It was by chance that Bill Damaschke stumbled into the Game Masters exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) last year. The Chief Creative Officer at DreamWorks, Demaschke was in Melbourne for a short holiday with his family when he took a walk through the bottom floor video-game exhibition at ACMI. It was a clever production, and after a brief look, a fantastic idea entered his head. Inspired by the immersive and interactive world of Game Masters, Damaschke would propose a world-first exhibition dedicated to the creative and historical achievement of DreamWorks. What’s more, he’d do it in Melbourne – not the company’s hometown of Los Angeles. And he’d do it with the help and guidance of the clever folk at ACMI.
It’s now some months after Damaschke’s epiphany, and the cafe at ACMI is alive in anticipation as the DreamWorks team make its way up from the exhibition space for interviews and photographs. Days from the opening of DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition, many of the key personnel from the Californian production company are in Melbourne for the opening, along with Damaschke. Running until October, the exhibition will feature some 400 artifacts including concept drawings, artworks, interviews, models and interactive displays, across more than 20 films.
Doug Cooper is the last to surface from the level below. He’s been putting the finishing touches on the exhibition’s key attraction, an immersive display inspired by DreamWorks’ 2010 animation, How to Train Your Dragon. Cooper is a visual-effects supervisor at DreamWorks, and when he’s not in Melbourne setting up for DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition, he’s responsible for realising the director’s vision on films such as Shrek, Bee Movie and Shark Tale.
“As a visual effects supervisor, my job is to work really closely with the director and the scriptwriter to realise the vision of the film and actually get it made,” says Cooper, sitting down with a pot of tea. He looks very much like a Silicon Valley tech company cliché, wearing an open casual shirt with a white T-shirt underneath, invisible-frame glasses, blue jeans and white-soled skate shoes, just like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
“People don’t realise how hard a job animation is, because in animation we make things from scratch. In a live-action film you get a lot of reality for free. In animation, we have to create everything, from the wood grain of the trees in the forest to the texture on every single surface of every single leaf.”
Originally starting as an SFX supervisor, Cooper joined DreamWorks in 1998, just four years after it was founded by industry heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. The studio has been a success ever since, creating a series of near-perfect animations that appeal to adults and children. The year Cooper joined the company they made Antz, and they’ve continued making films that appeal across demographics ever since.
“The movies we make are mass-audience movies, for sure,” says Cooper, “so you might think our movies are just following a line of popular culture. But when you get close to it and see that for years and years people are dedicating their lives to mastering the craft, you recognise what an incredible effort and contribution it is.”
Celebrating 20 years in business this year, Melbourne is now privy to the largest-ever collection of DreamWorks’ creative concepts, which have been arranged into a series of sections. “Instead of being a history of DreamWorks, we take people through the major components and stages of telling a story,” Cooper says. “It has major sections on the way we discover and explore and create our characters, and how their emotional journey and arc is going to be throughout a story. There is a section devoted to the story itself, and then there is an entire section on worlds; about the way we design the worlds that our characters inhabit.”
Tickets to DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition are $22.50 for adults and $10 for children. To purchase tickets, or for more information, visit the ACMI website. The exhibition will run until October 26 2014.