By Stephanie N. Mehta
August 17, 2009

At Dreamworks Animation, CTO Ed Leonard has to play well with others.

Top technology executives are no longer sitting at the corporate equivalent of the kids’ table. The information technology leaders who gathered at Fortune’s Infotech 40 forum at Brainstorm Tech have moved from supporting roles to star billing when it comes to helping their companies cut costs and execute strategy.

Ed Leonard, chief technology officer of DreamWorks Animation, (DWA) gets involved in everything from buying servers to promoting movies. When Anne Globe, the studio’s head of worldwide marketing and consumer products, wanted to run an advertisement for the film Monsters vs. Aliens in 3-D during the 2009 Super Bowl, she called Leonard.

There was a technical issue: DreamWorks produces animated films in stereoscopic 3-D, a technique whose images need the proper display equipment to look their best. Most in-home TVs are not set up to handle stereoscopic images. The only way to deliver a 3-D experience to a television audience would be through the use of anaglyph images, which produce a 3-D effect when users wear old-fashioned two-colored glasses.

Anaglyph images aren’t as immersive as their stereoscopic counterparts, but Leonard’s group “went back to the drawing board,” and by testing and tweaking the colors found a way to maximize the anaglyph experience. “The result was better than I expected,” Leonard says of the 90-second Super Bowl spot. The ad let people experience 3-D at home (wearing pre-distributed glasses) and, he says, “It made you want to see the movie.”

Leonard has a fan in CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. “Technology and technology innovation are of the essence to us at DreamWorks Animation. It is what empowers our artists and their creativity,”says  Katzenberg in a written response to our questions. “Ed Leonard, as our CTO, understands this better than anyone and in our organization is the bridge that marries them together. He’s a filmmaker who understands technology and he is a technologist who understands filmmaking.”

Leonard stresses that his experience isn’t unusual: CTOs today need to be comfortable working with others—even animated characters.

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