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DreamWorks Brings Kids' Original Superheros to Life in 'Rise of the Guardians'

Using cutting edge technology and partly produced in the Bay Area, the story of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost teaming up to fight the Boogeyman was a huge hit at the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival.

When DreamWorks Animation decided to create Rise of the Guardians, they had a simple task in mind: don't screw up childhood dreams. 

"When I first heard about the idea, I was a little dubious," said DreamWorks' Peter Ramsey, who eventually took it on as his first film as director. The crew was worried about producing something that honored the characters in it, but the more they thought about it, the more they started to believe in them themselves. 

And the results - a Russian tattooed Santa Claus, an Australian Easter Bunny, a cute Sandman, fluttery Tooth Fairy and confident but confused Jack Frost - does indeed do justice to kids' imaginations as they join forces to fight Pitch Black, also known as the Boogeyman, and use superpowers to guard all children from darkness.

The special effects didn't hurt either.

"For this moment in time, this is the cutting edge of visual storytelling on the planet," DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said during a Q&A with the audience at Century Cinema Theaters in Corte Madera Wednesday night as part of the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival.

Katzenberg was joined on stage by chief creative officer Bill Damaschke, producer Christina Steinberg, producer Nancy Bernstein and Ramsey. Rise of the Guardians was showcased as the festival's Centerpiece Program and Katzenberg also accepted the Spotlight Award from MVFF.

When they started to make the film four years ago, the technology for what they wanted to do didn't exist. The team wound up incorporating technology from Industrial Light and Magic, and borrowed animatronics techniques to develop layers of skin texture for the characters.

They also finished the movie just days before the premiere.

"We finished the movie on Saturday," Katzenberg said. Ramsey added later they were putting the finishing touches on the sound mix as late as Monday.

"This is literally hot off the presses," Ramsey said.

About 25 percent of the film was produced locally in their animation studio in Redwood City. The PDI studio just expanded its Bay Area branch in July when DreamWorks unveiled a new 200,000-square-foot campus. Over the next three years, the company plans to add about 200 more employees to the roughly 600 already there.

The movie itself is based off on William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood book series, which was inspired when Joyce's daughter asked him one day whether the Easter Bunny knew Santa. The DreamWorks team worked closely with him in the development of the movie, and used their own kids as a test group during production.

And, one question from a kid in the audience seemed to sum up the experience: 'Did you have fun?'

"Getting to think up all of this stuff; it's a dream job," Ramsey said. "It really is."

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