To tie in with the release of How to Train Your Dragon 2, the studio will showcase the work of their home-engineered animation software.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 marks a pivotal moment for Dreamworks Animation. Upon the film’s wide release this summer, the company will unveil to the public the work of their home-engineered animation software, Apollo, that has involved a five-year research and development build. 

The innovative software is comprised of the animation tool called Premo, and the lighting package, Torch. The film’s director, Dean Dublois, an animator himself, explains Premo as “a system that allows artists to control and manipulate data in real-time with simple tools like a tablet and a stylus compared to previous, more archaic methods, like numeric keypads, curves and graphs.” 

The quality of the images, such as the character’s costumes, are able to take on more detail while landscape scenes, such as Valka’s tropical microclimate, have a richer, more diverse colour palette.

The lighting package Torch, allows lighting to transcend past cartoons to a more sophisticated live action space, something the production team took advantage of by hiring cinematographer Roger Deakins. The eleven-time Academy Award nominated DoP walked the lighting team through his visual processing, pushing them to think of more intricate lighting sequences that, prior to Torch, would not have been able to be created within an animated film.

Dreamworks head of technology communication and strategic alliances, Kate Swanborg, said in a presentation in Cannes on Tuesday [May 20]: “This software is state-of-the-art. We architected it and developed it from the ground-up. The drive and demand for this type of high resolution, premiere technology will go through the roof in the next few years.”

She further highlighted that Dreamworks’ strategy to develop software has become a differentiator in their business model, this in part to their fourteen-year working relationship with HP (Hewlett Packard).

“One film requires over 75 million render hours, uses 200-250 terabytes of active disk space, and equates to around 250 billion pixels.  We have ten films in production at any given time - so imagine these numbers. This mandates fast work stations, faultless servers and more storage space,” said Swanborg.

Together with HP, they have continued to renovate other technology platforms - beginning with re-building their work stations from scratch, allowing artists to work at more powerful speeds. 

Dreamworks also shares three data centres based in their respective studios in Los Angeles, northern California and Bangalore.  Each centre houses HP’s Generation 8 servers that are 40% faster, and like most technology these days, now also use 40% less power. 

To help avoid technology delays, the animation company uses HP’s cloud that allows servers to successfully process 70 million rendering jobs.  

Swanborg summarised by saying: “Every day counts, and if creativity is halted because of technology, then that is a big loss to us.” 

The animation studio is continuing to make rapid technological innovations for the upcoming film Home, set for release next year. 

The push into the Chinese market is also playing an influence, with the production company Oriental Dreamworks helping to co-produce Kung Fu Panda 3.  On a larger scale, Dreamworks’ Shanghai Studio will open in 2017.