behind the scenes of dreamworks animation

I was treated to an all-expenses paid stay in Los Angeles to see the screening of Mr. Peabody and Sherman and receive a behind the scenes tour of the DreamWorks campus. All opinions are my own.

Behind the Scenes at DreamWorks Animation

Have you ever noticed just how many names are in the credits of an animated movie? Like, a gajillion. At least.

And ever wondered just what those animators do to create such incredible imagery, making animation look so real?

I, for one, have wondered both of those things, so I was thrilled to be invited behind the scenes at DreamWorks Animation a few weeks ago, in anticipation for the release of the newest DreamWork of art, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and wow, did I get my fill of animation information.

To start the day off we watched a screening of the movie and I loved every second of it. It is darling and witty and I loved the animation (thank goodness or it would have been AWKWARD to then meet and talk to the animators who created the film).

After the screening we began our tour of the campus. The first genius we met was Walt Dohrn, Head of Story for Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

The Head of Story is one of the first people to get a hold of the hot little script, and actually story boards it out, BY HAND. He thinks through how the various scenes of the movie will play out, then sketches them out, tapes them to the wall of a meeting room, and then acts out each scene, in front of the director, portraying all the various roles, so that the director can get an idea of the big picture, as well as identify little nuances that he wants to show in each scene.

Walt took his pointer and went through one entire scene for us, reading line by line, in the voice of each character.

Walt Dohrn Head of Story for Peabody and Sherman

Side note: If you’re a Shrek fan then you might know Walt as Rumpelstiltskin in Shrek 4. The director became so accustomed to hearing Walt’s voice from the read-throughs that he ended up being cast as the puny-sized villain.

After meeting Walt, we toured three more rooms and met all sorts of brilliant animators including:

Jason Schleifer, the Head of Character Animation, spends hours upon tireless hours trying to determine what the character should look like including, how it should walk, how clothes should fit on their body, and how their eyebrows should move when they talk. I couldn’t ask enough questions because that process is just so incredibly over my head (as they all are, really).

Phillipe Denis, Head of SFX–most of what this handsome Frenchman said was over my head, not because of his accent (or the costume he was wearing) but because the intricacies of computer graphics is just way beyond the scope of what I can process in my pea brain. The most fascinating part of his talk was the description of how he and his team came up with creating the WABAC machine, which is the time travel device that Peabody & Sherman use to travel in time.

David James, the Production Designer, gets to create the world in which the characters live. He said the coolest thing about his job is that “nothing exists . . . everything starts with a piece of paper and a pencil.” He also says his job is to make it all believable so the audience is not wondering “Why is that dog talking?”

DreamWorks Animation Behind the scenes tour with David James

After the mini-sessions, we were treated to a marvelous lunch on the DreamWorks campus. We ate alongside all of the employees (they get free lunch there too, every day!), and I jumped at the chance to sit next to Walt (probably because his job seemed the most fascinating to me, and it’s something I can wrap my brain around–as opposed to the other animators whose jobs all happen INSIDE the computer and once it goes there, you’ve lost me).

I asked a gajillion questions of Walt over lunch, including something I’ve been dying to know for years,

“When you say the word ‘set,’ what do you mean? Is there an actual set somewhere or is it all in the computer?”

He kindly didn’t look at me like the nimwit that I am, and answered me,

“It’s all in the computer.” And somehow he didn’t finish the sentence with “DUH!”

To end the day with a bang, just as were gathering to take a group photo, the one and only Jeffrey Katzenberg walked by and jumped in the middle of our photo, just as if to seal our day with a kiss.

behind the scenes tour at DreamWorks Animation with Jeffrey Katzenberg

My day at DreamWorks Animation Studios was awe-inspiring and incredibly educational (and fun!). And, if my kids show any sign of artistic prowess, I know just what line of work I can encourage them to pursue. What a fun job those people have!

Now, be sure to go see Mr. Peabody and Sherman this weekend. It opens, Friday, March 7th, and the whole family will love it. Here’s a clip to get your excited:

Connect with Mr. Peabody Online!



  1. 1

    Loved your take on this event! There was so much information, that at times I wondered how anyone could remember what was taught – but you killed it. Animated films are officially the most intricate, amazing pieces of digital art, ever.

  2. 2
    Colleen says:

    I love your descriptions! I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Animation and a Masters of VFX and really enjoyed how you broke the process down for the average reader.
    It is a complicated process, but a blast to work on!!!

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