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In just 10 years, computer animation has eclipsed the rest of the animation field and emerged as one of the most successful film art forms of all time, with DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek 2” topping the list. The "Shrek” films are the best examples to date of how the animation and effects teams at PDI/DreamWorks have pushed the edge of the envelope in areas like facial animation and recreating lifelike people and realistic worlds in the computer. The chasm between these advances in animation and those classic cartoons of our youth has seemed ever-widening.

But now, everything old is new again…

Led by writer/directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, the teams at DreamWorks Animation and PDI/DreamWorks employed state-of-the-art computer animation to achieve an old-fashioned cartoon look that pays homage to the best of such animation legends as Chuck Jones and Tex Avery.

McGrath expounds, "Our influences were some of the best of classic animation going back to the 1930s and ‘40s, where a lot of the comedy was derived from the movement and the animation of the characters. We knew this film had to have that kind of comedy. It needed to be broad; it needed to be slapstick.” Darnell adds, "Our characters are very stylized and not based on reality, so we could have a lot of fun with how they looked and how they moved. They are very 2D inspired, but created in the 3D world of the computer. It gave us a lot of license because this is clearly a cartoon.”

Producer Mireille Soria agrees. "This film is definitely more cartoony than anything we've done before. We applied that style to the characters and to the overall design of the movie.”

The cartoon comedy style of "Madagascar” called for the computer animators at PDI/DreamWorks to be able to apply a visual cue called "squash and stretch” to the characters. A hallmark of classic cartoons, squash and stretch is the process an animator uses to deform an object and then snap it back into shape to convey motion or impact. Easy to do with a pencil, squash and stretch is much more difficult to accomplish in the computer.

"In the past, the amount of squash and stretch you could get in the computer was very limited, so one of the biggest technical challenges we faced was getting the kind of broad comedy we wanted,” McGrath attests. "The people at PDI/DreamWorks created a system that took it to the next level, where the animators could push and pull and stretch objects way out without breaking them.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG, comments, "The technology of computer-animated movies continues to be explosive, but even though all the bells and whistles are fantastic, what they really do is empower our storytellers to imagine more. We don't have 200 ‘mad scientists' trying to invent gizmos that we then have to figure out how to use. It's the reverse of that. We come up with the story knowing we're going to need a lot of special tools to bring it to life…and that's what those 200 mad scientists go off to do,” he laughs. "Ultimately, it's all about telling a great story.”

The initial story concept for "Madagascar” started with a single question: What would happen if you took four New York City zoo animals out of the civilized world in which they'd lived their entire lives and dropped them into the middle of a savage jungle?

Eric Darnell notes, "It's a classic fish-out-of-water premise, and so many fun ideas spring from it. You just describe that basic idea and everybody gets it. That's always what you want, especially with an animated film—an idea you can say in one sentence and people's eyes light up. If you see people's eyes light up, you know you're on to something.”

Darnell, who directed DreamWorks' first computer-animated release, "Antz,” had originally been working on a different project altogether. He and producer Mireille Soria were de

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