NBCUniversal to Acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 Billion

2016
Comcast-owned NBCUniversal buys DreamWorks Animation.

The $3.8 billion deal is expected to close by the end of the year. It is subject to regulatory approval. The DreamWorks Animation brand will remain intact as an imprint.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO, will become chairman of DreamWorks Animation New Media. Chris Meledandri, head of Universal’s Illumination Entertainment animation wing, will oversee operations.

DreamWorks Animation was formed by the merger of the feature animation division of DreamWorks SKG and Pacific Data Images (PDI). It was spun off into a separate public company in 2004, with Jeffrey Katzenberg heading the new division – Steven Spielberg and David Geffen remained on board as investors and consultants. 

The studio has released more than 30 feature films, including the franchises of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon.

NBCUniversal to Acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 Billion

2013
Steven Spielberg
and Jeffrey Katzenberg each donate $10 million to the Academy’s Museum of Motion Pictures. In recognition of their gifts, the two main galleries on the lobby floor of the new museum will be named for both men and their families: The Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Gallery and The Spielberg Family Gallery.

The two galleries will be the only gallery spaces on the lobby level of the museum, slated to open in 2017, and will showcase exhibitions that will explore the past, present and future of moviemaking. Designed by architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali, the 300,000-square-foot Academy Museum will be located next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the old Wilshire May Company building.

“Steven and Jeffrey share a passion for moviemaking and philanthropy,” says Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, who is chairing the museum’s $300 million capital campaign, launched in 2012. “With these incredibly generous gifts, they are combining the two, moving us closer to our goal of building a museum to preserve the history of motion pictures and inspire the next generation of filmmakers.”

“I am so pleased to join with Jeffrey to help build this museum to celebrate, educate, and preserve the arts and sciences of motion pictures,” Spielberg comments. “Having our family name on the lobby floor is a deeply personal way to say how much motion pictures and the Academy have meant to all our lives.”

Katzenberg adds: “Both Steven and I recognize that film’s global impact deserves a museum that reflects its unequaled heritage and serves as a beacon for the future of what we love. Marilyn and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of such a significant project.”

2004
DreamWorks Animation (DWA) is founded.

The studio is formed by the merger of the feature animation division of DreamWorks SKG and Pacific Data Images. Originally formed under the banner of DreamWorks in 1997 by some of Amblin Entertainment’s former animation branch Amblimation alumni, DreamWorks Animation is spun off into a separate public company.

Jeffrey Katzenberg heads the new division, while Steven Spielberg and David Geffen remain on board as investors and consultants.

DreamWorks Animation produces CGI animated films such as the Shrek franchise (2001-2010), Madagascar (2004), Kung-Fu Panda (2008), and How To Train Your Dragon (2010) to name just a few. 

DreamWorks Animation also creates original TV series, and shorts, interactive media, live entertainment, themed experiences, consumer products, publishing, and pioneering technology.

2003
Steven Spielberg receives his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
. He unveils the honor before a crowd of 2,000 outside the Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards telecast.

Among the celebrities attending the ceremony are his wife Kate Capshaw and daughter Jessica Capshaw, film composer and long-time John Williams, special make-up effects creator Stan Winston, and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.

This is so surreal,” Spielberg says “Getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame really makes you feel like you are part of this community." 

He feels honored to receive the star on the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk near those for the likes of inventor Thomas Edison, dog actor Lassie, actress Nicole Kidman, and actor Mike Myers.

2001
Shrek
 is a hilarious computer-animated film about a green ogre named “Shrek“ (derived from the Yiddish/German word "Schreck“, meaning "fright“). Loosely based on William Steig’s 1990 fairy tale picture book Shrek!, the film is directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and establishes DreamWorks Animation as a prime competitor to Pixar

Characters of the witty fairy tale are voiced by actors such as Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow. When Mike Myers is brought in to work for the lead character, he decides to record his voice in a Scottish accent. 

The rights to the books are originally bought by executive producer Steven Spielberg in 1991. At the time, he plans to make a traditionally animated film. When Spielberg brings the film to the newly founded DreamWorks SKG in 1994, Jeffrey Katzenberg quickly puts Shrek into development. The film adaptation leans heavily on pop culture references and parody, often targeting animated Disney films (Katzenberg’s previous employer).

Shrek’s references to other films include The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dumbo (1941), Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953), Vertigo (1958), West Side Story (1961), Star Trek (1966), The Godfather (1972), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Blues Brothers (1980), Poltergeist (1982), Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Beetlejuice (1988), Pulp Fiction (1994), Mulan (1998), and Gladiator (2000).

Originally, Shrek is conceived to be motion-captured, but after poor results, the studio decides to assign Pacific Data Images (PDI), a company sold to DreamWorks in 2000, with the task of providing Shrek’s computer-animated look.

Grossing $484.4 million worldwide, the film is a critical and commercial success. Shrek wins the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (beating Pixar’s Monsters, Inc) and is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Due to the film’s huge success DreamWorks creates three sequels, Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), and Shrek Forever After (2010), as well as other merchandise, such as video games, a stage musical and a comic book.

1998
In A Bug’s Life, a misfit ant, Flik, is looking for “tough warriors” to save his colony from marauding grasshoppers. Pixar’s second animation feature film is directed by John Lasseter (co-directed by Andrew Stanton) and co-produced with Walt Disney Pictures. The story is inspired by Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper and Akiro Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). When Flik recruits a group of warrior bugs, they turn out to be an inept circus troupe – adding a touch of Federico Fellini. Main characters are voiced by Dave Foley and Kevin Spacey. Lasseter adds outtakes to the end of the film, depicting the animated characters as if they are real actors on a set who flub lines and commit bloopers.

During production, a public feud erupts between DreamWorksJeffrey Katzenberg, and Pixar’s Steve Jobs. Katzenberg, former chairman of Disney’s film division, wants to rival Disney by forming DreamWorks Animation. Its first film: Antz.

Antz (directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson) tells the story of Z-4195, an individualistic worker ant, voiced by Woody Allen. Much of his trademark humor is present, because Allen himself contributes some uncredited rewrites to the script. Other characters are voiced by (and look like) Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Walken, and Danny Glover.

Both Antz and A Bug’s Life center around an insect with oddball tendencies struggling to win a princess’s heart by saving their society. A Bug’s Life is more family-friendly and lighthearted, whereas Antz appeals to teenagers and adults, its script leaning towards adult references as well as social and political satire.

Though DreamWorks releases Antz a month earlier, it is surpassed by Pixar’s competition at the box office: Antz performs modestly ($172 million), whereas A Bug’s Life grosses $363 million in receipts. Both films are praised by the critics.

1996
The record label DreamWorks Records
is founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen as a subsidiary of their film production company DreamWorks SKG.

The label’s logo is the last assignment completed by Roy Lichtenstein. Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is the first to be signed to the new label, followed by other distinguished artists and bands such as George Michael, Randy Newman, Morphine, and Eels.

DreamWorks Records also releases the following scores composed by John Williams: Amistad (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and Minority Report (2002).

In 2003, the label is sold to Universal Music Group for about $100 million, when the music business goes through major changes and DreamWorks Records struggles to counter falling sales.

Image: Copyright DreamWorks Records, SKG Music, LLC

1995
In John Lasseter’s Toy Story
a group of action figures, toy animals etc. led by Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present.

It is the first feature-length computer-animated film and the first theatrical film produced by Pixar Animation Studios (co-produced and released by Walt Disney Pictures).

Executive producer (and Pixar’s owner) Steve Jobs keeps the work going with his own personal funding when Disney executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Peter Schneider temporarily shut down production due to creative differences and budget concerns.

Toy Story earns over $361 million worldwide (at an estimated budget of $30 million). It is considered by many critics to be one of the best animated films ever made – praising both the animation’s technical innovation and the screenplay’s wit.

The film receives three Academy Award nominations including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (Randy Newman), and Best Original Song for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, as well as winning a Special Achievement Academy Award.

Toy Story spawns two sequels in 1999 and 2010.

1994
DreamWorks SKG
: Following the example of United Artists (established by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks), Spielberg founds an independent film studio, together with the former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and music tycoon David Geffen. The three co-founders invest $33 million dollars each. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen participates with another $500 million.

The computer generated DreamWorks intro logo – a boy sitting on a crescent moon while fishing (for ideas) – is made at Industrial Light and Magic, based on an idea by Steven Spielberg. The DreamWorks theme is composed by John Williams.

One of the studio’s first projects is the ABC sitcom Spin City (1996-2002), starring Michael J. Fox.

The co-heads of the motion picture division, Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald produce the first DreamWorks feature film, The Peacemaker (1997), directed by Mimi Leder, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

1988
Walt Disney Productions
are teaming up with Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment to produce Robert ZemeckisWho Framed Roger Rabbit, starring Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd.

For the first time in movie history, Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Warner Bros.’ Bugs Bunny appear on screen together, accompanied by a host of other famous Toontown characters.

Animated femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.“) is voiced by Kathleen Turner. Amy Irving supplies the voice for Jessica’s night club song.

Due to the film’s highly innovative animation techniques, the budget soars from $30 to $70 million – it’s the most expensive animated film at the time but turns out to be one of Disney’s highest grossing animated features ever. Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner intends to shut down the production but thankfully Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg talks him out of it (after leaving Disney, Katzenberg co-founds Dreamworks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen). 

The movie’s unique blending of Film Noir live action and golden age cartoons sparks the modern animation scene