Omaha native shares hair-raising experience as technical director on 'Shrek 2'

BY L. KENT WOLGAMOTT

Eddie Murphy may provide the voice of Donkey, Shrek's annoyingly funny, talking animal sidekick, but Terran Boylan is responsible for making Donkey's hair move the way it should.

A character technical director for "Shrek 2," Omaha native Boylan has moved up in the computer animation hierarchy since he joined Dreamworks in 2000 and began work on "Shrek" as an effects animator.

"For the first 'Shrek,' I did the earwax candle that Shrek pulls out of his ear," Boylan said. "Anytime I'm flying and sitting next to somebody and they ask what I do, I tell them that. They always know it. I feel like I've just been lucky. I think 'Shrek' was a very special movie. Hopefully, we've done justice to it with 'Shrek 2.'"

A 1983 Omaha Central High School graduate, Boylan studied computer engineering at Iowa State University, then stayed in Ames and got a master's degree in art in 1990. Joining a start-up company there after graduation, Boylan worked for Engineering Animation for a decade before moving to California and his Dreamworks job.

So what exactly does he do?

"If you imagine the characters as robots in Disneyland or something, the character TDs are the people who put the wires inside so they can move the way they're supposed to move,"Boylan said in a telephone interview from Redwood City, Calif., the Bay Area home base of the Dreamworks computer animation team.

"It's interesting work.There's a lot of computer science and math involved. Everyone in our department has a background in a technical division and also an artistic element. It's a good department for that. Our goal is that we want the animators to be able to concentrate on the animation aspect, rather than the technical aspect."

Boylan was part of one of the more intensive elements in "Shrek 2" animation - the development of a system to render realistic-looking hair. Called the "wig system,"the process of computer animating hair combines dynamic motion - hair that moves in reaction to the movement of the head and body - and manual control by the animators.

In addition to working with Donkey's hair, Boylan also contributed to the hair work on Princess Fiona; King Harold, whose hair had to react to the movement of his crown; and Queen Lillian, whose "hairnet thing" created a challenge for the computer TDs.

"There's a period on each film where there's an opportunity for technical development,"Boylan said. "We like to take advantage of that. Certainly there was improvement in the hair and lighting from 'Shrek' to 'Shrek 2.' We continued to push that."

But once the technical changes are in place, the experimentation ends and the computer TDs get to work. After all, they are one of the first steps in the multiyear process of bringing an animated film to the screen.

"Our department works very early in the production process," Boylan said. "So I actually finished my work on 'Shrek 2' a year ago. Since then, I've been working on 'Madagascar,' which will be coming out in 2005."

That doesn't mean Boylan had nothing to do with "Shrek 2" during the past year. There were some technical changes that had to be made so the animators could make the characters do what they wanted them to do. And the computer TDs can see how their work develops by looking at the dailies - the shots that are completed each day before the film is edited together.

"We can see it all the way along, in the different stages,"he said. "First it goes to animation, then to lighting and effects. With hair, there are certain things you can't see in motion that you can see in lighting."

Even with that insider's access, Boylan didn't see the finished "Shrek 2" until a couple of weeks ago.

"I was really happy with it,"he said. "I thought it was a beautiful film and the story worked. It's hard to tell when you're seeing it in a piecemeal fashion if all the pieces are going to come together."

For now, Boylan says he's found his niche, working in just the right job at a company making top-quality pictures.

"Idon't really have the art skills to be an animator,"he said. "It is that artistically driven. While the animators aren't drawing, they still have to think visually."

Even though "Shrek 2" is likely to join "Shrek" and other computerized films at the top of the all-time animation box-office chart, Boylan was reluctant to embrace the popular notion that computer animation has relegated traditionally drawn flat animation to the cinematic scrapheap.

"I don't really know if that's true,"he said. "There's been a lot of talk about how 2-D animation is old-fashioned.But 'Lilo & Stitch' did pretty well. I think it's a matter of appeal. There are plenty of other styles of animation that have appeal. 3-D animation is just one style. But it's hot right now."

Thanks to the work of Boylan and the rest of the "Shrek 2" crew, it's going to stay hot.

Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or kwolgamott@;journalstar.com.

'Shrek 2' nonstop fun

Howlingly funny and brilliantly fast-paced, "Shrek 2" starts entertaining in its opening scene and doesn't let up until the credits finish rolling 92 minutes later.

In between, director/co-writer Andrew Adamson, his talented voice cast and adept crew create another computer-animated fairy tale that adds some meaning to the mayhem, updating The Brothers Grimm to comment on true love 2004 style - with an ogre and a princess representing all those who have to fight to stay together.

Even more postmodern and fractured than its predecessor, "Shrek 2" cobbles together pop culture references that come so fast you're likely to miss a few, lampooning targets like "From Here to Eternity" and Justin Timberlake.

Many of those references are going to zip right over the heads of most of the "Shrek 2" audience. But catching those nods and digs is the challenging part of the film's nonstop fun.

The rest of the fun comes from the entertaining characters, particularly newcomer Puss-N-Boots, a saber-wielding feline voiced with suave hilarity by Antonio Banderas.

All this is handled with lush animation, considerable wit, understanding of cinematic action and some depth, making "Shrek 2" a movie that entertains and still manages to deliver a subtle message about the nature of love, hypocrisy and the limitations of material wealth.

- L. Kent Wolgamott

Shrek 2

HHHH

Director: Andrew Adamson

Stars: Voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews

Rated: PG-13 (for some crude humor, a brief substance reference and some suggestive content)

Now Showing: Douglas, 2 screens East Park, 2 screens SouthPointe

The Reel Story: The sequel to the 2001 computer-generated animation smash is howlingly funny, thanks in large part to a new character Puss-N-Boots, voiced by Banderas, and delivers a subtle message about fighting for love.

Note: L. Kent Wolgamott's full review was published in Wednesday's Journal Star.