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Dreamworks Wants to Animate the Web

Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks animation has designs on making online communication more audio-visual.
November 14, 2011

You may think the Web is doing all right as it is, but Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of animation studio DreamWorks, thinks it’s too text-centric. Katzenberg told attendees here at the Techonomy conference in Tucson today that he has technology that will change that.

Jeffrey Katzenberg at Techonomy. Credit: Techonomy

“Text is a learned process, but what we do [at Dreamworks] is intuitive and instinctual, and you do it from the moment you are born,” he said. “We’re trying to see if we can move many of these things we can do today in text but moving up to video and audio, do it with sight and sound.”

Katzenberg said that push will start next year, when DreamWorks will start to spin out its latest 3-D animation technology into the world of the social Web. That technology was developed in concert with Intel. The two companies have been working together for almost four years to create 12 core chips and specialized software able to create photo-real animation in real time. Dreamworks started the collaboration to end the need for computer animators to wait for their work to mature overnight before seeing the final version of a scene they’d made, speeding up the creative process by an estimated 50x to 70x.

Katzenberg was vague about just how it will transform the Web, but he did say that he had social media in his sights. “An immersive audiovisual experience will be able to compete against text in a lot of situations,” he said, “how we communicate and search and share.”

Directly replacing text-based communication with something audio-visual and animated seems rather unlikely. Text’s strengths—such as being skimmable and good for asynchronous communication—ensure that tweets, blog posts, and e-mail will persist. Maybe there’s space for the DreamWorks approach on the side of that, though. Katzenberg pointed to Apple’s talkative virtual assistant Siri as evidence that “whether we do it or somebody else does it, we will move from a text world into a audio visual one.” He could also have mentioned the strong growth of video calling.

Quite how computer animation fits in is unclear, though. Katzenberg could be planning to reinvent Second Life, or maybe have us put animated ogres on screen in our place during Skype calls. My guess is that his new tech will meet greater success in two better established areas of online life: gaming, where better graphics are always welcome, and YouTube, where millions of people express, communicate, and share through video already.

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