An interview with DreamWorks Animation SKG co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Read excerpts from the discussion below.
KIRKPATRICK: It costs up to $180 million to make an animated film, and three-and-a-half years of planning and execution to produce. It takes half a billion digital files, requires 50 to 60 million hours of rendering. Is DreamWorks a technology company as much as an entertainment company?
KATZENBERG: We are a storytelling company. But for us to realize the vision and the imagination of our stories, we need state-of-the-art technology. So we are as much a technology company as an animation company.
We went through a very challenging transformation out of the 2-D business and the hand-drawn business, which was eye-opening. At the time we had 1200 employees. About a third of the workforce was obsolete, a third we were able to retrain, and a third stayed the same. That was about as disruptive as you could possibly get. But it’s that old notion: anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It made us very aware of how ahead of the curve we have to be as not only a creative enterprise, but also a technology enterprise.
An expert animator can do about three seconds of animation in a week. The Holy Grail for us would be to have an artist see their work as they’re doing it, to get to real-time rendering, real-time computing. About three years ago Intel showed us their roadmap for chip designs and the notion of scalable multi-core processing. Software today doesn’t allow you to optimize any of this. So we went into an R&D effort with Intel–the most expensive technology R&D effort in Hollywood in a decade, if not ever. The result is that our artists are now able to both animate and do their effects and color work in real time. The implications of this are revolutionary. For enterprises that use high-end rendering in any aspect of their business–whether it’s the oil business, design of aircraft or cars, or any kind of engineering or medical imaging–the implications are breathtaking.
The cost of a movie’s probably down about $6 or $7 million in the last year or 18 months, all of which is attributable to productivity out of better software and better engineering.