On 20th birthday, DreamWorks Animation eyes changing future
Los Angeles (AFP) - DreamWorks Animation, one of the biggest successes of recent Hollywood history, is celebrating its 20th birthday with eyes firmly on the future, both in terms of changing formats and lucrative new markets like China.
Jeffrey Katzenberg's studio, a Croisette regular which chose Cannes to premier the first two movies about lovable ogre Shrek, is presenting the spectacular "How to Train Your Dragon 2" out of competition at the Palais des Festivals on Friday.
It is taking the opportunity to fete its 20 years of animated hits.
Born in 1994 with the creation of DreamWorks SKG -- founded by Steven Spielberg, Katzenberg and David Geffen -- DreamWorks Animation separated from its parent company in 2004 to become an autonomous studio focused exclusively on animated films.
In two decades it has produced 28 features including the blockbuster "Shrek" and "Madagascar" franchises as well as one-offs like 1998's "Prince of Egypt" and "Chicken Run" (2000), which have in all made over $11 billion at the global box office.
The studio also landed the first animated feature film Oscar in 2002 with the first "Shrek" movie, and repeated the trick in 2006 with "Wallace and Gromit".
"I think Dreamworks can be proud of creating the first major new movie studio since Seven Arts" more than half a century ago, Tom Sito, a professor of cinema at University of Southern California (USC), told AFP.
"Dreamworks created terrific hits like 'Shrek,' 'Kung Fu Panda' and 'How to Train Your Dragon,' as well as live action hits like 'American Beauty,' 'Gladiator' and 'Lincoln,'" he said.
But the studio, like its competitors, is not immune to missteps -- like last year's "Turbo," which failed to take off as expected at the box office.
- Diversity is key -
And that is why Katzenberg, a former Disney executive, stresses the need for his company to keep diversifying, notably by investing in animated TV series and the Internet.
"Movies are not a growth business," he told a recent conference in Beverly Hills, adding that in 10 years' time films will only spend about three weeks in cinemas, before transferring to other formats.
The price will vary depending on the size of screen: $15 at the cinema, $4 for television and $1.999 for a smartphone.
"When that happens -- and it will happen -- it will reinvent the enterprise of movies," he said.
Sito agreed that a studio like DreamWorks Animation has no choice but to diversify.
"Dreamworks' challenge up till now is they need to develop more depth" in terms of markets, he said, comparing them to the sprawling Disney empire. "Walt Disney has a lot of resources like features, TV, interactive and theme parks.
Dreamworks' fortunes, on the other hand, "would rise and fall chiefly with the box office of their one or two annual animated feature releases. Their TV animation and live TV ventures sputtered in the 1990s, and in the last few years have been rebuilding."
The other major challenge for Katzenberg is the Chinese market, which all the major Hollywood studios are trying to conquer.
In 2012, DreamWorks Animation created Oriental DreamWorks, a studio based in Shanghai, with the aim of releasing films from 2016 with "Chinese DNA."
In an interview with AFP, Katzenberg said at the time that "what is unique (about China) is that in five to seven years they will be the number one market in the whole world.
"They are going actually to have a marketplace that, if you could succeed at creating a great family brand, the value of that would be tremendous," he added.