Raising the bar

As Visual Effects Supervisor for PDI/Dreamworks, Ken Bielenberg '87 (computer science) has played an integral role in the development of award-winning animated films such as Antz (1998), and Shrek (2001).

With the release of Shrek 2, Bielenberg reports his team had their work cut out trying to outdo the success of the earlier films.

"Working on Shrek, we were going for a look with roughly 10 times the complexity of Antz," says Bielenberg. "With Shrek 2, we wanted more — we went for two to three times the complexity of even Shrek one.

"We really increased the organic feel and detail with Shrek 2," he says. "To accomplish this, we used two brand new techniques: bounce shading and subsurface scattering."

Shrek 2 features the debut of both new techniques to whisk the viewer into a computer-generated world of unparalleled accuracy and detail — right down to each individual hair on Puss In Boots.

But the need for realism and accuracy doesn't stop there. Other new techniques were used to simulate the interaction of Puss' clothing and belt. For the human characters, special wigs were shipped in from overseas for the team to model, ensuring that every aspect of the characters' appearance was fluid and lifelike.

The difficult detail work of Bielenberg and his team is certainly paying off. Shrek 2 grossed over $108 million on opening weekend alone.

"It's been immensely satisfying to see the public reaction," says Bielenberg. "We started with a good base in Shrek, and there was certainly anticipation building, but the response has really been overwhelming. We're on cloud nine."

Moviegoers can expect to see much more of Bielenberg's talents, as PDI/Dreamworks has already applied Bielenberg and his team to their next task: Shrek 3.

"We're always leveraging off every film," he says. "We're always adding on top."

Spring 2004 update to story in The University Magazine, Spring 2002