s most popular films, as does running commentary from artists and directors on all of DreamWorks’ 30 films to date.
About the Author
Ramin Zahed is the editor-in-chief of Animation Magazine and has been covering the animation and visual-effects world for more than 20 years. Previously he was a senior editor at Variety. He is also the author of The Art of Rise of the Guardians and The Art of Puss In Boots. He lives in Los Angeles.
All images courtesy of DreamWorks Animation.
Win a copy of The Art of DreamWorks Animation and a free Neatorama shirt!
Our pals over at Abrams Books have kindly provided us with one copy of the gorgeous book for you to win and we're throwing in a NeatoShop shirt to sweeten the deal (we even have a few inspired by DreamWorks films like this cute How to Train Your Baby Dragon design). Here's how to enter the contest:
All entries must be submitted by 11:59 PM PST on Sunday, April 27. We'll pick one random winner from all participants and notify them on the post and through their messages (so keep an eye on your Facebook spam folder for a message from Jill). If the winner does not get back to us within a week, we reserve the right to select an alternate winner.