Case Study: DreamWorks

Feature

Case Study: DreamWorks

With the ever-increasing demand for high quality graphics in video games, DreamWorks had to find an aid in satisfying customers’ requests. It has put Photoshop 5.0 to the test.

What's the secret to creating video games that kids rave about? DreamWorks Interactive knows the answer. Its combination of trendy subject matter and state-of-the-art graphics has made the company a leading developer of multimedia games for CD-ROM and the Sony PlayStation. To keep the new titles coming, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects are key components in the creative process.

DreamWorks, formed by Hollywood film and music producers Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, produces television, film, music and consumer products in addition to its game titles, which are based on popular movies. "There are lots of challenges in creating games from a film license," says Dave Thompson, lead artist for DreamWorks Interactive. "Not only are we working hard to hit the movie's release date, but also the quality standards for the graphics are extremely high." The company's resumé includes popular games such as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Small Soldiers and Trespasser , a digital sequel to The Lost World.

DreamWorks Interactive relies heavily on Adobe Photoshop 5.0. To streamline the creation of eye-catching graphics for its Trespasser game, the creative team used the new Magnetic Lasso tool to quickly separate different graphic subjects.

Productivity boosters

Because DreamWorks must produce clever, cutting-edge multimedia content at breakneck speed, its staff appreciates the new productivity and creativity enhancing features found in Photoshop 5.0 and Premiere 5.0. Both software packages played an important role in the creation of the Trespasser game, in which players assume the role of Ann, a castaway on the island "Site B."

To bring players up to speed on the dino-eat-dino world of Jurassic Park, Trespasser begins with a montage of animated elements. The DreamWorks team found that the new Magnetic Lasso tool in Photoshop 5.0 made compositing the 2D and 3D images much easier. "Selecting parts of images - extracting one tree from a landscape, for example - is usually a painstaking process. With the Magnetic Lasso, we can make freeform selections more accurately," Thompson says.

Fully editable text

One element in the opening sequence is a newspaper, which is used as a storytelling mechanism. The new editable text layers and special effects in Photoshop 5.0 came in handy for publishing a futuristic newspaper. The DreamWorks artists created separate text layers that allowed them to easily alter the text and control leading, kerning, tracking and other formatting features.

The opening sequence of Trespasser describes the history of Jurassic Park using fictional publications. In creating this magazine cover, DreamWorks uses text layers in Photoshop 5.0 so they can edit the text without losing formatting or special effects. They also can copy the text settings to other layers to give the magazine a unified look and feel.

Instead of moving to another program to generate a 3D look for the text, they used Layer Effects to add bevels, drop shadows and other effects, then composited the finished text with the pre-rendered newspaper page - all within Photoshop. "Staying within the same application not only saves time, but it also makes the creative process more fluid," Thompson notes.

Professional video editing

The artists turned to Premiere 5 to edit the opening sequence and cut in dialog tracks and music. "The new interface, especially the Monitor window, operates more like a high-end video editing system," Thompson notes. "The Navigator palette is a real time-saver, because you can quickly jump from one point to another in the Timeline. These sound like small changes, but the overall effect is that everything in Premiere just works smoother."

The improved Timeline interface in Adobe Premiere 5 makes it easier for the DreamWorks team to edit the game's opening sequence such as this transition between a newspaper and a hand holding mosquito-laden amber. "Premiere gives us the flexibility to change transition lengths to fit dialogue in the audio track," artist Dave Thompson says.

Automation and history

DreamWorks' games feature many "cut scenes". These are short movies that give players information about what's to come. To create cut scenes, DreamWorks maps textures onto 3D models, then converts the 24-bit images down to 8 or 4-bits. "PhotoShop 5 provides better colour reduction when compressing images," says Thompson. "Plus, I can automate the process for an entire series of images using batch mode, which is about twice as fast as before."

The History palette is another Photoshop addition that the DreamWorks team had been dreaming about. "It goes way beyond Undo, showing a list of changes so that you can instantly go back to any previous step," Thompson says. "Nothing blocks the creative process like the fear of ruining hours of work. Now we know we can safely change our minds, which frees us to experiment."

The DreamWorks Interactive creative team is always looking for ways to speed up the production of high-quality graphics and video so that games hit the market while it's hot. "Adobe's tools just keep getting better, allowing us to produce cool game content faster," says Thompson. "In our business, that's the name of the game!"

Paolo Formenti


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This was first published in October 1999

 

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