Building on European heritage
Europe has a long heritage of producing animated films but lacked the critical mass of US studios such as Pixar and DreamWorks. Yet, the artistic skills of European animators and European technological know-how are acknowledged worldwide. "Producing a feature-length CGI animation has long been the Holy Grail of many a European studio but, until recently, it has seemed impossible," says Sean Hinton, managing director of Ealing Studios in west London, where Valiant was produced.
"We had a purpose-built facility constructed at Ealing to house the 175 animators necessary to produce Valiant. But we needed to get the workflow technology right, especially as we were working with less than half the budget and in half the time of our US studio counterparts. The DAMAGE project gave us exactly what we were looking for."
DAMAGE project leader Innovative Animation Services (IAS) is a young company based at Ealing Studios, led by the Hollywood production experience of Buckley Collum. IAS sought a partner that could develop the asset-management technology to be tried out during the production of Valiant. The answer came from the Limburg University Centre for Digital Media, just outside the Belgian city of Hasselt.
A requirements' specification - agreed by all user partners of the project - was drawn up after a major exercise to research, understand and model the production process and workflow in producing an animated film. The specification and development of a secure, robust database, capable of handling several million items of multimedia content, was created. The software includes an approvals process, enabling a film's director to approve assets, sequences and ultimately the whole film.
Developing a world first
DAMAGE's achievements are significant as the systems previously created by US studios are custom-made solutions that are not marketed externally. Another European animation studio has already expressed interest in acquiring a licence for the DAMAGE software. Licensing to other studios will in turn allow European animation facilities to collaborate efficiently in projects that would previously have been too big for them to undertake on their own. And opportunities have now been created for European animation facilities to participate in US-originated films.
"The feedback we have had from those who are familiar with the in-house software used by the US production houses was amazing - what we'd produced with the Belgians through EUREKA was better and smarter than anything they'd seen elsewhere," says Hinton. "Their systems have evolved over a number of years, whereas we worked from scratch, with a blank piece of paper, a smaller budget and the benefit of fresh and original ideas from the amazing pool of animation expertise that exists across Europe."
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NOTE TO EDITORS
The EUREKA Initiative aims to strengthen European competitiveness by promoting cross-border, market-oriented, collaborative R&D. It enables industry and research institutes from 35 member countries and the EU to collaborate in a bottom-up approach to developing and exploiting innovative technologies.
EUREKA is marking 20 years of pan-European innovation in 2005. Since 1985, substantial public and private funding has been deployed through this intergovernmental network to support leading edge R&D. More information about EUREKA may be found at: www.eureka.be, while additional information about 20 years of EUREKA can be found at: www.eureka-20years.net