5 Things You Might Not Know About DreamWorks Animation

What You Might Not Know About the Studio Behind Shrek

In April 2016, NBCUniversal announced that it was acquiring DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion. How did the once-minor animation studio become the biggest competitor to the twin behemoth of Disney and Pixar?

After being established in 1997 as part of DreamWorks (it was spun off into its own studio in 2004), DreamWorks Animation quickly established itself as one of the most important (and successful) studios in Hollywood history. Here are a few interesting facts you may not have known about the company:

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The Logo is Based on an Idea by Steven Spielberg

When filmmaker Steven Spielberg, producer David Geffen, and executive Jeffrey Katzenberg teamed up to form DreamWorks back in 1994, it’s quite likely that one of their most pressing concerns was the design of their studio’s logo. Spielberg, in his desire to evoke an old-school Hollywood feel, came up with the idea of a man fishing on the moon. Acclaimed artist Robert Hunt tweaked the concept so that it became the familiar image of a young boy fishing from atop a crescent moon. The DreamWorks Animation logo is essentially the same, except that it’s shown during the day (rather than at night) and the letters are colorful (rather than just white).

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'Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas' Killed 2-D Animation for the Studio

Though their first release was 1998’s computer-generated comedy Antz, DreamWorks Animation, along with every other animation studio at the time, was primarily working on traditionally-animated features (as well as the occasional stop-motion feature). The studio’s first hand-drawn effort, 1998’s The Prince of Egypt, kicked off their animation division with a bang, as the movie went on to gross over $200 million worldwide and even earned an Oscar for Best Original Song. But the law of diminishing returns proved to be in full effect for DreamWorks. The studio's last traditionally-animated film, 2003’s , wound up with a domestic tally of just $26 million (against a budget of $60 million). The studio hasn't made a traditionally-animated feature since.

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The Animation Department Started Out as a Special Effects House

In the wake of Pixar’s massive success with 1995’s , DreamWorks’ interest in computer-generated animation increased substantially and the studio began looking to outsource their first foray into the CGI game. Pacific Data Images, formed in 1980, had earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s top computer-based special effects houses, with their work appearing within such big-budget blockbusters as 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1994’s True Lies, and 1995’s Batman Forever. In 1995, based on the strength of PDI's animated shorts, DreamWorks purchased a 40% share in the company and commissioned them to make 1998’s Antz. That marked the start of a long collaboration that eventually led to a full merger in 2000.

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Shrek Established DreamWorks as a Major Player

Prior to the release of in 2001, DreamWorks was generally not viewed as a serious threat to Disney’s decades-old monopoly over the animation genre. The studio’s first four releases, 1998’s Antz, 1998’s The Prince of Egypt, 2000’s The Road to El Dorado, and 2000’s , performed reasonably well at the box office, although they proved to be no match for such Disney and Pixar blockbusters as A Bug’s Life and Mulan (both released in 1998). Everything changed after DreamWorks emerged with Shrek in 2001, as the film, which gleefully satirized many of the fairy-tale standbys employed by Disney over the years, became an instant smash and firmly established the struggling studio as a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

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Jeffrey Katzenberg is the Driving Force Behind DreamWorks Animation

Jeffrey Katzenberg is a movie executive whose passion for animation became well known during his tenure as Disney’s studio head in the 1980s and 1990s. Under his regime, Katzenberg turned around Disney’s declining box office fortunes and was pivotal in establishing the company’s famed Disney Renaissance (which consisted of such animated masterpieces as 1992’s Aladdin and 1994’s ). It was consequently assumed that Katzenberg would focus on DreamWorks’ animation department following his co-founding of the studio. The ambitious executive quickly greenlighted a pair of very different animated endeavors (1998’s Antz and The Prince of Egypt) and was eventually named CEO of DreamWorks Animation, a position he continues to hold.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick