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DreamWorks CEO: How animation will change business

Jeffrey Katzenberg argues that his partnership with Intel will revolutionize more than the world of animation.

TUCSON, Ariz.--It may seem like creating a top-animated movie has become a simpler process with the advent of computer graphics. Yet in a talk here at Techonomy 2011, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg shared details that show just how tedious the work remains--even today.

"An expert animator can do about three seconds of animation in a week," said Katzenberg, who was interviewed today by moderator David Kirkpatrick.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, right, talks to moderator David Kirkpatrick, left. Paul Sloan, CNET

Even more challenging is that the designers are working largely in the dark, unable for hours to see, for instance, how exactly a character's leg moves during a dance scene. The complexity of the imaging--which needs to begin as low resolution and then requires an eight-hour rendering process--means that animators are working "almost as though they are working blind."

The result is an enormous amount of waiting.

"Ultimately you have to go through numerous passes to achieve vision," said Katzenberg, who at DreamWorks has produced such hits as "Shrek," "Kung Fu Panda," and "Monsters vs. Aliens." "They work without having any real idea of what it will look like."

But to hear Katzenberg describe it, the industry is in the midst of another sweeping change, driven by his company. DreamWorks is in the final year of a four-year partnership with Intel to develop authoring tools and visual technology that's making the process real-time, which, he said, has always been the "holy grail" in animation.

The technology is getting to this point, but there's still more to go. He said the animation software isn't yet up to the task--"It's like having a 1,000 horse-power engine in your car and driving 30 miles per hour"--but he spoke enthusiastically about how the technology DreamWorks and Intel are developing will increase productivity and quality in Hollywood and elsewhere.

"The implications of this are absolutely revolutionary," he said, arguing that any business that uses high-end rendering--whether it's an oil rig builder or aircraft designer--should be able to take advantage of what DreamWorks and Intel are spearheading.

And suddenly, Katzenberg was sounding like a Silicon Valley honcho more than a Hollywood mogul.

When asked about that, he said he fully expects over the next couple of years to repurpose what they're developing-- both in terms of technology and processes--and try to license it others.

"We are at the absolutely intersection between Silicon Valley and Hollywood," he said.

He's also always on the prowl for emerging technologies. "We spend a good deal of time looking over our shoulders and looking into every garage where some kid might be onto what the next thing will be," he said.