Technology Serves Up Terabytes of Whimsey in “Shrek Forever After”

The final installment of the Shrek series of animations hits theaters in the US on Friday. DreamWorks Animation puts high tech at the service of artistic whimsy.

Shrek, left, and his new nemesis Rumple

The final installment of the Shrek films hits theaters this Friday. “Shrek Forever After” is a 3D animation that offers an army of ogres, hundreds of dancing witches, and all of the Shrek characters in data-intensive 3D.

DreamWorks Animation SKG, the studio behind the Skrek movies, uses HP computer technology. It’s a close relationship between the studio and the computer maker; for the past three years DreamWorks Animation has hosted some sessions of the HP Workstations division annual press event.

For “Shrek Forever After” Dreamworks put together the studio’s largest render farm yet. The production required nearly 76 terabytes of data and more than 46 million render hours, in contrast to the 6 terabytes of data and near 5 million render hours needed in 2001 for “Shrek.” The tighter ratio of terabytes to render hours is probably due to the more complex effects. In “Shrek,” character hair was kept short, modelled as a solid mass and rendered with multiple strands to create the best look possible. Because of the challenges at the time, Fiona’s hair was designed in one long braid with no significant movement. Because of advances in both software and hardware, the artists behind “Shrek Forever After” have the technological freedom to animate hair that helps define their characters. For example, Fiona now has fiery locks that flow in the wind to accentuate her new role as a glorious warrior ogress.

Improvements in computer technology make it possible for Fiona, left, to have much more complex hair than in previous Shrek movies.

Fun facts about ”Shrek Forever After”:

+ Beast Fiona’s “hair cut” took about nine months of development between digital artists.

+ Shrek is seven feet tall, has 22 teeth and his hand is about 13.5 inches from the base of his palm to the tip of his middle finger. His shoe size would be a size 22 (15.5 inches), similar to Shaquille O’Neal.

+ Rumpel wears four different wigs in the movie: business wig, speech wig, angry wig and victory wig.

We'd like to say the new girth Puss in Boots carries added terabytes to the final cut, but that would be fibbing.

+ Rumpel’s feet are 6.25 inches long, about the size of an average two- or three-year-old child.

+ Reference for the battle between ogres and witches was created using motion-capture technology. Three actors with more than 22 years of combined martial arts experience, including one Aikido instructor and one U.S. collegiate Wushu champion, marked the motion-capture sequence for the actors.

+ There were 65 sequences written, recorded and storyboarded over the course of filmmaking. The final film had 32 sequences in picture.

+ In the ogre camp, there are 35 torches in 59 shots. That’s 2,065 layers of torches, and 4,130 layers accounting for stereo.

+ The “Shrek Forever After” crew generated 74,016 different ogre variations, of which the same 51 were used throughout all the ogre shots.

+ There are 430 witches on the dance floor and balconies when Shrek is brought in to meet Rumpel.

Donkey seems heavier, too. Could it be his voice's ego?

+ Underwear had to be fashioned for the ogres whose kilts were a little too revealing as they danced to Piper’s song. Witches with similar problems simply had their cloth simulations revised.

+ Reference for the dancing ogres with Pied Piper was a video of a professional dance troupe with about a dozen members. The choreographer was Michael Rooney, Mickey Rooney’s son.

+ Fiona’s old castle room has 449,166 pieces of particles floating around in the air.

Everybody's favorite wuss, Gingerbread Man, finds his inner ogre this time.