SIGGRAPH 2014 News: DreamWorks' Premo May Be The Future of Animation

At SIGGRAPH 2014's "Capture and Display" Session yesterday, Fredrik Nilsson, Workflow Director for Animation and Crowds, and Matt Gong, Tech Lead on "Premo", showcased DreamWorks' in-house animation software. Premo was the result of decades of development that began in the 80's when DW bought Pacific Data Images (PDI) and its animation tool "Emo." From there the software moved through various stages of development, and DW used Emo up until Mr. Peabody and Sherman earlier this year. However, the company felt that it was time to push their animation software in a more progressive direction. Emo had proven to be rather non-intuitive with the DW workflow, and after multi-core processors were adopted, Emo was having trouble keeping up. DW soon developed "Apollo," the in-house 3D graphics software, specifically for its changing needs. Apollo was a complete rebuild of DW's tool set, and Premo would end up being its animation tool. Torch is now the light rendering tool. You can see Premo in use at DreamWorks Studios in the video below.
DreamWorks intentions were to streamline their animation pipeline and to build a collaborative experience between animators, engineers, and riggers. How to Train Your Dragon 2 would be the first film the studio used to give Apollo and Premo its first test run. By all accounts, the experience of using Premo was a resounding "success." One of the hallmarks of this success was, according to Nilsson, Premo's more intuitive interface with models. Nilsson's discussion was entitled "Premo: A Natural-Interaction Animation Platform," and stressed the importance of this more "natural" process. "It's been liberating to allow our animators to just hop around and pose what they see," states Nilsson. In Premo animators and artists spend less time in the curve view. This is because they can directly manipulate multiple characters on screen without rendering, previewing, and waiting. Animation adjustments don't require movement, wait, adjustment, and wait some more. Instead, Premo makes the process resemble traditional animation. More accurately, it's probably more akin to claymation. You also have the ability to pose, push, pull, and sculpt characters by drawing directly on the screen. Premo also gives you full access to any available shots in an entire sequence. You simply load the render and all of the assets are loaded to start working on the shot. With the ability to manipulate models in real time, Premo returns animation closer to an analogue, hands on, experience. It's not about pushing keys or clicking mice, but about manipulating, adjusting, posing, and interacting with characters directly. This puts the artist much more directly in line with the character's movements. The relationship with animator to character is one of the most important components of the animation process. DreamWorks seems to have recognized that creating realistic and endearing characters requires this type of connection. The company has now made the adoption of Premo standard across all areas of the pipeline. However, as far as making Premo commercially available, Nilsson said there had been "some talks," but nothing substantial right now.