top of page

Todd Jacobsen The Prince of Egypt DreamWorks

  • Client: DreamWorks Animation

  • Work Performed: Key Assistant Animation

  • Project Dates: 1996 - 1998

I consider it one of the highest honors of my career to be chosen as one of the initial American cleanup artists hired in 1996 to work on “The Prince of Egypt,” the first hand-drawn feature from the (then) newly-formed DreamWorks Animation. Taking its cues from epic David Lean-style cinema, as well as from impressionist painter Claude Monet and illustrator/engraver Gustave Dore, this film is truly a work of moving art. I’m beyond proud to have it on my resume. I first began working on various incidental characters (slaves, birds, guards, etc., with the occasional main character scene) before moving on to a few scenes featuring Young Aaron, while waiting for footage to arrive on the character which I was initially cast, Moses’ sister Miriam. Midway through production I switched from Miriam to work on Older Rameses, and received my official screen credit on this character. Since the Older Rameses team was among the first to finish their footage, I ended my tenure on “POE” working on Moses’ wife Tzipporah before transferring to the Final Checking department to help with fixes. (More on this below.) In 2000, when hand-drawn animation departments in Hollywood were being dismantled in favor of CG animation (with cleanup artists among the first to be asked to leave), I decided to create a reel that I hoped would establish me as someone who wanted to move out of the assistant/cleanup realm. And since “POE” was one of the first films I’d worked on that I didn’t make copies of my work for portfolio purposes (dumb move, I know), I got the idea to assemble a “music video” of sorts, using the scenes I had a hand in creating. There were a lot of scenes I worked on over those two years to choose from, and I carefully stressed on the original VHS case (and again, here) that I didn’t do all the work on these scenes. Most of these scenes, I Key Assisted the rough animation and subsequently handed my work off to other cleanup artists for inbetweens, on some scenes I followed up other Key Assistants by doing their inbetweens, but all of the noted scenes in this montage were ones I’d worked on in some capacity.

Thankfully, this montage was one of those personal projects that came to me almost fully formed, as if in a dream, complete with a soundtrack. Since this project involved (at some point) having to heavily edit both picture and sound, and not having the tools at the time to do either, I began to make hand-written notes of my little “vision,” beginning with noting which scenes I’d worked on using the timecodes on the DVD. These notes were then compiled into sequences based on selected sections of “Deliver Us,” the film’s powerful and near-operatic opening number. I could see and hear in my head which of the scenes and/or sequences I’d worked on corresponding with certain segments from the song, and how everything would cut together as a finished product. The biggest issue was that the musical passages in the soundtrack of my imagined movie were completely out of order from how the music was originally constructed. So I hooked up a cassette tape recorder to a CD player, and began assembling the rough soundtrack to my movie by “punching” the tape in and out of the various passages of the song on the CD. For some context, here’s the original 7:17 “Deliver Us.” And as you can hear, there are many passages in the montage that occur at markedly different places in the original.

I took all my hand-written notations, my roughly assembled cassette tape soundtrack, my copies of the “POE” DVD and its CD soundtrack, and sat with a professional editor in his tiny, self-contained editing bay in Burbank while he pulled the media off my materials and assembled everything together according to my notes. It took us ten hours to get through this (and the “Cats Don’t Dance” cleanup montage), and I’m incredibly thankful for his help, input and shared knowledge. I was especially surprised and pleased when he asked if he could have a copy of my “POE” montage for his own files. Near the end of production on “POE,” I volunteered to do fixes in the Final Checking department on scenes that had some technical issues. (One of the scenes from this period involved animating [from scratch] the reins attached to Moses’ and Rameses’ horses during their chariot race, and is included in the Cleanup Montage.) But perhaps my biggest task came in the form of two scenes in the “Through Heaven’s Eyes” sequence: a medium shot of Moses clapping that didn’t hook up with the scene immediately before it (co-director Brenda Chapman jokingly stated that Moses’ original clapping on the second scene’s off beats made him look “like the whitest guy who ever lived”); and another scene shortly thereafter of Moses and Zipporah dancing with a scarf that, while its placement was very roughly animated, wasn’t at all clearly defined nor was it attached in any way to either character. This one took a bit of time, as it was a particularly lengthy scene with two characters moving at completely separate rates of speed, sharing a common object that subsequently created its own rate of speed.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page