Technology and witty storytelling make Shrek 3 magic

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DreamWorks Studio s softhearted green ogre is back in the groove as clever storytelling and rich computer-driven animation meld in Shrek the Third currently playing in cinemas. The swamp-lover, his equally ogrish princess and their cohorts – Donkey and Puss In Boots – along with an army of fairytale villains shoot back onto screens with unprecedented realism, reclaiming the playfulness of the very first film. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard and chip-maker Advanced Micro Devices are so proud of the roles their technology played in bringing the animated cast to life that they arranged for a special preview of the film last month at the DreamWorks campus, a short drive from Hollywood. It does feel true that a picture tells a thousand words, DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said as he introduced the film. We will show you 130,000 pictures. Hopefully, that will do all the talking. The convergence of the art and technology of what we are doing is becoming such that the lines drawn between them are less and less clear. Shrek s latest adventure begins when his wife s royal father falls ill, leaving his daughter, Fiona, and her ogre husband to choose between becoming king and queen or finding a young cousin, Artie, who is next in the blood line. Shrek sets out on a quest with Boots and Donkey, unaware of Prince Charming s plot to usurp the throne. At the start of the project, DreamWorks film makers delivered a list of demands to the studio s software specialists. They wanted characters to have clothing that twisted and folded like real fabric, not the medieval Lycra worn in the first two Shrek films. Movie princesses sported distinctive coifs, so hair had to behave naturally. Animated faces needed to show emotions and background characters had to be distinctive individuals. DreamWorks engineers spent months creating proprietary software to give creative types what they wanted. Technology is a critical enabler, studio chief technology officer Ed Leonard said. What we try to do with every film is raise the bar visually and enable our film makers to tell any story they want without limits.

DreamWorks software developers made the animated hair so real that filmmakers complained it was getting in the characters faces. The engineers modified the hair program to provide realism with artistic control.

Computers were made to randomly generate different types of background characters, allowing filmmakers to audition animated extras as if on a real movie set. The speed of innovation in our industry in the last decade is nothing short of breathtaking, Katzenberg said. The level of detail in characters today wasn t available three or six years ago. It is not that they look better, they really are better.

HP computers bolstered to handle the immense processing needs of making animated films are used at studios including DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount, and Industrial Light and Magic.

We feel this is the tip of the iceberg as the industry goes digital, HP Chief Technology Officer Shane Robison said.

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