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Photo of Andrew Pearce outside of the DreamWorks campus in Glendale, Cali. // Photo courtesy of Andrew Pearce.

The cinematic journey according to Andrew Pearce

By May Domingo, October 7 2020—

Andrew Pearce is the recipient of one of the 2020 Arch Awards from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science. He achieved great things as a BSc’84 and MSc’88 alumni, one being his rise to vice-president of global technology at DreamWorks Animation. On Sept. 24, he accepted his award and proceeded to teach aspiring students the art of working with technology and math in the filmmaking industry.

The Gauntlet sat down with him before the big event. 

“I never expect to be recognized for my work,” Pearce humbly said. “Ninety-five per cent of it’s just like any other job. You’re dealing with meetings and negotiations and contracts and spreadsheets. It’s the same stuff as you do in any business. And then there’s that five per cent of it, which is like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re making these fascinating, wonderful stories that are touching people’s hearts.’”

His work can be seen in stories like the second and third installment of The Matrix trilogy, Shrek the Third, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon and most recently, Trolls: World Tour.

Growing up, Pearce said he was always into working with computers because of his fascination with the Star Wars series. 

“[Star Wars] just sparked the imagination,” he said when asked about how his journey started. “I always had an interest in computers. I love the logic puzzle of [computers], I loved thinking through and it gave me a reason to learn math.”

He pursued his undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary with little plan for the future. 

“To say I had any kind of plan would be overstating things. I was pursuing things that interested me. I loved doing computer graphics, playing in my band, doing comedy.” 

That is why he also contributed at CJSW-FM, Loose Moose Theatre Sports and the Gauntlet.

He admitted he would have been better off with a plan instead of finding his path at 30 years old, but he believes that if you do what you enjoy doing, it makes you a more diverse and interesting person. 

“It makes you able to see connections between certain things that you don’t see if you’re narrowly focused,” Pearce said. “Try to be polyglot and learn the technical side but also literature, how stories are made and the classics like hand-drawn animations. As humans, I think it expands your compassion and your ability to understand other people.”

Pearce was invited back to the U of C virtually, for Alumni Month, to share some tips on how to make a blockbuster animated movie. 

He started off the session by giving the participants a virtual tour of the DreamWorks studio campus. The attendees were able to see both the front and the back of the studio campus.

The session was mainly focused on the process that goes into creating animations. Like he said during the interview, “there is nothing like film to drive home the point that it is a collaborative medium.” 

Considering the fact that one film has one PetaByte of data, 40K core processors, 200M core hours, 500M files and 250B pixels, he believes in the quote “team work makes the dream work,” because an entire team of dedicated individuals is essential for creating the cinematic magic.

Every great story starts with an idea. Then, the idea is pitched and critiqued before becoming a story. From there, the story unfolds into a complex process of storyboards, art designing, multiple editing, layouts, animations, compositing and editing again. A character’s feature itself goes through much texturing and shading before it even becomes a pixel, let alone be a part of a frame. 

“Animation is where art meets technology — artists are the drivers of technical innovation and technology opens new artistic doors,” he said in conclusion.

The passion, evident in Pearce’s tone, and comedic additions made the session enjoyable and inspiring. It was an insightful presentation as to what goes on behind the scenes of big screen animated movies. 

As for future DreamWorks projects, Pearce promoted The Croods 2: A New Age, The Bad Guys, and Boss Baby: Family Business as some of the movies coming out from DreamWorks in the near future.

“You have to wait five minutes into the credits to see my name,” he jokingly added.

For more information on Alumni Month and their events, visit Alumni Month Programs. To connect with Andrew Pearce and find out more about his achievements, visit his LinkedIn page.

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