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MailTribune.com
  • Bringing characters to life

    Dreamworks' latest animated feature, 'The Croods,' opens Friday, March 22
  • A former Medford resident was part of the animation team that brought to life the characters in a soon-to-be-released family film about cavemen.
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  • A former Medford resident was part of the animation team that brought to life the characters in a soon-to-be-released family film about cavemen.
    Jennifer Harlow, 25, prepares shots for animated feature films released by Dreamworks Animation, the company behind popular hits such as "Shrek" and "How To Train Your Dragon."
    "The Croods," the story of an eccentric family of cavemen set to open March 22 nationwide, is her first feature film with the company.
    " 'The Croods' is a prehistoric comedy adventure that follows the world's first family as they embark on a journey of a lifetime when the cave that has always shielded them from danger is destroyed," a synopsis on the Internet Movie Database website reads.
    Harlow, who attended South Medford High School, is pleased with how the movie she helped create turned out.
    "I got to see the film for the first time last week," Harlow said. "It was very special, very awesome just seeing that."
    Before "The Croods" was cut, edited and scored, Harlow's job was to help craft the movie's shots. Harlow said the film was broken down into sequences for the animators, which she likened to chapters in a book.
    "The chapters are broken down into paragraphs in a way, and those are the shots," Harlow said.
    Each shot varies in length. Some can be as long as 10 to 12 seconds, she said. Others last only a second or so. Every second comprises 24 frames, which Harlow builds one at a time using software programs. A three-dimensional marionette model is put on screen, and Harlow and other animators manipulate its body and face into poses and expressions for the frames.
    "Just a long process of going through, frame for frame," Harlow said.
    Robert Graham, her father, said she's cut out for the job.
    "She has a tremendous amount of talent, and she has a very, very strong work ethic," he said. "She's also very collaborative."
    Animators turn their finished product in to supervisors. If they want a shot tweaked, Harlow and other animators receive notes on the needed fixes.
    "I also show the director throughout the day," Harlow said.
    Harlow's contributions to the film include movements for a creature she likens to a "walking whale" and a side sequence of a character named Guy as he constructs a giant tiger puppet.
    Animators are required to do about 60 to 70 frames per week. The work was somewhat intimidating, Harlow said. She had signed on right after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in December 2010, starting work on a full-length film right away. She'd had some on-the-job experience during an internship at Pixar, but working around so many talented artists and finding her way was a challenge at first, she said.
    Now, as she edges closer to starting work on the "How to Train Your Dragon" sequel and another film called "Mr. Peabody and Sherman," she said she feels more confident in her ability.
    "I feel very, very comfortable, and I'm not as daunted as before," she said. "Just getting the level of animation quality somewhat closer to what my peers are doing."
    Graham said he hasn't seen the film yet, but that he'll be one of the first in line when it premieres in Medford.
    "(I'm) just very, very proud," he said.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
    Correction: The spelling of Harlow's last name has been corrected throughout this version.
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