NYFA college, conservatory, and summer camp students gathered at the Riverside Theater at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus for a Q&A with DreamWorks chief technology officer, Jeff Wike. Mr. Wike has been with DreamWorks since before the renowned production company ventured into 3D animation. NYFA Chair of 3D Animation Craig Caton conducted hosted the event.
Caton, also a veteran of DreamWorks, reminisced with Wike on what it was like to work in a space where the employees were provided a free lunch: a seemingly simple gesture from one of the largest animation companies in the world means a lot more than just a nice meal.
“One thing that’s unique about DreamWorks is the artists and technicians work together,” said Wike. “We work together, we eat together; breakfast and lunch everyday. Which is brilliant, by the way. Let me talk about free lunch. If you think about it, it cost about $10 a day to feed an employee. You’re sitting with the people you work with. I eat lunch every day with my director of boards. Not just because I like them, but also I get to catch up with them. Yeah, we talk about what we did last night or this and that, but a lot of what we talk about is work.”
“It’s kind of a village and building a family,” Caton said, agreeing that eating lunch on campus fosters a sense of community. At DreamWorks, animators are hired to the company — not for a project. This means teams are working together for years, and every day they foster stronger relationships.
One student asked which operating systems should be mastered to help garner professional success in animation.
“We do use Maya for layouts,” said Wike, spotlighting the Oscar-winning software taught in NYFA 3D animation programs. “We have a system we built on top of it called the Tiber. It allows us to do really interactive set dressing. It does a lot of lazy coding. We do use it in some character effect systems. Mostly we’ve been migrating a lot of that stuff to Houdini over the past six or seven years.”
For rendering systems, DreamWorks has created their own rendering software, Moonray, used for feature films. A look at their logo might give insight to the inspiration for such a name. For TV the company employs Vray, while Maya is a go-to tool for a variety of other projects.
The takeaway, according to Wike, is that animators need to know a little bit of everything. “You want to constantly explore,” Wike said as he explained that DreamWorks has a license for nearly every type of animation software on the market.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jeff Wike for taking the time to speak to our students and the kids participating in teen and tween camps. DreamWorks’ “Captain Underpants” is in theaters now, while “Dawn of the Croods” and “Spirit” are currently streaming on Netflix.