Dream Works an­i­ma­tions come to life

New ex­hibit brings Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory vis­i­tors into the im­mer­sive world of DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion, in­clud­ing Po, Toothless and Shrek, writes Peter Hum.


Where: Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory When: Dec. 8 to April 8, 2018 Ad­mis­sion: $20 for adults, $12 for chil­dren, stu­dent, se­niors and fam­ily rates avail­able

You have to won­der: In some al­ter­nate uni­verse, is Shrek blue? Blond-haired? Even more ro­tund? Wear­ing a kilt?

At the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory, four of about 400 items in a new spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion show these dif­fer­ent it­er­a­tions of the beloved an­i­mated char­ac­ter. They’re part of DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion: The Ex­hi­bi­tion, which opens its four-month run at the mu­seum Fri­day.

Ini­tially de­vel­oped by the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for the Mov­ing Im­age (ACMI) in part­ner­ship with DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion, the ex­hi­bi­tion de­buted in 2014 in Mel­bourne to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of DreamWorks, now the world’s largest an­i­ma­tion stu­dio. The ex­hi­bi­tion was later shown in New Zealand, South Korea, Sin­ga­pore and Mex­ico. Its stint in Gatineau marks its North Amer­i­can de­but.

The his­tory mu­seum’s ver­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion has been made bilin­gual and has been mod­i­fied with sim­pler text and more in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays to make it more ac­ces­si­ble to chil­dren, says Brigitte Ha­mon, the mu­seum’s man­ager of the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a nat­u­ral move given not only the tar­get mar­ket of the DreamWorks films, but also the prox­im­ity of the Cana­dian Chil­dren’s Mu­seum inside the his­tory mu­seum, just down the hall.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is made up of three parts, each of which cor­re­sponds to a step in the cre­ative process at DreamWorks. The first zone that guests visit fo­cuses on the de­vel­op­ment of DreamWorks char­ac­ters, grouped by film, in­clud­ing Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Mada­gas­car and more.

The next zone in­tro­duces vis­i­tors to the story-mak­ing process for the films. Fi­nally, a third zone zooms out to con­sider the no­tion of world-build­ing that is part of each film.

In the first zone, in ad­di­tion to the fan­ci­ful artists’ sketches of Shrek and other char­ac­ters, there are dozens of finely sculpted clay ma­que­ttes that an­i­ma­tors re­lied on to help them ren­der char­ac­ters from ev­ery pos­si­ble an­gle.

Some of the works re­veal fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples at work in a DreamWorks project. For ex­am­ple, one sketch of the char­ac­ters in Mada­gas­car sug­gests that es­sen­tially each cor­re­sponded to a ba­sic shape, from a tri­an­gu­lar lion to a stick-shaped gi­raffe to a round hippo to an ob­long ze­bra. High above the sketch hang styl­ized masks that link those char­ac­ters from the film to African art.

In the story zone, view­ers can watch one the many au­dio-vis­ual com­po­nents of the ex­hibit, in which an an­i­ma­tor pitches a story us­ing story boards.

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s fi­nal sec­tion con­veys the to­tal­ity of films, es­pe­cially in the im­pres­sive sweep of a wrap­around, 180-de­gree screen that im­merses view­ers in a clip from How to Train Your Dragon, ef­fec­tively putting them in the pi­lot’s seat on top of a soar­ing dragon.

“When this (ex­hi­bi­tion) has trav­elled, this has al­ways been the favourite part for kids,” Ha­mon says.

In the ex­hi­bi­tion’s concluding room, vis­i­tors can try their hand at an­i­mat­ing, us­ing DreamWorks tech­nol­ogy at one of eight work­sta­tions. Eric Pel­lerin, the mu­seum’s head of scenog­ra­phy and me­dia pro­duc­tion, said that at pre­vi­ous DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion ex­hi­bi­tions, he saw chil­dren, un­daunted by the com­put­ing gear, in­stantly cre­at­ing their own films.

“Kids re­ally get into it,” Pel­lerin says. “They’re very good, very in­tu­itive.”

He asked his col­league Ha­mon if she had tried us­ing the an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. “I failed,” Ha­mon said. “Me too,” Pel­lerin said . “I think you need a kid with you to ex­plain.”


Brigitte Ha­mon and Eric Pel­lerin of the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory say kids “re­ally get into” DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion: The Ex­hi­bi­tion, es­pe­cially the film tech­nol­ogy.

Ma­que­ttes from movies like Kung Fu Panda are part of the first zone of the ex­hibit, which delves into the de­vel­op­ment of char­ac­ters.

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