Dreamworks CG Pipeline

The Dreamworks Animation team use the same stages of production as Pixar when making a film.
I suppose its a worldwide standard technique that is used to create CG Films.


Every aspect of this picture above was created by computer, every blade of grass, every leaf, every strand of fur and every ray of light. A lot of hard work and sleepless nights go into an animated film and this is why it can take over four years to make one.

Stages of Production


Films start off with ideas and concepts. Some of these ideas can be completely original or some ideas can be drawn from various things, things like childrens fairy tales, songs, films from the past, childhood memories and many more. Once an idea has been settled upon a script needs to be written, this is the blueprint for the film and gives everyone a view of what will happen.

This is a picture of the script from the film ‘Shrek’.

When a script is prepared and ready it is handed to the studios Storyboard Artists this can be a fairly hard job as they have to translate these words into pictures. They do this by making a series of sketches to bring the story to life. This has similarities to a comic book. There could be hundreds and thousands of storyboards drawn through the pipeline.

This is a picture of a storyboard from the film ‘Shrek’.

Visual Development
Once the script and storyboards are set the studios Visual Development Department plans how the film will look. The department develops the look and feel to each and every sequence. Everything in the entire film has to be designed, this can range from the main characters to the most minuscule prop. This stage consists of drawings, sculptures paintings and blueprints. All are a form of concept art.

Concept art from Madagascar.

Once the studio has the storyboards and characters designed and ready to go voices are needed to record the characters lines in the film. Casting for animated movies is very different from casting for live films as the studio pick the actor from the way they sound rather than the way they look. The studio will record the actors before they start to animate and will sometimes videotape the recording sessions making sure they capture key expressions and reactions.

Picture of an actor recording sound for animated film ‘Madagascar’


From the initial character designs the studios Modelers will create a 3D model that will later be used for planning and animation. This modeling can be created in programs such as 3D Studio Max and other programs.

Model of character from ‘Madagascar’

The modelers will start with an armature, this is a wire frame around the characters model. Armatures break down the character models into workable geometry thus allowing the modelers to give the animator the ability to move the 3D figure in any way they want. This is called ‘rigging’

This is an image of the above model with an armature on it.

Basic Surfaces
Once the armature has been set up the studio adds basic surfaces to the character. This is the state the studio needs the character to be in for their next step.

Model above with basic surfaces added.

This step is down to the studios Layout Artists, they use rough renditions of the characters to put together the movement of the character(s) in the scene(s). This layout stage is where the studio draw the blueprint from where they get the camera movements, character placements, spacing, lighting, geography and scene timing. (A good example of this, which you should all remember was when Mike showed us the video of how the movie ‘Antz’ was made. It had a clip where the antz were moving in a limited way and it looked very basic. This was the layout stage.)

Layout stage from the film ‘Shrek 2’


Character Animation
Once the Layout Artists have everything working well in the layout stage they can then hand it over to the Animators. The animators will start bringing the characters to life using lots of controls that were created in the character rigging phase, they also synchronise the characters to the voice recordings. The characters look pretty impressive at this stage but not as impressive as they will when completely finished.

This is an image of the Character Animation stage from ‘Shrek 2’

After the character animation stage the next step is adding lighting and visual effects. With live films it is fairly easy to capture such things like nature and peoples expressions but in the computer animation industry these all have to be designed and created by the Effects Artists. The effects artists start with what the character animators gave them and turn it into something special.

This is an image of a roughly animated character from the film ‘Madagascar’

What the effects artists do next is add basic effects to the scene like the transparency effect in the water, like in the picture above.

Next the effects artists will add further, more detailed effects onto the scene. In the picture above you can see how there are reflections and shadows in the water. All of these are made by the computer.

Then the effects artists complete the scene with even more effects. The artists add foam to the surface of the water which is a realistic effect when waves occur in the sea and they also add bubbles under the surface. They then finish it off by adding spray and splashes to the water. When all the elements have been composited it is then sent to the Lighting Department for the final textures.


Finishing Touches
The end of the process is here and the studio is now ready to add the sound effects, add the final score into the film, mix the soundtracks correct the colour and release the film worldwide.
As you can see the production pipeline for Dreamworks Animation Studio doesnt differ that much from the Pixar Studio. This is mainly because big animation studios have techniques that are used worldwide. I believe the only thing that would differ between studios is the people they employ and the skills and personal techniques the employees use when making a film. I believe it would take each studio the same amount of time and same processes.

Making a film is like people following a recipe to cook a meal, they would each have to follow the same recipe but some people would add their own personal preferences.

Thats just my hypothesis though. =|


Jan Pinkava

Jan Pinkava


Jan Jaroslav Pinkava was born on June 21st 1963 in the city of Prague. Jan Pinkava wrote and directed the Pixar short film ‘Geri’s Game’ which won an Oscar. He also was the originator and director of Pixar’s 2007 film ‘Ratatouille’ until Pixar management forced him to give up his position as director and credited him as co-director.



This is a video of the animation short called Geri’s Game made by Jan Pinkava. The animation is about an old man playing chess with himself but then makes you feel as if he is playing with someone else. The story starts by showing you what he is doing by alternating seats and moving each piece on his own accord and then it ends with him almost losing but switching the board around and taking the win. Geri’s Game sets a new advance in the ability to animate skin and cloth.

The animation is widely known and is very good, it is a good example of the talent Jan Pinkava has.

This is a video of the Pixar team giving a talk on how they made the wonderful animated film Ratatouille. Unfortunately Jan Pinkava does not appear in this video but you can at least see the techniques he would have used to create these animations.

His family came to Britain in 1969 and he then obtained British citizenship and when old enough he attended Colchester Royal Grammar School and showed an interest in arts, music, drama and sculpture, he was also quite good at these subjects.

After receiving an 8mm camera as a Christmas present in 1975 he started to experiment with pixilation, stop-motion plasticine, paper-drawn and cell animation. This could probably be seen as the beginning of his career. 5 years on and he won the Young Film-Maker’s Competition of the Year Award on a children’s quiz series called ‘Screen Test’ for a short animation called ‘The Rainbow’. He was 17 at this point in his life.

The childrens quiz show presenters said that when Jan Pinkava won the competition it was the only occasion in the history of the competition from 1969 to 1984 where they saw a piece of film that was spectacularly professional.

He went on to Aberystwyth University to study Computer Science and he then graduated with first class honours and a PhD.

After University he went onto get a career and ended up working with a company called Digital Pictures who specialised in TV Advertisements. Digital Pictures was a small company so Jan Pinkava got to do everything from working with the clients to directing and animating TV commercials. He worked with digital pictures from 1990 – 1993

After Digital Pictures he worked freelance while sending out CV’S and reels to several different companies. He sent Pixar his package as Pixar’s top directors were being moved from work on TV commercials to work on Toy Story, so he got it in at the right time. Jan Pinkava was hired to direct TV Adverts His first one for Pixar was the last of their Listerine ads. Later on in 1994 his TV Commercial for Listerine won the Gold Clio Award.

We draw hundreds or thousands of ‘storyboards‘ which are like a strip cartoon version of the film. These storyboards are then put under a camera and edited together to make a ‘storyreel‘ – a video version of the final film with still drawings representing animated shots, cut to length, with rough soundtrack and dialogue. This storyreel is edited and re-edited (on a non-linear digital editing system) until it stands on its own as an entertaining story which is then used as the blueprint for the animated film. In this way, an animated film is edited before it is made, everyone in the production knows what film they are making and we avoid leaving expensive animated footage on the cutting room floor. In parallel with this effort, work is done on the production design and the design of the characters in the film, using traditional media. Many paintings and drawings help define the look and feel of the final film. Physical sculptures are created, while designing the characters, props and sets, which are then used directly or indirectly to create the geometry of the computer models that define the virtual world of the film within the machine. At Pixar, ‘the machine’ in this context means a vast network of servers and workstations with a combined computing power that’s enough to boggle most minds. Skilled ‘technical directors’ (TDs) then spend time ‘instrumenting’ the digital puppets that have been modelled. This means adding the controls – or virtual puppet strings, if you like – that make the geometry movable by the animators. Our animators usually come from art backgrounds and have no idea how all this is done; they are there to animate; they are the actors that breathe life into the characters using our proprietary animation system. Other TDs specialise in writing ‘shaders’ that define the surface appearance of every object when finally rendered, often working closely with artists who paint backgrounds and surface details of objects, as if painting the elements of a theatre set or applying make-up – all digitally, virtually, behind the glass of the screen. The lighting TDs complete the picture by adding definitions of virtual lights in a way analogous to the lighting of a theatre stage or film set. Images are then rendered, using Pixar’s Renderman software, with all the added effects of motion-blur, depth-of-field and other simulated aspects of photography. Finally, the digital images are transferred to good old-fashioned film and then all the processes of traditional ‘post-production’, like sound design and editing, begin. In this way a computer animated film is written, designed, animated, and ‘filmed’, using a ‘sophisticated pencil’ in the hands of a lot of talented people working very, very hard indeed.” -Jan Pinkava.

Jan Pinkava helped out with a few things within Pixar.
In chronological order:
Made an animation short ‘Geri’s Game’ (1997)
Additional Animator on A Bug’s Life (1998)
Story Artist on Toy Story 2 (1999)
Additional Storyboarding for Monsters, Inc (2001)
Co-Director and Story Writer for Ratatouille (2007)

Jan Pinkava is considered to be a follower (http://design.osu.edu/carlson/history/syllabusWi07.html) in the development of CGI history.  This could be because he is in the era which is described as being the era of followers. This would mean he did not specifically introduce anything new to the CGI scene like the pioneers did.  Jan Pinkava would later evolve the techniques that were used in earlier times.