Keepers of the Story: Behind the Scenes of The Croods at DreamWorks Animation Campus

“They’re really the keepers of the story.” That was Kirk DeMicco, director of upcoming DreamWorks film The Croods, talking about story artists. At that single line, my interest bloomed and I leaned forward, completely absorbed in the world of feature animation sprawling out around us. As if I wasn’t already completely enthralled.

DreamWorks Animation CampusWe had just walked down a hallway covered in storyboards and sketches, somewhere deep inside the DreamWorks Animation Campus in Glendale, California.

This was a press trip for parent bloggers (referred to as DreamWorks Parent Bloggers Summit) provided by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation. I walked among a dozen or so other writers but I may as well have been in my own little world of fascination, constantly falling behind the group and taking in every scene with wonder.

I was every bit Santa in Rise of the Guardians, revealing through the Russian nesting dolls that his core is made of “wonder.” As press trips go, I was pretty sure I was supposed to play it cool and not appear awe-struck, but honestly, why?

DreamWorks has consistently contributed to what has become the background ambiance of our family memories: a playroom full of dragons thanks to How to Train Your Dragon, karate-themed birthday parties inspired by Kung Fu Panda, and now nighttime storytelling thanks to Rise of the Guardians, which ignited a love of the magical and mythical unlike any other movie we’ve seen.

It’s no wonder my 6 year old, Grey, is exploring animation in his intrepid hunt to discover his talent. Our lives are colored by animated features. DreamWorks is shaping the aesthetic of childhood for a generation and bringing rise to a new wave of storytellers.

The newest feature from DreamWorks is The Croods, hitting theaters March 22, 2013. Per the studio:

The Croods is a 3D comedy adventure that follows the world’s first modern family as they embark on a journey of a lifetime when the cave that has always been their home is destroyed. Traveling across a spectacular landscape, the Croods are rocked by generational clashes and seismic shifts as they discover an incredible new world filled with fantastic creatures — and their outlook is changed forever.”

Our press trip afforded us not only a day behind-the-scenes at the animation campus, but also an advanced screening of the film. When asked later what I expected, I honestly said, “Brown. I expected the movie to be very dusty and brown.” Sigh. I’d seen the previews and knew that the Croods discover a gorgeously colorful new world, but still. Cavemen. Dirt. Brown. That’s what I had in my head. Maybe a lot of crude fart jokes. (shakes head in disappointment)

I was wrong. It’s not brown. When I think of the movie now, I see blue and green and the face of the father and then my heart seizes a little because, oh, how I loved him. But more on that later.

Story Artists at DreamWorks

Photo credit: Eric Charbonneau

We’re now sitting in a room covered in storyboards and massive posters of scenes from the film. Director Kirk DeMicco continues, “That group [the story artists] is gonna be harder on the story than any group because they live and breathe it and sleep with it and eat breakfast with it in their heads all day long and all week long and all year long.”

Ah. The keepers of the story. It’s a romantic notion that there is a group of artists that protect the inherent core of the films we grow to love, keeping it true to its message and vision. I realize that big studio movies are massively marketed and branded and come packaged with all the toys and products in the world. But 20 years from now, all our kids are going to remember is the story.

Creating stories worth remembering takes incredible talent and a lot of it. DreamWorks has created a culture on their animation campus that attracts impressive talent, particularly interested in exploring new ways of telling stories and conveying emotion through imagery.

It was the culture that captivated my attention, as I couldn’t help but imagine Grey as an adult, walking the sunny corridors of the campus and eating lunch by the fountain while brainstorming solutions for the particular tics of a new character.

DreamWorks Campus

Photo credit: Eric Charbonneau

Every corner is designed to encourage creativity and foster both health and thoughtful artistry: 20 kitchens newly stocked with mindful choices, game rooms to order, a doctor on campus, hallways lined with nods to astounding progress on new projects, and  lots of water everywhere in the form of fountains and streams to both mask the sound of the highway and to soothe the creative mind.

Even the campus walls were designed to make the artists feel grounded, new stucco designed to crack prematurely and lend to a feeling of the campus being well established.

It’s this level of forethought and attention to detail that made me appreciate DreamWorks on a more critically developed level. It made me see every DreamWorks feature with new eyes.

I expected The Croods to be brown and grunty. The Croods was brilliantly gorgeous and heartfelt, instead. We should expect nothing less.

For now, I wanted to bring you at least a step closer to seeing DreamWorks as more than a studio. One of my favorite aspects of social media is its ability to give brands a personality and a heart behind the public machine, at least when handled right. Knowing the thoughtful work that goes into a project transforms the project for me; think those behind-the-scenes bonus features on your favorite DVDs.

When I see you care about your work, I care about your work.

More next week on the art and artistry of The Croods, including a look at character development and the importance of lighting as an emotional brush stroke. And also probably a lot about Grug, the dad in The Croods. Eep, voiced by Emma Stone, is the more likely center of the film, but Nicolas Cage brought Grug to life for me in a way that deserves its own post.

The Croods hits theaters on Friday, March 22.

Follow @DWAnimation on twitter
Jump into #TheCroods conversation or profess your love of #RiseoftheGuardians with me!

Like The Croods on Facebook and visit the official website
Re-pin great DIY tutorials, printables & more from The Croods on Pinterest!

Looking for a fun family movie in the meantime? For the love of all that is awesome, go buy Rise of the Guardians right this second, out now on DVD. Our family went and saw Rise of the Guardians three times while in the theater and have now watched it five times on DVD. The core of that film is so uplifting and its pace so entertaining, you’ll love every moment. And just in time for Easter! Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny? Yes.

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Thank you again to 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation for providing the trip to the DreamWorks Animation Campus.

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Read more of Megan’s writing at
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More of Megan on Threadbare Theory:

Homework Helpers: 14 Steps to A+ Habits
Talent Search: How A.N.T. Farm Encouraged my Son to Discover his Hidden Talent
14 Tips for Raising Crush-Worthy Boys

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