Last Friday, the skeleton crew at Pacific Data Images turned off the lights for the last time, finally arriving at the end of the long, protracted closure of DreamWorks Animation’s Northern California studio. Jeffrey Katzenberg solemnly announced the closure to stunned silence in January, and as production subsequently ramped down, the following months were akin to seeing a loved one slowly fade; each week the cafeteria was a little quieter, a little emptier.
My stint as an employee was relatively short, but I had already felt at home there; PDI was a close family of insanely talented artists and technologists, some who had been there since the beginning, prior to the acquisition by DreamWorks fifteen years ago. Carl, Richard, and Glenn, armed with a DEC PDP containing little more than 128 kilobytes of memory and a C compiler in the early 80s, transformed the small production house into a mainstay in the field of computer graphics. While the studio was primarily involved in feature animation, it is not widely known that the studio contributed to television and live action film over the course of its history, from Michael Jackson’s iconic Black or White music video to The Simpsons to Minority Report. Upon entering the industry after school, I have met someone at every single gig who was somehow associated with the Redwood City shop. After the announcement of the closure, our feeds began to fill with pictures sent by PDI alums now in Emeryville, the Presidio, Vancouver, flashing gear emblazoned with the familiar golden figure, film camera hoisted high.
It was a moving reminder, not only of how small, but of how close this industry truly is.
One quickly realized how special this place was upon arrival; a first-day Polaroid joined those of the other employees on a wall near the cafeteria. There it was, with other first-day pictures of men and women whose names I recognized from textbooks and papers, who made the animated films I grew up watching. Even more poignant was watching these pictures slowly disappear from the wall, one by one.
You saw its importance in the moving epitaphs written by coworkers and the press, and when past employees returned from far and wide for one last crew photo. As yet another historic institution closed its doors (an event that is all too familiar to anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in animation or visual effects), everyone mourned together.
I owe a great deal to this studio. Godspeed, everybody. It was an honor and a privilege. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.