`Road' becomes a career path

Backgrounds: Three Marylanders find happiness working as animators for DreamWorks' `Road to El Dorado.'

April 01, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Steve Krauth, Jamie Lloyd and Kennard Pak have three things in common: All hail from Maryland, all were involved with animating the luscious backgrounds that are the highlight of DreamWorks' new film, "The Road to El Dorado," and none of them would have listed "animator" as their top career choice.

Krauth, who grew up in Pasadena, started out as a computer systems administrator. Lloyd, who once called Annapolis home, spent a year at College Park trying to figure out what he wanted to do, little expecting he'd be able to make a living off those little cartoon figures he used to doodle in his textbooks. And Baltimore native Pak figured on a career in film, but the kind involving real people. The three spoke by phone from DreamWorks' Los Angeles studios.

"I was really intent on going into live action," says Pak, 26, before voicing a sentiment to which his fellow Marylanders can no doubt relate: "But then, someway or another, I found my way here to DreamWorks."

Trying to spot their names on the end credits of "El Dorado" isn't easy; dozens of animators worked on the five-year project. Some worked on specific characters, some on specific scenes, others on what could best be described as the general look of the film.

"I was responsible for lots of enhancement, or secondary effects," says Krauth, 29, whose work was in computer-generated effects. "That means things like the dramatic lighting as they're about to see the city of El Dorado, all the water effects, the mists, that sort of thing."

Coming from a technical background, he was working happily as a systems administrator at DreamWorks, where he'd been since 1996, when the team responsible for the studio's first animated feature, "The Prince of Egypt," decided he should get out from behind his desk. Specifically, he was assigned to work on some of the film's special effects.

"I was basically just picked out as someone who might be good to transfer over to the artistic side," Krauth says. "I was always fiddling around with some of their stuff, so I guess they figured, `What the heck.' "

At last month's wrap party for the film -- his first look at the finished product -- Krauth said he was most proud of one scene.

"As the boat is coming to El Dorado ... I did the water and the lighting," he explains. "I thought it looked pretty nice. Those were some dramatic light beams coming down."

Also working on water -- a long-time bugaboo for animators, who have struggled for decades to make it look realistic -- was Lloyd, who supervised the water effects.

"It's got to look like a painting, but yet it has to move," says Lloyd, 29. "The water has got to move naturally, and that's the big challenge. ... It's like trying to draw humans, in a way -- everybody knows what a human is supposed to walk and act like. Same thing with water; if it's not done right, everybody can spot it."

A graduate of South River High in Edgewater, Lloyd majored in graphic design and electronic media at Virginia Commonwealth, where he transferred after his year at the University of Maryland. He's been at DreamWorks since 1996, spending much of his time on the computer, working on the water problem.

He says he's well-satisfied with what appears on-screen in "El Dorado."

"I especially liked the whole underwater sequence, the part where they escape from the long boat," Lloyd says. "Most of that water is drawn, but it was originally generated on a computer. You can't really tell which scenes are mostly 3-D [computer-generated] and which are 2-D [traditional animation]."

Now, it's on to new vistas. "I'm off water for a while," he says. "I'm working on fields of grass now. We don't want them to be static; we want them to be naturally moving."

Pak, who graduated from Centennial High in Ellicott City and left the Baltimore area in 1992 to attend Syracuse University, worked as a layout artist on "El Dorado." Which means his fingerprints can be seen all over the finished film.

"I'm kind of like the camera guy," he explains. "I set up the shots, I make sure the lighting works out. I make sure the camera tells the story properly. ... The responsibility I have has a lot to do with how the [finished] film looks." One of 24 layout artists to work on "El Dorado," Pak studied illustration and filmmaking in college. Abandoning live-action filmmaking for animation, he says, grew from a long-standing love of painting -- and the attraction of seeing those paintings come to life.

"I've always liked drawing," he says, "and the idea of making that picture actually come alive on screen, of having it tell a story, I thought that was great."

At DreamWorks, he's been involved with both "Prince of Egypt" and "El Dorado." He's currently at work on the studio's third animated release, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." Working in a field where most of the acknowledged classics are more than 50 years old has its downside, he says.

"We're definitely trying to push the limits of animation," he says, "and that's a very hard thing to do in this business."

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