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What Does it Mean to be “Shreked”?

Shrek’s success in captivating the hearts of many has allowed it to be included for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2020. It was deemed culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant for American culture. But did you know that the film used to be hated by animators when it was being made?

Dreamworks animators who failed in other projects were often assigned to work on Shrek, which was a project everyone thought wouldn’t be successful. The reassignment was termed “being Shreked,” synonymous with being sent to the “Gulag.”

Shrek’s Rough Start

Shrek was a 30-page children’s book written by William Steig in 1990. The book caught legendary film director Steven Spielberg’s attention, and he bought the story’s rights in 1991. Spielberg wasn’t able to make the film. But in 1995, Spielberg, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, formed DreamWorks Pictures. Katzenberg then acquired the rights to the said book, and their new company went into active production of its movie in the same year.

The first installment of Shrek took almost five years to make. Dreamworks wanted it to be similar to Pixar’s Toy Story, but at the time, their computer graphics technology was not as refined as Pixar’s. The project was temporarily stopped but restarted in 1996. By then, the studio got Chris Farley to voice act Shrek’s character, and there were several changes to the original screenplay and animation. (Source: CBR)

Shrek was drawn initially to take Farley’s features. The ogre also adopted Farley’s mannerisms. But when Katzenberg saw a one-minute test, he was dismayed with the result. The animators didn’t achieve Katzenberg’s initial vision.

The movie yet again faced another obstacle when Farley passed in 1997. Katzenberg moved its production to a computer-generated imagery shop in Northern California. He also successfully booked Austin Powers’ Mike Myers to be the voice of Shrek. Eddie Murphy played Donkey and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona. Interestingly, the three actors agreed to a modest fee of $350,000 each. (Source: NY Post)

The movie was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, winning over its viewers and earning a standing ovation. Shrek grossed over $42 million on its first weekend, marking DreamWorks’ biggest take ever. And in 2020, it was selected for preservation by the National Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. (Source: Fantastic Facts)

What did being “Shreked” mean to Animators?

Despite the film’s success, its production was a nightmare for DreamWorks’ animators. Most of the production company’s employees saw Shrek as a pointless and money-wasting project. They didn’t see its value in the beginning.

Many animators saw Shrek as a low-budget film, which was true since the production company capped its budget to $20 million, with a limit of only 17 characters, and used new college graduates to work on it. In her book titled The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks, author Nicole Laporte writes about her interviews with the film’s animators.

Laporte wrote in her book that animators called Shrek the Gulag. It was known that if an animator failed on the Prince of Egypt project, they were sent to the dungeons of Shrek. Employees later termed the movement as being Shreked. The employees felt that the reassignment to Shrek was a punishment, not realizing that it would become one of DreamWorks’ best productions. (Source: NY Post)

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