Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of the animation powerhouse founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffin and Jeffrey Katzenberg? The DreamWorks pictures exhibition: Journey from sketch to screen at the Art Science Museum is an animation showcase, bringing to you the making of Blockbuster movies such as Shrek, How to train your dragon and Madagascar. Witness rare glimpses behind 20 years of DreamWorks movies through three exhibition galleries, each focusing on different aspects of character generation, conceptualization, story-lining and bringing it all to life in the movies.
The Character Gallery
Greeting you at the entrance of the exhibition is the character display gallery. Taking centre space in this gallery are covered displays of various clay models, flanked with walls lined with a number framed hand drawings of various notable characters in the movies depicting the different stages of character development, revisions and refinements. Ideas for a character can come from anywhere, even everyday life and items can be sources of inspiration, all you need is a dash of imagination. You get to view and experience exclusive behind-the-scenes illustrated videos and concept artworks taking you through from an artist point of view the various steps into convincingly create character of believable realism and expressiveness for roles in each movie, yet distinguish them traditional animation archetypes.
DreamWorks protagonists and sidekicks often possess inherently distinctive playfully personality traits which in turn translates into conceivable skills (e.g. Po the Panda and the Penguins in Madagascar) with comedy and drama. The complex evolution of characters are well illustrated through the various revisions of 3D character clay models on display, that may or may not survive the film’s final cut and resemble the final characters in movies.
The Story Room
The story room follows in a logical fashion after the Character gallery and is depicted though a movie screener and an animated table top, unpacking the DreamWorks story-making process through visual and sound. Storyboarding forms the heart of Movie story development, where the process of constructing a feature length film starts from the narrative to final storyline involving storyboard directors, producers, artists and writers coming together to pitch ideas, try out and test plots, as well as writing the actual movie dialogue.
A relative comparison of the increasing amount of work required to develop a storyline over the years to cater for the evolution of increased demands of today’s audience requiring real yet diverse storylines and yet, pushing the capabilities of traditional storytelling through story adaptations or completely new stories with unique twists and turns that keep plotlines fresh and exciting.
The largest and final section of the exhibition, on display are works of various DreamWorks directors, production designers and concept artists, sharing their sources of inspiration to create authentic and believable concepts, which differentiates each DreamWorks movie apart from the next. This involves comprehensive background research from various media sources such as books, animal photos, artists, films, and even visiting international locations, painting their development focus of their worlds out of the box to create distinctive, magical yet complex environments that are so integral to DreamWorks movies.
The World section is also an art and environmental showcase of various concept art, clay building models and music created for DreamWorks movie and worlds. It focuses on the collaborative creation of the dynamic and magical worlds evident in all DreamWorks films. Through this underpinning of thoughts, the worlds were put to paper through sketches, layout plans and scale models (like the characters we saw in the Character gallery) and environmental models of buildings such as Shrek’s ogre mould and the castle of Far Far away. This is before they are scanned and rendered into 3D mesh models used for the actual movie themselves.
On the 3D domain space, you get to see some rather innovative dynamic initiatives DreamWorks uses in their 3D works, such as dynamic lighting and a wave generator to ease manual animation workloads on 3D artists. You can generally tell that the size and the number of the exhibits on display for each movie in this section are more or less directly related to DreamWorks box office takings for that particular movie. The bulk of the items on display are those of Shrek, How to train your dragon, while the lesser-known movies such as Rise of the Guardians and Antz (2014) only get minor mention.
It is in this section too where creative workshops are held, where you can have a go at Claymation moulding your very own clay character, or create your own animated flip-book in the Magic of animation workshops, they usually run once a week on weekends, so check programs for details. A leaflet provided to you at your gallery entry will provide you info on these workshops, as well as scheduled tours, and timed film screenings of DreamWorks blockbusters in the Dragon flight theatre.
The dragon flight theatre is a multi-purpose extended wide-screen theatre 12 meters in diameter offering an unobstructed viewing experience through a 180 degree panoramic screen painted by 4 overhead projectors. When a scheduled DreamWorks movie is not screening, a short 3 minute screener in the “How to train your Dragon” universe loops complete with surround sound.
The Dragon’s “fly-by” Dragon Flight shows the evolution of concept to movie and the different stages of conceptualisation starting with a simple sketch on paper, expanded into frame-based animations, eventually evolving through the technical stages from basic low-polygonal count 3D renders, to high-poly count and further refinements such as textures, multi map textures, lighting and dynamic waves to build the world we know as the Island of Berk. The screener then transitions into a virtual ride from Toothless’s back soaring over Berk itself all from the comfort of bean bag seating in the theater.
The Drawing room is a cozy little room lined with a number of computer workstations (Interactive kiosks) allowing you to try your hand at drawing and animation. Here, from short demonstration films and tutorials, visitors like yourself can learn about the basic principles of animation and using the software of DreamWorks animators and illustrators themselves. Thereafter, head to the workstations to try-out what you’ve learnt through creation of short animated line-drawing sequences of your very own.
Gone are the days of traditional back-lit sketch desks, animation at DreamWorks today are all drawn digitally today straight using professional-grade tablets. This is achieved though workstations running a simplified version of DreamWorks’s Animation Desk software on real Cintiq 24” tablet screens, allowing you to create your own short movie at The Drawing Room itself.
In all, The DreamWorks Animation exhibition is good for a 2 hour visit, offering insightful processes on the collaborative and visionary approach the animation powerhouse takes to put ideas into movies. The exhibition is ideal exhibition for animation fans of all ages to learn the secrets of creative filmmaking and animation. The Exhibition runs from 13th June to 27th September 2015 and costs $21 for an adult entry ($14 for Singaporeans with a valid NRIC). It is usually more value for money and recommended to purchase a Museum all-access pass into other galleries on the same-day entry too.
View more photos of the exhibition here.