If you’ve ever found yourself gleefully watching films about green ogres, fun-loving zoo animals or a feisty feline bandit with a Spanish accent, you’ve experienced the work of the imaginative minds at DreamWorks Animation.
Now, the studio is bringing two decades of innovative legacy to USC with an exhibition titled “DreamWorlds: Behind the Scenes Production Art From DreamWorks Animation.” The exhibit is a glimpse at the artistry of DreamWorks’ extensive repertoire of animated features, including favorites such as Shrek, Antz and The Prince of Egypt.
“[The exhibit] really gives you a whole new insight for the level of imagination and creativity that goes into animation,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation at the opening reception for “DreamWorlds” on July 31. “I’m sitting here looking at art from Madagascar, and I remember very much the inspiration that created that movie.”
Now open to the public, this curated display boasts more than 100 digital prints and several original paintings from DreamWorks’ 24 animated features. From seeing a character sketch on a humble Post-it note to watching the end product projected on a large screen in all its colorful glory, “DreamWorlds” is a complete experience that takes viewers from inception to fulfillment in a walk around the exhibit.
Walking into the room, visitors will be awestruck by a towering eight-foot statue of Po from Kung Fu Panda, a promising sign of what lies ahead. The dimly lit gallery is decorated with every kind of detailed production art, from paintings and photos covering every wall to three-dimensional lifelike character statues propped up on pedestals around the room. The mood is further enhanced by the majestic, orchestral music, which plays from the nearby miniature movie theater, accompanying the walking tour. All this makes the exhibit the ideal space to observe and contemplate the inner workings of the animators’ creative minds.
The chronology of character development that adorns the gallery walls is one of many remarkable aspects of the exhibit. For example, visitors can see first-hand the metamorphosis of Shrek through meticulously sketched drafts, which transform into the lovable monster later translated into a successful movie franchise.
The presence of small, handwritten notes on some of the drawings also illustrates the studio’s incredible attention to detail. One sketch of Madagascar’s Marty the Zebra, for example, includes scribbled suggestions that ask the artist to darken his eyebrows and add an additional stripe to his backside. These serve as a reminder that animation is a collaborative effort and that it takes the hands and minds of many artists to create a single image.
Media stations are also available for visitors to observe the extensive development each feature undergoes before it hits theaters. A progression reel from the 2010 film How to Train Your Dragon details all the steps animators utilize, from basic movement to coloring and lighting. Character sculptures and miniature sets also demonstrate how animators visualize their fantasy worlds before setting them on the screen.
Exhibition Director Lisa Mann, who is enjoying her 14th year as faculty at the School of Cinematic Arts, led the charge in bringing “DreamWorlds” to campus. While DreamWorks has held gallery exhibits at different locations in the past, the studio made sure this one was especially comprehensive and unique to USC.
“They printed out a lot of other work that has never been seen before, and we included original artwork which I don’t believe was in the other shows,” Mann said. “I think we raised the bar and really used this space the way it’s meant to be. It’s very exciting.”
With its clever storylines, beauty and escapism, the “DreamWorlds” exhibit showcases everything that has made animation a significant part of popular culture.
“Bringing here the best and the brightest students, giving them the best tools, great teachers, inspiring them with art like this … we’ve seen the results,” Katzenberg said. “We have 90 [USC] alumni at our company today, which is extraordinary.”
Whether you’re an aspiring animator or just a fan of these films, come experience the magic behind this exhibit and celebrate an art form that has become so much more than a Saturday morning cartoon.
“DreamWorlds” is open to the public now through Friday, Sept. 7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ first floor gallery at the Steven Spielberg Building.