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.