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Making the Movie 'DreamWork' Back in the Tri-State

Creating Hollywood magic from a tri-state neighborhood -- we introduce you to the Hoosier who returned to his roots when the pandemic hit. 44News reporter Marisa Patwa sits down exclusively with Newburgh native Kent Estep, a senior technical effects director with DreamWorks Animation.

Posted: Jun 10, 2021 7:35 PM
Updated: Jun 11, 2021 9:24 AM

From action movies like the "The Matrix" to animated films like "Boss Baby" and "Trolls 2," Newburgh native Kent Estep has been behind some of the gnarliest effects in Hollywood over the last two decades.

"I'll do smoke, fire, explosions, destructions," Estep said. "It's not character animation but it's animation that's more realistic-based like fluid water [and] fire."

Last spring, he was just celebrating the world premiere of "Trolls 2" with his crew when the COVID-19 pandemic began, closing many businesses.

But DreamWorks Animation studios, where Estep is a senior technical effects director, never did. 

Instead, he relocated his workstation to a tiny apartment in Los Angeles.

"I was spending 22 hours in the same space so it just wasn't working for me," Estep said. "I got to some of the parks around town but when you are in a city of 7 million people, you aren't going to find personal space too easy."

After a fateful phone call with his sister who lives in Owensboro, he decided to make the jump back by setting up shop in her garage. 

"She has this fiber internet thing and I was like, 'Hold on. You have fiber internet in Owensboro?'" Estep said. "And that's when I kind of thought maybe it could work. Maybe it's worth the chance because Los Angeles at the time was totally grinding on me."

The last few shots of "Croods 2" Estep created right back in the tri-state, making him realize he could have just as much fun working remotely as he did at his DreamWorks office in LA.

"I just kept looking at that shot over and over thinking, 'My God, I did this whole shot from my sister's garage in Owensboro,'" Estep said. "So, that was kind of a crazy bizarre moment."

But after a few months of a tight squeeze, Estep decided to make a more permanent move back to the area, purchasing a house in Santa Claus, where he is now working on a brand new animated children's film which is slated to open next year.

"I remember hearing Perry and Spencer [counties] had substantially built their internet," he said. "And in particular Christmas Lake had fiber throughout the village."

DreamWorks Animation is allowing employees to come back in September. As for where Estep plans to keep making movie magic? He will bounce between his Hollywood life and his home roots.

"I keep thinking what it's going to be like for fall when I can come to the Fall Festival for the first time in forever," Estep said. "Or just down the road here, they have the Mount Zion Apple Festival. So I'm dying to see that or go see my sister in Owensboro and have dinner down time."

As the credits roll on his LA life, Estep has tokens from some of his favorite films he's worked on to remind him of how lucky he is to be making his dream work.

"Remembering the stuff that makes us creative," he said. "And remembering what motivates us as artists."

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Wednesday morning marked our coldest start to a day in nearly 3 weeks - morning low temperatures dove into the single digits for much of the Tri-State and our northerly winds routinely drove wind chill values well below zero throughout the Lower Ohio Valley. If there was any silver lining, our clear skies did allow temperatures to climb back into the mid 20s later in the day; though Evansville’s peak temperature of 25° remained 17° below average for this time of the year. The clear skies are expected to linger throughout the evening and much of the night ahead and will allow temperatures to fall back down into the mid to low teens early Thursday morning. We will fall to 14° in Evansville around daybreak Thursday.
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