Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Prince of Glendale

A DreamWorker

The vast arch that leads into DreamWorks animation is even bigger than the one at Paramount - and this is surely not an accident. Few visitors can fail to be impressed by the sheer size and elegance of Jeffrey Katzenberg's Glendale animation studio. I was lucky enough to work there for many years on a number of projects including The Road to El Dorado, Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron, and Sinbad. Not the most successful films that the studio produced, but all three crammed with excellent work lovingly hand-crafted by a hugely talented crew.

Don't you wish you worked here?
Ten years later, I want to slap my younger self for not appreciating it more, or for realizing quite how fortunate I was. Stepping onto the DreamWorks lot is an extraordinary experience - there are fountains, lakes, waterfalls, aquatic fowl nesting in the topiary, and paved avenues lined with trees. Little expense has been spared to create what is entirely mistakenly referred to as "a campus". Actually, it feels more like an Italian Renaissance town, complete with campanile, olive groves - and of course an excellent restaurant, which has the added advantage of being free. 

Pressing the metaphor, all of this would make Jeffrey a sort of Prince of Animation, or at the very least a Grand Duke. The only thing missing is a cathedral (though a cynic might say that the screening theatre provides a substitute venue for worship). Actually, that would be harsh. It is easy to under-estimate the scale of Jeffrey's achievement - taking on Disney at their own game, and winning. His studio took a while to become a hit-factory but, like Pixar, DreamWorks has assumed Walt's mantle and inherited his legacy.
OK - I'll stop now
I was there last week meeting my old friend and colleague Nassos Vakalis for lunch - which was delicious. Nassos is an excellent animator and story board artist who draws with fluency and skill and has a fine sense of camera and shot progression. We first worked together at Warner Bros Feature Animation - another studio which tried (and failed) to emulate Disney's success. I have always been envious of Nassos's ability to capture an idea in a few lines, and his creative energy. Here's a link to a trailer to his latest short film, which looks very charming. It has been winning awards in animated film festivals all over Europe.

- Alex