July 27, 2014 9:00am PT by Carolyn Giardina
'How To Train Your Dragon 2' Made Using DWA's New Animation Software
How To Train Your Dragon 2 marks the first feature created using DreamWorks Animation's new Apollo animation platform, developed and implemented over the course of the past five years. And this topic will be part of a featured session presented by DWA on the acclaimed sequel during Siggraph, the annual CG conference that begins Aug. 10 in Vancouver.
Apollo will now be used on all future DWA productions, including upcoming releases The Penguins of Madagascar and Home.
For Dragon 2 — which is already generating Oscar buzz — director Dean DeBlois said Apollo let him do things he couldn't before, including, specifically, getting more complex. "We used to have to simplify a lot of our characters, and animators had to work on characters individually, waiting lengthy times to render," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "They no longer have to do that; it's real time, and it allows us to have detailed characters."
Dragon's protagonist, Hiccup, with his textured costume, is a perfect example. "This costume would normally have been too complicated. Apollo allowed us to not only have that detail, but also be able to move it around in real time," said DeBlois. "[Apollo also let us have] several characters on several dragons, or in an extreme example, thousands of soldiers on a beach with dragons and warfare."
The director added that it also gives the animators an intuitive way to work. "They used to work with pull down menus to make simple adjustments; now they work with a stylus and tablets, just like a stop-motion animator would work with a clay puppet. They can go back and tweak and finesse and bring subtly to the performance," DeBlois said. "They could have always done that, but they can do it much more efficiently now, allowing them to tweak more that in the past."
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The animation platform incorporates the new Premo animation tool and Torch lighting package, as well as other new tools in the pipeline, including data management, effects systems and layout systems. It's supported by a combination of cloud computing with an in-house multicore architecture. Intel was heavily involved in the development, and HP also contributed.
To develop and implement a change of this magnitude across the company, CTO Lincoln Wallen said this represents an investment of tens of millions of dollars. The process involved connecting the main DWA campus in Burbank; PDI/DreamWorks in Northern California; DWA in Bangalore, India; and HP in Las Vegas.
"This is the next generation of cloud," Wallen told THR. "This is a new paradigm for large-scale creative expression. This is very efficient as well as extensive, in terms of the refineability and quality of the image."
Commenting on the bigger picture, he added, "It's not just something that can be used for visual effects or animated movies, but for something that numbers of companies will be able to create and deploy for a range of value propositions, whether that be for entertainment or promotion, design or manufacturing."
"In our business, we are exploring what this platform means for the way in which we reach consumers, or entertain consumers, and we can conceive of delivering products that are much more pervasive for movies or new forms of entertainment," said Wallen.
Scheduled presenters on DWA's How To Train Your Dragon 2 session at Siggraph include DeBlois, head of layout Gil Zimmerman, head of character animation Simon Otto and VFX supervisor Dave Walvoord.
A video further describing Apollo can be viewed here.