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[non-Blender] Dreamworks Apollo


The new Dreamworks Apollo software allows their animators an unprecedented amount of freedom during their work. See how they used it to create How to Train Your Dragon 2.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Director Dean DeBlois and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto discuss and demonstrate DreamWorks Animation's groundbreaking new technology Apollo and how it revolutionized the Dragons experience.

About the Author

Avatar image for Bart Veldhuizen
Bart Veldhuizen

I have a LONG history with Blender - I wrote some of the earliest Blender tutorials, worked for Not a Number and helped run the crowdfunding campaign that open sourced Blender (the first one on the internet!). I founded BlenderNation in 2006 and have been editing it every single day since then ;-) I also run the Blender Artists forum and I'm Head of Community at Sketchfab.


  1. Divine Providence on

    What's most impressive about apollo is its back-end optimizations that allow so much to be in the scene, and editable in real time. But the bulk of what they showed is just using your pentablet instead of your mouse to free translate bones, I do this already in Blender.

    • Lewis Veasey on

      There's still bones. They use custom models that fit with the character's form (like Presto) the controllers are like shape keys mixed with bones that are all meshed with drivers to make it work together. For the longest time studios like Pixar, Blue Sky and Dream works have used values (Sliders) to control every portion of a character which, is absolutely pain staking and can give "robotic" like movement that, has to be "cleaned up" really well. The new software has a good time line and artist simply 'click' and move each controller to the desired location and insert key frames. Making animation faster and more organic. However Blender has had many of the features way ahead of the competition oddly enough. They could of just built on top of it and saved time and money in my opinion.

    • which begs the questions: If thier animation package was soo darn difficult and lacked realtime feedback, then why did all of thier previous film's animation not end up looking as choppy as Elephant's Dream? seriously did they actually have thier animators go through such painful and tedious measures for thier last 28 films? what good is having in-house software if it serves your poorly, where the animators banging thier heads on the keybord for 20 minutes of loading morph targets (called shape keys in blender) wishing nothing but the sweet relief of Maya?

      • I guess it's all about hiring less people for animation, more work require more people... nothing to do with software, it just now 1 person can do same work as previously 20 people were doing, it's just for saving money... poor animators learning and spending time and money...

  2. I noticed 'Dreamworks Apollo' mentioned in the credits a couple of weeks ago when I saw How 2, and looked it up out of curiosity. It seems to me, being partnered with Intel, DWorks will have to "talk up" the hardware/software aspects, as part of all the promotional material. That's totally fine, but I really don't buy this "we used to have to animate all values in a big spreadsheet" sob story. How 1, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda... did they really not have direct-manipulatable rigs?! That doesn't speak to me of how 'advanced' the new system is, but indicates shockingly limited practices up until recently. Surely not!?

  3. I think it looked as if they are using shape keys which are linked to the armature in an 'i.k' style manner, so that you move the rigged control points of the shape keys in the 3d window and the mesh deforms until the shape key reaches its limit and then the bone moves afterwards in a quasi constrained manner. This is not possible in blender from my understanding as the bones can only deform the weighted mesh not the other way around.
    I think also that they didn't show it but they probably have mesh collision and physics in real time that affect these rigged shape keys, so that as an example, if a hammer hits another character in the head, the hammer deforms the mesh on the victim and once the limit of the deform is reached the head and underlying armature move according to the above mentioned physics, this happens in real time as they are manipulating the rigs. This means you only have to animate the hammer and the not the victims response. In blender you would have to animate moving the victims head to match the hammer though you could use bone parenting with I'k's' it is a slower and awkward process.
    The repercussion of a system they are using for environment animation and character interactions is a huge time saver and then frees them to add finely tuned detail.
    I'm fairly certain I have heard Ton mentioning ages ago that blenders game engine will eventually become integrated in to an 'interaction mode' which would surpass the technology they are using in this trailor if it ever saw the light and has amazing potential for animation production as an example you could animate a character with walk cycles and logic bricks that has collision with objects in the environment in real time.
    mmmh I love blender.

  4. Chickenkeeper on

    Well done Dreamworks, you've finally made it to the 21st century :P

    Seriously though, credit to the artists for putting up with the old software for so long and still producing fantastic animation, I find it hard to get my head around the fact that it has taken this long for them to upgrade their software to something that has so many of the features that other software has had for so many years

    • Well the problem you run into is the fact that everyone is used to the old software, and considering the studio is almost always working on a movie, it's really hard to just swap out.

      Even though the new software may be easier to use, it will still take time to learn as with any 3d package.

      • Chickenkeeper on

        Good point, though surely the time they could have saved by switching software earlier would have more than made up for the time spent learning the new software?

        • my point was more the fact that they are surely almost always working on something, so switching mid project would be hard, and you would loose allot of work. You would have to find a good time when there were no projects going on, and then learn then, but the entire studio would be rather unproductive during this time.

  5. A lot of people don't realize it, but they do mocap and then have the animators go over it for the cartoon exageration. You can see them do mocap on How to 'Train Your Dragon 2' on youtube.

  6. Perhaps its time to look at blender animation tool set again.

    - Perhaps being over populated with timelines that could be condensed into one
    - a compositor view that could be Integrated into blender 3D space
    - a grease pencil that could actually offer a commercial traditional 2D line that also offer basic things like Ink and Paint for those that immersed in 3D
    - simple Object swapping tool set - Every animator wants to make a 3D stop-motion look this way. For the love of god whyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?
    - Storyboard pre vis feature that introduced print keyed frames and allowed for script to be ingested
    and this is just off the top of my head

    Seriously my list is extensive and I have notes loads and loads of notes

  7. Why does dreamworks have to brag about there software. its cool and all but other company like pixar have had real time stuff for a couple years now. Why do they act like they invented it.

    I remember on the shrek 2 DVD they bragged about subsurface scattering, when Pixar has been had been shading their characters like that for years.

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