The tool Hollywood is using to animate

Discover how Apollo helped Dreamworks bring the alien invasion Home.

The latest blockbuster animation from DreamWorks, Home, has been built with the help of Apollo – the company's new propriety platform, which debuted on How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Apollo enables artists to control and manipulate data in an effortless and intuitive way, creating an end result that is visually richer and greater in scope 
for the audience.

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Premo, the core component of Apollo, is the animation tool enabling artists to work with characters in real time on their tablets with a stylus. Artists can work at the speed of their imagination, sculpting rather than managing a complex web of curves and spreadsheets.

"We can use Cintiqs to animate," says head of character animation, Jason Reisig. "The whole system has been designed around drawing, it's drawing based, so you can draw over [the models].

"Don’t get me wrong, all that data you'd be used to is there working behind the scenes, but Apollo makes animating easier, it feels more tactile, more like stop-motion puppetry.

"Apollo means you can focus on the character, you can push it around and explore how you want it to behave. And you can do this right from the blocking stage, which makes a huge difference as everyone involved can get a feel for the scene at an early stage."

Apollo helps animators to focus on the character


Jason co-developed Apollo with the aim to make it as user-friendly as possible, he continues: "We pushed the software so hard on this movie – the design is simple and clean, light in style but heavy on geometry."

VFX supervisor Mahesh Ramasubramanian 
says the challenge with Home came from 'emoting' – in this movie acting drove the lighting.

The aliens in the movie change 
colour depending on their mood, but the simple idea soon became complex; flat colours looked too sharp 
and lost a lot of the humour, and changing lighting 
would change the mood of the colour – a soft light on 
a yellow character would change mood when lit with 
a new light source. In the end it took six months to get 
the right blend of colour and lighting.

Apollo "makes lighting easier and quicker"

This issue, however, was made much easier to solve with Apollo. "From my perspective it makes lighting easier 
and quicker. We can setup lights in a scene and immediately see how it will be affected. Lighting can 
just go into a shot, set the lights and go," Mahesh comments.

"Apollo is one of the most revolutionary software changes I've been through. Animators can now animate a whole scene in context, they can see what has happened before and what is happening after, and it's 
all in real time.

"It's really easy to scrub and very hands on, more like animating with marionettes. It's hard to imagine how they worked before."

Artists compare Apollo to animating with marionettes

Words: Alice Pattillo

Alice Pattillo is a Cardiff-based freelance writer. This article first appeared in 3D World magazine.

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