Pacific Data Images is a computer animation production company that was bought by DreamWorks SKG. The company is now known as PDI/DreamWorks and is half of DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc., the public company formed by merging PDI and the feature animation division of DreamWorks.
PDI/Dreamworks headquarters in Redwood City PDI was founded in 1980 by Carl Rosendahl with a loan of $25,000 from his father. He was joined in 1981 by Richard Chuang and in 1982 by Glenn Entis. Richard and Glenn wrote the foundation of the in-house computer animation software that was to be used for the next two decades. They started work on 3D software at the end of 1981, and 3D production started in the fall of 1982. The initial goal of the company was "Entertainment using 3D computer animation". By the time PDI reached its 25th anniversary in 2005, it had completed over 1000 projects and grown to over 400 employees.
1980 1987: Early years
The first computer at PDI was a DEC PDP 11/44 with 128 kilobytes of memory. This was a lot of memory given that the computer had only 64 kilobytes (16-bits) of address space. It had a 20 megabyte disk. Attached to this was a $65,000 framebuffer which had a resolution of 512 512 and was 32 bits deep.
The first 3D image rendered at PDI was done on March 12, 1982. The image was simply a 4 by 4 by 4 grid of spheres of varying colors. The spheres were not polygonal, they were implicitly rendered and were fully anti-aliased. The resulting image was 512 by 480 by 24 (8 bits for red, green and blue channels) which took 2 minutes to render.
The PDP-11 was soon replaced by a DEC VAX-11/780 and later PDI shifted to another superminicomputer called the Ridge32. This machine was 2 4 times faster than the VAX-11/780 at a fraction of the cost.
The original in-house software evolved into a large suite of tools which included a polygon scan-line renderer (called p2r), an interactive animation program (called e_motion), an animation scripting / scene-description language (called script) and a lighting tool (called led). All of these tools were written in C and deployed on a variety of machines running various flavors of Unix.
The initial investment to start the company was $250,000, about $600,000 in 2005 dollars. Its original offices were in Sunnyvale, California working out of a garage owned by Carl's father. PDI moved to its first real offices in 1985 (Sunnyvale), to its second offices in 1995 (Palo Alto) and to its current location in Redwood City in 2002. The growth of the company was financed solely through profit. The company was run as an open book, monthly financial reviews were shared with the entire company and a detailed monthly financial report was released. Money was never taken out of the company which maintained a 7% investment in R&D. PDI was debt-free when acquired by DreamWorks in 2000. This was quite an accomplishment for a low margin service business with a lot of risk.
PDI's first client was Rede Globo, Brazil's largest TV network. This gave PDI the major client they needed to fund the building of most of the early software. This also sent PDI into the business of TV motion graphics and logo animation (flying logos). PDI designed some early show openings and other special projects for Rede Globo. The software written was also given to Rede Globo and is the only time the in-house software was given to another company. The contract ended in the mid-1980s, but Rede Globo continued to use the software for many years.
Most of the 1980s were spent creating broadcast graphics for most television networks around the world. PDI was working concurrently for ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, Cinemax, MTV, VH1, TNT and Showtime. PDI focused on direct to video production as opposed to film output being done at other early studios. PDI modified the interface to a Sony BVH-2000 using parts put together from a trip to a toy store in order to do single-frame recording. All the rendering was done on fields at 60 or 50 frames per second (depending of the video broadcasting standard used locally).
PDI controlled a large percentage of this market during this time and they were really the first mass producer of computer animation. One year producing two major networks' graphics packages meant specifically rendered images for over 400 local television stations. Some of the early production contracts included Globo, Entertainment Tonight (produced for Harry Marks), ABC Sports 84 Olympic promos, and NBC News.
PDI planned and proposed a feature-length CG animation film in 1985. Unfortunately, they were unable to raise the funding needed to produce it.
While not the first computer graphics studio founded, PDI is the longest lasting. It has outlived all the other studios which existed in the early 1980s. Of the many reasons for this, one is that PDI never went into significant debt by purchasing expensive hardware. While other studios purchased Cray supercomputers, PDI only bought cheaper hardware, treating it as a commodity which would soon be replaced, enabling lower operating costs.
1987 1990: transition
PDI's early focus was on network TV productions since they captured over 50% of that market in 1985. However, in 1990, PDI introduced the digital film scanning process. This process was used to popularize automated rig removal and image touch-up. PDI was also instrumental in introducing performance animation for theme parks, ads and movies. This started with a project for a real time performance character for Jim Henson Productions.
During these years of transition, PDI moved away from the motion graphics market and focused their attention on commercials and 3D visual effects for feature films. Notable among the commercials was the first Pillsbury Doughboy created in CG. Pillsbury was the first company to move an established icon to CG. Before this, all previous animated commercials were done with stop-motion. Other notable commercials include the "Bud Bowl" and "Scrubbing Bubbles" spots.
Early in the 1990s, Thaddeus Beier and Shawn Neely developed a method for morphing that resulted in a much more natural and expressive morph. This technique is called "feature-based morphing". PDI used this technology to create various well-known sequences, including the Exxon car-into-tiger morph and the extended morph at the end of the "Black or White" music video from Michael Jackson. These morphing jobs were very easy to do with PDI's software and the effect was in high demand. The algorithms invented by Beier and Neely were published at the annual SIGGRAPH conference and are now the basis of most image morphing tools. For many people, their first exposure to these algorithms was the SGI IRIX software called "Elastic Reality".
PDI broke into the feature film visual effects business with contributions to Batman Forever, The Arrival, Terminator 2, Toys, and Angels in the Outfield. At the time, the strengths of PDI included character animation, lip synch, rendering effects, the aforementioned rig removal and cleanup, and performance animation.
During this era PDI transitioned from the Ridge32 computer to SGI workstations running IRIX. They were not alone in this transition as most of the industry followed suit.
1990 1995: character animation
Early in 1990, Tim Johnson and Rex Grignon officially formed PDI's Character Animation Group with the mandate to develop a group of artists with the creative and technical skills needed to produce a feature-length CG-animated film. The group originally consisted of Johnson, Grignon, Raman Hui, Glenn McQueen, Beth Hofer, Dick Walsh, Karen Schneider and Eric Darnell. Under the auspices of the group, PDI's commercial character animation skills grew and numerous notable short films were produced. Among these are Gas Planet (1992), Sleepy Guy, Bric-a-Brac (1994), Gabola the Great (1997), Fishing and Fat Cat on a Diet.
This character group set the company off in a fun new direction that set the basis for development goals during this period. The shorts (short films) were a way to develop animation techniques as well as being a test bed for software and pipeline procedures and flow.
PDI has always allowed animators to pursue individual products and shorts. This has produced several award-winning short films in this category. Some of the more notable productions are Opera Industrial (1986), Chromosaurus, Cosmic Zoom, Burning Love (1988), and Locomotion (1989).
By 1992, PDI was seriously looking for a partner to produce feature-length animated films. PDI's first CG feature was planned in 1985, and Hollywood was still not ready to say "Yes". PDI landed "The Last Halloween" TV special which won them an Emmy Award for the CG characters in the otherwise live-action special with Hanna-Barbera. This turned into PDI's first 3D Character Animation pipeline in 1991. Using this pipeline they did a 3D stereo Daffy Duck for Warner Brothers and a CG Homer and Bart Simpson for the 1995 The Simpsons Halloween episode "Homer3".
The result of all these projects was, finally, a movie deal with DreamWorks SKG in 1995 to make the movie Antz. At this time DreamWorks purchased a 40% share of PDI.
Glen Entis left PDI for the game industry in 1995, first joining DreamWorks Interactive as CEO. When Electronic Arts purchased DreamWorks Interactive, he moved to their Vancouver office to set up their next-generation games research group. He is a founding board member of Los Angeles' Digital Coast Roundtable, and is chairman of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.
1995 present: feature films
In 1997 Simon J. Smith, a former member of The Mill in London and a CGI veteran, founded PDI's layout department. The layout department produced PDI's first feature film Antz which was released by DreamWorks Pictures in 1998. This was followed by Shrek in 2001. The layout department is now a major part of the PDI/DreamWorks film making process.
After the success of Antz, Carl Rosendahl sold in 2000 his remaining interest in PDI to DreamWorks. PDI was renamed to PDI/DreamWorks and continued to operate as a stand-alone business unit. He left PDI in February 2000 to become managing director for Mobius Venture Capital, a board member of iVAST, an MPEG4 software company, and several other Bay Area technology firms. In May 2001, this sale essentially united the two studios, PDI and DreamWorks, into a single entity which went public a few years later as DreamWorks Animation (DWA). PDI stopped making commercials in 2002. The PDI studio is now known as PDI/DreamWorks. Animators at PDI work on projects based at the PDI studio, but also assist in DWA projects based in the Glendale DWA studio. Today, the two studios essentially act as a single unit.
In 2008, Richard Chuang, the last of the initial three, left the company to pursue his own ventures.
PDI/DreamWorks has produced six box-office hits with Antz (1998), Shrek (2001), Shrek 2 (2004), Madagascar (2005), Shrek the Third (2007) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). With $442.2 million USD in box-office ticket sales, Shrek 2 is currently the second highest grossing animated film of all time. highest grossing animated films of all-time in the United States.
PDI won their first Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film for Shrek in 2002.
PDI/DreamWorks has won four Scientific and Technical Academy Awards. The first was awarded to Les Dittert, along with others, in 1994 for work in the area of film scanning. The second was awarded to Carl Rosendahl, Richard Chuang and Glenn Entis in 1997 for the concept and architecture of the PDI animation system. This award in particular recognized their pioneering work in computer animation dating back to the founding of PDI 17 years earlier. Nick Foster was given an award in 1998 for PDI's fluid animation system (flu) and in 2002 Dick Walsh was given one for the development of PDI's Facial Animation System.
These short films were side-projects primarily shown at animation festivals. They were done between the paying jobs.
Teddy Bear Maelstrom (1983, Glen Entis)
Chromosaurus (1984, Don Venhaus)
Max's Place (1984, Adam Chin)
Cosmic Zoom (1985, PDI Staff)
Burning Love (1987, PDI Staff)
Opera Industriel (1987, Adam Chin, Rich Cohen)
MTV ID Competition: M Spring (1988, PDI Staff)
Locomotion (1989, Steve Goldberg)
Slide Show (1991, Glenn McQueen)
Frankie & Johnny (1991, PDI Staff)
Happy Dog (1992, PDI Character Animation Group)
Gas Planet (1992, Eric Darnell)
Big Smoke (1993, Eric Darnell)
Sleepy Guy (1994, Raman Hui)
Bric-a-Brac (1995, Cassidy Curtis)
Simpsons 3-D: Homer-3 (1995, PDI Staff)
Gabola The Great (1997, Tim Cheung)
Basic Insect (1998, Marty Sixkiller)
Millennium Bug (1998, Lee Lainer)
Fat Cat On a Diet (1999, Raman Hui)
Fishing (1999, David Gainey)
Metropopular (2000, Jonah Hall)
Sprout (2002, Scott B. Peterson)
Notable short projects
PDI animators also work on films made primarily at DreamWorks' Glendale campus. See DreamWorks Animation for a complete list.
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