As DreamWorks Animation ramps up to release three toons a year, the company has promoted Lincoln Wallen to serve as its new chief technology officer.
Wallen replaces Ed Leonard, who had held the post for the past nine years and ankled last year to launch the DWA-backed tech startup Ptch, an Instagram-like app for all kinds of media.
Since Leonard’s departure, DWA had already been relying on Wallen to oversee the studio’s tech needs as head of animation technology.
“Lincoln is an exceptional executive and brilliant technologist whose contributions to DreamWorks Animation have already been monumental,” said DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. “I am thrilled that he is going to continue in his leadership role as our chief technology officer, and I look forward to working with him as he oversees the company’s rapidly expanding range of technological initiatives.”
The CTO role has become increasingly important at DWA given that the studio has 12 films moving through its pipeline that are dated for release through 2016 via new distribution partner 20th Century Fox. The roster encompasses the next two “How to Train Your Dragon” pics, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” “Madagascar” spinoff “The Penguins of Madagascar” and originals “B.O.O. Bureau of Otherworldly Operations,” “Me and My Shadow,” “Happy Smekday!” “Trolls,” “Mumbai Musical” and next year’s “The Croods,” “Turbo” and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.”
DWA will release four tentpoles in 2015 — an ambitious first for any toon studio.
To manage many of the projects on its slate, DWA is taking advantage of cloud computing and other scalable technology platforms, especially as it works with its animators in Glendale and Redwood City, Calif., and Bangalore, India. It utilizes an HP-run cloud-computing site housed in Las Vegas.
The company may have more pics in production than ever before, but Wallen is working with animators to make sure each film has its own look. That often means tapping advancements in new CG-animation technology.
“Each has to be very different from the last,” Wallen said. “And the quality has to remain at the top. We have to keep the innovating up” while moving data around the studio’s various worldwide locations and making sure files are available at artists’ fingertips wherever they may be based.
“With pixels replacing paint as the artistic medium for animation, cutting-edge technology has become key to creating films that are ever more visually spectacular,” said Ann Daly, DWA’s chief operating officer. “At DreamWorks, our technological expertise has reached a level where it is making it possible for us to head in exciting new directions.”
Wallen has been working with studio partners HP, Intel and Red Hat to build out the software and cloud-computing tools needed to manage DWA’s slate during the production process.
The exec is also overseeing how DWA will start to distribute its films, TV shows and other forms of entertainment to mobile devices and other online platforms. The studio is looking to monetize this arena as more screens connect with consumers, and it’s preparing to roll out content via M-Go, a joint venture with Technicolor.
Wallen joined DWA in 2008 as head of research and development. Before that, he was CTO for mobile services at Electronic Arts., where he devised how the videogame publisher distributes its games to cellphones, technology that has since been expanded to digitally release games to videogame consoles.
“We need to start doing more in that area to change how consumers engage with our brands and characters,” Wallen said.
The exec added that his goal is to boost the visibility of DWA’s pics as well as the studio’s position in Silicon Valley to attract new engineering talent.
“We’re at the cutting edge of much of the computer technology and cloud services technology,” Wallen said. “Through our partners, we’re at the evolution of technology, whether it’s building chips or systems or using the cloud at scale.”
Added Daly: “Ed provided an excellent foundation for the progress of DreamWorks Animation’s technology initiatives, and we look forward to working with him on Ptch. Lincoln brings both continuity and new perspectives as we keep evolving and growing the ambitions of DreamWorks Animation as a technology enterprise.”