Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bye Bye PDI

When I started in computer animation in 1985, there were five studios that dominated the field: Robert Abel and Associates, Digital Productions, Omnibus Computer Graphics, Cranston-Csuri Productions and Pacific Data Images.  Three of those five companies didn't make it to the '90s.  I can't remember when Cranston-Csuri closed, but it was a long time ago.

PDI was the company that survived.  It was formed in 1980 by Carl Rosendahl, who was joined shortly by Glen Entis and Richard Chuang.  At that time, all software had to be home brewed.  There was no off-the-shelf software.  Every company that existed at the time had to invent (forget about re-invent) the wheel before they could do any work.

Take a look at this demo reel from 1983.  This was cutting edge stuff at the time.

PDI stayed at the forefront of the computer animation business.  It did many flying logos for broadcasters.  It moved into TV commercials, animating the Pillsbury Doughboy.  It created morphing software used in the Michael Jackson video Black or White.  It produced shorts like Gas Planet, and contributed computer character animation to the TV special The Last Halloween.

After Pixar got computer animated features off the ground and drawn animated features were suffering at the box office, Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks knew he had to get into the cgi game.  His way in was by partnering with PDI.  Initially a minority owner, DreamWorks eventually purchased the entire company.

Antz was the first film made by the studio, followed by Shrek, the film that really put DreamWorks animation on the map.  The PDI facility continued to create some of DreamWorks most successful films, such as the Shrek sequels and the Madagascar series.

Now, it's closing.  It's no secret that DreamWorks has been suffering financially of late.  The company has worked hard to diversify, buying existing characters and creating TV work.  However, it still needs to cut expenses in order to stay healthy.  Five hundred employees are expected to lose their jobs across all the DreamWorks facilities, but PDI is being closed. 

The last of the '80s companies is gone.  It held on longer and had a greater impact than its original competition.  With the closing of PDI, a chunk of living cgi history vanishes.  A lot of top talent passed through PDI through the years, and now it's just a memory.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I worked at PDI for 7 years until a few months ago when I left to pursue a Masters degree. I am utterly dumbfounded and shocked that Dreamworks is shutting it down. My heart goes out to all my friends there. Dreamworks is not thinking straight these days, this just proves it.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

As a kid, I recall seeing one or two of their shorts pieces as filler on PBS. Always loved "A Comic Zoom".