Jeffrey Katzenberg 1-on-1, Part 3D: Dreamworks' TV Future

Jeffrey Katzenberg: 3-D Evangelist

As we mentioned in part one of our interview, Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is not a man to rest on his laurels. He's not a man that rests much in any sense. When this interview was conducted last week in South Florida, it was part of just one stop on a 19-city global tour, which included Toronto, Singapore, and 16 other cities throughout the world.

But as CEO that's part of his job description - maximizing all of Dreamworks assets to get every ounce of production from them he can. Another example the company's partnership with Hewlett-Packard and Intel to develop their new 3D process.

As I said before, it costs us an extra $15 million for this process,” Katzenberg restates. “It’s much less for live-action movies. The reason for this extra cost is we have to now render the movies three times and rendering takes a lot of computer time. We now have to render a right eye version, a left eye version and a combined version. So it’s a much more expensive for us than it is with other films.

“There are a lot of manufacturers who are coming out with equipment, making things very specific for this. In a very short period I think we will see the commoditizing of what it takes to make these kinds of things. They will be available to everybody. So then the costs will go down very, very quickly.”

But the real profit center? Try software.

“It’s mostly proprietary because it’s mostly brand new,” says Katzenberg. “We had to create a lot of new programs for this. We even had to create a few pieces of hardware, like a new virtual cameras where the filmmakers can actually travel into and through a scene.”

“In order for a company like us to handle the investment is why we have two “big brothers,” Intel and Hewlett-Packard, to help do the research and development. They have both been instrumental in helping us in our efforts. When we create things like this, we actually give it to them and they will actually create consumer products. Intru 3D is actually a software that Intel will make available to people all over the world and for many different specialties.”

Maximizing assets also means taking already successful properties into new platforms. One of the two hit films Dreamworks Animation had this year was Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the sequel to the hit film of 2005. Box Office Mojo reports the first film did $193 million domestically/$532 world wide. The sequel has done $173 million domestically/$343 world wide (so far…it’s still on first run).

This March, Nickelodeon will launch the first true spin-off from any Dreamworks project, The Penguins of Madagascar. It’s based on the four feathered, flippered and furiously flippant birds who constantly stole the show from the likes of Alex the Lion and company. This isn’t Dreamworks’ first attempt at televised entertainment – remember the snake bit Father of the Pride – but don't be surprised if this series is the one that will go a long way towards establishing Dreamworks as a force in television animation as well.

“We had a lot of success with Shrek the Halls,” reminds Katzenberg. “We had a gigantic TV hit with that. Shrek the Halls is actually the fastest selling holiday DVD of this year. Again, if you make something of high quality, there’s a market for it.

“We’re going to do more work for television in the future. Not a tremendous volume of it at first. We’ll go at it in a very strategic way. We will produce things that we think will help fill out and build a franchise.”

And don’t think Katzenberg isn’t also keeping an eye on the ultimate prize of TV programming – syndication. He is well aware there’s plenty of market potential for smart, subversive animation. Just ask him about the track record of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons.

“Because The Simpsons is genius,” Katzenberg acknowledges. “We have a few ours in the water and our eyes on the prize. We do look at using our existing IP as the basis for other platforms. We really are about expanding our franchises in as many ways as possible. We have the Shrek musical coming to Broadway. We will have The Penguins of Madagascar going to Nickelodeon. We will be doing other specials, but they are all expansions of existing IP. Still, our main prize is movies. They are the core of our business.

And to that extent, Dreamworks Animation has a very busy schedule starting 2010. That year they will be releasing not one, but three, feature films; How to Train a Dragon, Shrek Goes Fourth and a superhero movie entitled Mastermind. In 2011 they have two more, the sequels to Kung Fu Panda and the final … Katzenberg said so himself … Madagascar movie.

“People want great entertainment. One of the important things about animated movies is they are as entertaining for the parents as they are for the kids and their older siblings. There’s also no stigma attached to an animated movie any more. There’s no ‘that’s for kids’ mentality. Those are things both Pixar and us have overcome. Our films have become true populist and popular entertainment.

“There was a great debate when Technicolor was introduced. A lot of people thought it was a gimmick. How about that’s how we see? We see in color. Color is more emotional. It’s added greater feelings and textures to movie telling and moviemaking. Everything I just said about Technicolor? I believe I’m saying the same thing about 3-D.

“The thing about animation is it's constantly growing and moving,” Katzenberg concludes. “What is state of the art for a movie today is not going to be the same a few years from now. All I can hope with Dreamworks Animation is when we make an original movie, it stands out as being truly original and that there is nothing else like it anywhere else. For everyone who loves movies – and that’s pretty much everyone – this newest revolution in filmmaking is taking us toward an incredibly exciting future … a future that we can all eagerly look forward to with both eyes wide open.”

Monsters versus Aliens is due in theaters March 27th, 2009

Related:

  • Jeffrey Katzenberg Part One

  • Jeffrey Katzenberg Part Two

  • Long-time Simpsons Producer Looks Forward Even After 20 Years  

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