FIFICRD – The spark behind DreamWorks’ Academy Award winning PREMO

FIFICRD

Rex Grignon - CEO Jason Schleifer - Head of Content Bruce Wilson - Chief Scientist

Rex, Jason, and Bruce: Nimble co-co-cofounders and PREMO contributors.

DreamWorks is celebrating their recent Academy Award win for their animation tool PREMO. Along with the named winners, Jason Reisig, Alex Powell, Martin Watt, and Alex Wells we at Nimble Collective are proud as well!

Rex Grignon and Bruce Wilson and Oscar

Rex and Bruce attend the Sci-Tech Awards.

Three of our founders, Rex Grignon, Jason Schleifer, and Bruce Wilson were instrumental in the development of the PREMO animation software solution during their tenure at DreamWorks Animation. The Premo team, consisting of in-house artists and tech experts from Intel, wanted to develop an intuitive and animator-friendly animation tool that would focus on user interaction and give the animators a more natural way to work with 3D characters.

It all started when Jeffrey Katzenberg tasked Rex Grignon with designing DreamWorks’ next generation animation tool. Rex’s first move was to pull together a design team of the most innovative, creative and technologically fearless artists at the studio. Jason Schleifer, Fredrik Nilsson, Simon Otto, Cassidy Curtis, and Jason Reisig were at that first design summit. The first break from traditional tech design was to start with the user. “What are the words we want artists to use to describe Premo?” Grignon asked the team.

From that simple question came a sophisticated design vision that completely rethought the way animation is created.

Why did they do this? Well, most animation software is designed around requirements and the necessity to get footage done. They decided this approach was antiquated and led to complicated and barely usable software. PREMO would be an artist first software. But how to achieve that goal? The answer was FIFICRD!

FIFICRD ( pronounced fee fee crud) is the design spark that Rex, Jason, and Bruce came up with to keep everyone focused on what matters most to artists.

FIFICRD

Fluid

  • The workflow must be efficient and smooth. All mouse travel, eye travel, menus, and clicks were examined and eliminated down to the barest minimum.

Immersive

  • Animators should be able to immerse themselves in their task and not have constant, annoying tasks that are not directly related to creating great animation.

Fast

  • Performance of the tool was critical: so redraw speed, playback locking no matter how complex the scene, and responsiveness was paramount.

Intuitive

  • Intuitive is hard to define, but when it’s right, it’s right. You should know where to find something without having to remember every submenu or state.

Creative Throughout

  • It’s an artist’s tool, so it must always speak to artists. Terminology, look, mindset are all aimed at the creative, not the technician. Real-world names and words where possible.

Representative

  • Most animation packages make you work in a low-resolution version of the character and only after you render are you able to see what the character will actually look like. This was not acceptable for Premo. The characters and scene were to be as high-res and representative as possible so there were no leaps of imagination required to envision the final image that would appear on screen.

Direct

  • There is nothing more frustrating than moving some number in a control box or picker just to move something on a character. It feels like you are animating with one of those claws in a toy grabbing game at Chuck E. Cheese. So everything in PREMO was to be as direct as possible. Clicking on the ACTUAL character to manipulate it rather than some colored nurbs ring or picker.

How did this work in practice? As we were developing Premo, we said that all new features had to “Make it past FIFI,” who was our imaginary guard dog for happy animators. She did a great job of holding the line and keeping the tool Fast, Immersive, Fluid, and Intuitive.

Was this approach validated? We would say so. It has increased the quality and productivity on DreamWorks films tremendously. Oh yeah, it also won an Academy Award.

Seeing the impact of a tool like Premo on artists and their creativity is also what gave us the confidence to form Nimble Collective. We believe that this same user-first design mentality can be applied to the entire studio process. And we are very happy with the results. Again.

Scott LaFleur
Scott LaFleur
Head of Platform and co-founder of Nimble Collective, Scott's work as an animator at DreamWorks Animation cemented his belief that nothing should stand in the way of your story. Driven by experience in feature films and education, Scott focuses on making content creation a fantastic, empowering process.

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