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USC's "DreamWorlds" exhibit explores DreamWorks Animation's visual development process

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USC's "DreamWorlds" exhibit explores DreamWorks Animation's visual development process

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Last Tuesday morning, I spent a hour or so wandering around the campus of USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Where -- I'm being serious here -- I actually received this celebrity-filled set of directions from an undergrad there:

Photo by Jim Hill

"The complex you're looking is right across from John Williams and Johnny Carson. If you see Harold Lloyd, you've gone too far."

Thanks to those directions, I eventually found myself at the Steven Spielberg Building. Which -- appropriately enough (given the number of times that these two have collaborated on films) is located just across the courtyard from the George Lucas Building.

Photo by Jim Hill

Anyway ... I thought that it was an especially nice touch that the space between these two structures (which is officially known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Courtyard) featured a statue of Hollywood's first real action hero, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (Who -- FYI -- not only helped to found USC's film school back in 1929 but even taught a screenwriting class here).

Of course, what was then kind of ironic was -- as you continued on into the Spielberg Building -- you then encountered another statue which honored an entirely different sort of action hero: The CG star of DreamWorks Animation's 2008 "Kung Fu Panda ," Po.

Photo by Jim Hill

Po is on display on the first floor of the Steve Spielberg Building to help make people aware of the "DreamWorlds Behind the Scenes: Production Art from DreamWorks" exhibit ...

Copyright DreamWorks Animation, LLC / University of Southern
California School of Cinematic Arts. All rights reserved

... which is being presented right around the corner in the Mary Pickford Lobby portion of this USC structure now through September 7th.

Now what's particularly neat about this exhibit (over one hundred digital prints of visual development artwork) is that it manages to touch on each of the animated features that DWA has produced. Everything from "The Prince of Egypt" ...

A bust of Pharaoh Seti from DreamWorks Animation's
"The Prince of Egypt
." Photo by Jim Hill

... (that ambitious hand-drawn production which was supposed to have been DreamWorks Animation's prestigious first release. Only to have studio head Jeffery Katzenberg -- who was incredibly competitive with Disney & Pixar back then -- shift "Prince" to the No. 2 spot. Just so that "Antz"  could beat "A Bug's Life" into theaters back in the Fall of 1998) all the way through to "Rise of the Guardians" (which will be opening at a multiplex near you on November 21st).

The Sandman's dreamboat from DreamWorks Animation's forthcoming animated feature,
"Rise of the Guardians." Photo by Jim Hill

In fact, "DreamWorlds" gives you a teensy peek over the horizons. Given that -- among the pieces of production art which are currently on display at USC -- is this quartet of concept paintings for DWA's March 2013 release, "The Croods."

Having lost the safety of their cave, the world's first family ventures out in the lush,
overgrown jungles that were found on Earth during the Croodacious Period.
Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there's more than just concept art and production paintings on display in the Mary Pickford Library. To illustrate the many different ways that DreamWorks Animation develops the visual look of its feature-length productions, studio staffers brought along two miniature sets. One which showed how the Island of Berk in 2010's "How to Train Your Dragon" was laid out ...

A miniature of the Island of Berk from DWA's "How to Train Your
Photo by Jim Hill

... while the other offered a look at the inner workings of Area 52 (i.e. the super-secret military facility where all of the monsters who starred in DWA's 2009 release, "Monsters Vs. Aliens" were kept).

Copyright University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
All rights reserved

There were also some spectacular maquettes on display in this USC exhibit space ...

A maquette of Lord Shen and his lance from "Kung Fu Panda 2." Copyright University
of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. All rights reserved

... not to mention three media stations which run animation tests and video clips that then help illustrate of the artistry & imagination which goes into the visual development of DWA's animated features.

So if you're someone who's maybe considering a career in animation and/or just a fan of DreamWorks Animation, you really owe it to yourself to drop by USC's Mary Pickford Lobby before September 7th. Which is when this 3000 square-foot display will be packed up and sent back to DWA's Glendale-based archives.

Copyright University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. All rights reserved

 "DreamWorlds Behind the Scenes: Production Art from DreamWorks Animation" is being presented in the Steven Spielberg Building (which is located at 900 W. 34th Street on the USC Campus). This exhibit is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

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  • Hey, Jim. In your article you referred to a "quartet" of pre-production paintings from Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco's upcoming animated flick, The Croods. You were kind enough to share a photo of one with us. Any chance you can post the other three?

  • Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the heads-up on this exhibition! I'm gonna be at Disneyland this weekend for the D23 event (hope to see you there!), but just may stop over at USC today after I touch down, and check this out (and walk the concrete of hallowed filmmaker's ground). It's definitely closer than the Reagan Museum (I'm not renting a car on this trip).

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