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Hollywood Spotlight [Reviews] - Dinosaur [Production Notes]

 

Joining the ranks of Hollywood’s all-time greatest and most impressive visual effects spectacles, Walt Disney Pictures’ "Dinosaur" immerses moviegoers in a photorealistic world of wonders with its stunning blend of digitally enhanced live-action photography, special effects wizardry and computer-animated characters. With more than 1300 sophisticated individual effects shots, this cinematic marvel is one of the most ambitious and complex of its kind. A prime example of the film’s unprecedented scope and scale occurs in the awesome opening sequence where the camera swoops through a herd of grazing dinosaurs numbering in the thousands. In all, the film’s cast features more than thirty different species of prehistoric creatures ranging in size from the 12-inch gliding lizard to the 120-foot long, 100-ton Brachiosaur. Accompanying the visual thrills is a powerful ad entertaining story of survival and adaptability with an Iguanodon named Aladar as the central character.

To meet the demands of this enormous visual effects effort, Disney set out to create a first-rate digital studio from the ground up. Over a four-year period of time, the production not only established a facility that rivaled any in the industry but also had a milestone film to show for its efforts. At the conclusion of production on "Dinosaur," the digital studio joined creative forces with Dream Quest (Disney’s award-winning effects house) to form a new entity called The Secret Lab (TSL). TSL is currently providing visual effects for a variety of films for the Studio ("102 Dalmatians," "Gone in 60 Seconds") as well as beginning work on other CG (computer graphics) animated features.

Bringing "Dinosaur" to the screen required 3.2 million processing hours and the film’s total elements occupied 45 terabytes of disc space (the equivalent of 45 million megabytes) or 70,000 CD-ROMs worth of information with 100 million individual files. The Studio’s "render-farm" consisted of 250 dedicated computer processors and another 300 desktop processors at the individual workstations. On average, 30,000 processing hours per week were devoted to rendering and compositing the film with a peak capacity of 60,000 processing hours. The "Dinosaur" software group wrote 70,000 lines of code, which translates to approximately 11,700 pages of text or a 25-volume set of encyclopedias (each volume being 468 pages long).

According to Peter Schneider, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, "’Dinosaur’ brings Disney to the forefront of digital technology and sets a new standard for the integration of computer-generated imagery and live-action. It also opens up whole new worlds of possibilities for our filmmakers. We are so proud of what our team has been able to accomplish and feel that TSL will continue to be a leader in this growing area of the industry."

Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, adds, "Dinosaurs have always captured our curiosity and this is a movie populated almost exclusively with them. You are in their world and for the first time they are not portrayed as monsters. They are thinking and feeling and protecting one another. Technically, it is a movie that could not have been made until now. We could have done it a lot of different ways, but nothing gives the integration - character to character, character in background and character in an environment - as the combination of CG characters, live-action backgrounds and sophisticated effects elements. When they run, they kick up dust; they cast shadows; they interconnect with the water. Having our own digital studio gave us the ability to create living breathing characters in realistic environments with the kind of detailed articulating facial expressions we needed to tell our story."

Adding to the film’s sense of realism, two live-action film crews traveled around the world over an 18-month period to capture the dramatic backdrops for this fable-like story that combines elements of science fact along with Disney’s rich storytelling tradition. A computerized camera rig known as the "Dino-cam" was used on certain complex shots to approximate the dinosaurs’ POV and allow the filmmakers the precision that they needed to add in the characters and effects. Back in Burbank, a team of digital experts used the tricks of their trades to art direct virtually every frame of the live-action photography and marry it seamlessly with the computer-generated dinosaur and early mammal characters. Breakthroughs in portraying skin and musculature on the diverse cast helped the characters to come alive as never before and gave an exciting dimension of credibility to their movements and actions.

Although "Dinosaur" intentionally veers from scientific fact in certain aspects of its storytelling, the filmmakers turned to several leading authorities in the world of paleontology and spent considerable time researching their leading dinosaurs to ensure a high degree of accuracy and authenticity in portraying the movement of the characters.

"Dinosaur" was directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, produced by Pam Marsden and co-produced by Baker Bloodworth. Zondag is an animation veteran who has served as an animator, storyman and director on a variety of feature and television projects throughout the industry. Leighton makes his feature directing debut on this project following a distinguished career in stop-motion animation, including an Oscar®-nominated stint as animation supervisor on the acclaimed 1993 Touchstone Pictures’ release, Tim Burton’s "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Marsden, whose background includes a ten-year stint as managing director of the International Theater Festival in Chicago as well as stage managing assignments for theatrical productions in New York and Los Angeles, makes her Disney debut here as producer. Bloodworth had previously served as associate producer on Disney’s "Pocahontas" and has an extensive list of accomplishments in Los Angeles theater.

Two of the industry’s top visual effects experts came on board to help build Disney’s digital studio and create a production pipeline capable of handling the demands of this enormously complex motion picture. Neil Krepela (an Oscar® nominee for "2010" and "Cliffhanger" who helped to set up ILM and Boss Films) took on the role of Visual Effects Supervisor. Neil Eskuri, a CG animator and technical director with credits at many of the major effects houses, served as the film’s Digital Effects Supervisor.

Production Designer Walter Martishius and Art Director Cristy Maltese were responsible for overseeing the film’s overall look.

A team of 48 animators was brought together to work on this film. Nearly one third of the group had backgrounds in traditional hand-drawn animation, while another third came to the process from the world of stop-motion. The others had previously worked in CG animation.

James Newton Howard ("The Sixth Sense," "Snow Falling on Cedars," "The Fugitive"), a five-time Oscar® nominee, composed the film’s exhilarating original score which supports the emotion and scale of the story. Lebo M., a key collaborator on the vocals for the animated version of "The Lion King" and a songwriter for several of the songs in the Broadway production, was responsible for the film’s primal vocal arrangements, which beautifully accent certain key scenes. Veteran Disney music man Chris Montan served as executive music producer.

Set 65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous Period, "Dinosaur" follows the adventures of an Iguanodon named Aladar, who is separated from his own species as a hatchling and raised on an island paradise by a clan of Lemurs. When a devastating meteor shower plunges their world into chaos, Aladar and several members of his Lemur family escape to the mainland and join a group of migrating dinosaurs desperately searching for a safe new nesting ground. With water and food in short supply and bloodthirsty predators posing an ever-present danger, the herd faces many life-threatening obstacles during the course of their treacherous trek. Aladar’s innovative thinking and compassion for the "misfit" members of the herd brings him into conflict with Kron, the rigid and stone-hearted leader of the group, and his loyal lieutenant Bruton. Winning support from Kron’s sister, Neera, Aladar reluctantly challenges the "traditional ways" and shows how being adaptable and working together is the best path for survival.

The screenplay for "Dinosaur" was written by John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs. It was based on an original screenplay by veteran writer Walon Green ("The Wild Bunch," "Sorcerer," "The Hi-Lo Country").

To meet the demands of the story and give the characters their distinct personalities, the filmmakers enlisted the talents of a distinguished group of actors. D.B. Sweeney ("Lonesome Dove," "Memphis Belle," "The Cutting Edge") gives compassion and innocence to the voice of Aladar, a heroic Iguanodon whose inner strength and courage make him a natural born leader. Julianna Margulies ("ER") brings a wide range of emotion and personality to Neera, an intelligent and caring Iguanodon torn between loyalty to her brother, Kron, and her strong instincts and attraction to Aladar’s unconventional ways. Samuel E. Wright, who voiced Sebastian the crab for "The Little Mermaid" and currently stars as Mufasa in the Broadway production of "The Lion King," is the voice of Kron. This imposing Iguanodon leads the migrating herd of dinosaurs with ruthless determination and is unwilling to adapt to a changing world. Providing the voice of Bruton, Kron’s proud and simple battle-hardened Lieutenant, is veteran character actor Peter Siragusa.

Acclaimed British actress Lady Joan Plowright brings a bold spirit and a disarming dignity to the character of Baylene, an elderly Brachiosaur who provides Aladar with the motivation he needs. Baylene’s constant companion is Eema, a gruff but good-natured Styrachosaur who has seen it all but is still willing to teach the ropes to newcomer Aladar; she is voiced by the multitalented Della Reese.

Striking all the right chords for the voice of Yar, the stubborn elder statesman of Aladar’s Lemur family, is veteran actor Ossie Davis. The Tony Award-winning actor gives the character the perfect blend of stubbornness, suspicion and compassion. Three-time Emmy Award winner Alfre Woodard provides the vocal persona for Plio, Yar’s daughter and the soulful matriarch of the Lemur clan. Hayden Panettiere (the beguiling voice of Princess Dot in Disney/Pixar’s "A Bug’s Life") lends her vocal skills to Suri, Plio’s furry, fun-loving progeny who loves having a 30-foot dinosaur for a big brother. Versatile Max Casella (who played Timon in the hit Broadway production of "The Lion King") provides the energetic vocal antics for Zini, a lovable Lemur who is Aladar’s best pal and constant companion.

The "Dinosaur" production team moved into Disney’s newest animation facility - a second Burbank-based Studio known as Feature Animation Northside - in January 1997 and work on the film officially began eight months later. The Northside facility offered a new state-of-the-art home for the production and enough computer power to render an entire CG film. The crew of artists, animators and technical experts ultimately grew to a total of 350.

Among the other key players on the production team were editor H. Lee Peterson ("Aladdin," "Pocahontas"), production managers Tamara Boutcher and Carolyn Soper, and manager of digital production Jinko Gotoh.

Filmmakers have been fascinated with dinosaurs almost from the dawn of the motion picture. As early as 1905 (just 10 years after the invention of the medium), an early film called "Prehistoric Man" is believed to have depicted the first animated dinosaur. Nine years later, animation pioneer Winsor McCay scored one of his greatest successes with the first "Gertie the Dinosaur" cartoon. By 1915, legendary stop-motion filmmaker Willis O’Brien began experimenting with prehistoric characters. His 1925 silent classic, "The Lost World," took the notion to new heights and fired the imagination of moviegoers. "King Kong" (1933) was O’Brien’s next landmark film and it also showed a world populated by stop-motion dinosaurs. Over the years, dinosaur characters have been featured in such fanciful films as "One Million B.C." (1940), "Fantasia" (with its memorable battle between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaur) (1940), Ray Harryhausen’s "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959), "The Land that Time Forgot" (1975), Disney’s "Baby … Secret of the Lost Legend" (1985) and "Carnosaur" (1993). In 1993, "Jurassic Park" introduced the first CG dinosaurs and became one of the most popular films of all time. IMAX® Theatres brought a giant screen 3-D version of dinosaurs to life with its 1998 offering, "T-Rex - Back to the Cretaceous."

Producer Pam Marsden notes, "This movie is special in all kinds of ways because it continues the legacy of dinosaur movies. Dinosaur movies have always had an important place in film history and this film shows the animals like you’ve never seen them before. It has all the elements of reptiles and action that people love about this genre of films, but it takes advantage of all this great new technology to let us as filmmakers tell a different and unique story about dinosaurs. From a staging viewpoint, we’ve been able to give the audience a close-up of the prehistoric world from the dinosaur’s perspective. The camera can look the characters right in the eye and you see a realistic face with muscles and blinking eyes that make them very real.

"One of the things I really like about our story is that it doesn’t end with the extinction of the dinosaurs," she adds. "In point of fact, some scientists believe that dinosaurs lived for up to 150,000 years after the giant meteor impacted with the Earth. Our film ends with a feeling of abundance and hope. The narration suggests that no one really knows what will happen in the years ahead. We end on the positive note that we can all make a difference."

According to dinosaur expert Donald Glut in his book, The New Dinosaur Dictionary, "The dinosaurs reigned over this earth for some 150 million years during the Mesozoic Era, the so-called Age of Reptiles. This era is subdivided into three periods: the Triassic Period (230 to 180 million years ago), the Jurassic Period (180 to 135 million years ago) and the Cretaceous Period (135 to 63 million years ago). Dinosaurs are first known from the Middle Triassic Period, some forms soon attaining giant sizes. Following the culmination of the Cretaceous Period, these former earth rulers, who had flourished in such variety and abundance, were extinct."

The word "dinosaur" derives from Latin and is literally translated as "terrible lizard." It was first coined in 1842 by noted British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen, who used the word "Dinosauria" to represent the fossil remains of several extinct giants. The earliest dinosaur discovery was recorded in 1677 by Dr. Robert Plot. The first United States dinosaur was found in 1787 in Gloucester County, New Jersey by Matlack and Casper Wistar. In later years, authors like Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs ("Tarzan") added to the lore and lure of prehistoric creatures through their imaginative writings.

Schumacher concludes, "’Dinosaur’ is an amazing achievement for our animation and technical team and we are all very proud of the film. Not only were we able to create a digital studio that is second to none but we also learned how to use the power of these incredible new tools to tell a compelling story. This film is in the best tradition of Disney taking moviegoers to a place they have never been before.

"At its core, ‘Dinosaur’ is the story about an Iguanodon named Aladar," adds Schumacher. "Through circumstances, he’s raised away from all other dinosaurs on Lemur Island, never to see his own kind until he’s fully grown. When this fireball hits Earth, he is propelled into a world where he now joins up with a herd of dinosaurs of all different species. But by growing up away from them, he thinks differently than they do. And in doing so, he helps them save themselves through the adversity of this changing time. One of the great themes of this film is the global theme of compassion; the idea of working together. What you find in life is that by supporting other people, by taking care of each other, we all get the benefit of working together. The reality is that good ideas and solutions can come from anybody. And by including everybody, we have a better chance of surviving."

ORIGINS OF THE PROJECT AND STORY/CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

The origins of a Disney feature about dinosaurs date back to 1988, when the Studio’s live-action film division acquired a screenplay entitled "Dinosaur" by Walon Green ("The Wild Bunch") as a potential feature. At that time, director Paul Verhoeven and stop-motion wizard Phil Tippett were interested in making the film. In late 1994, Walt Disney Feature Animation adopted the project and spent several years developing the material as well as a series of tests to determine the best way to approach the film. For the first test, the filmmakers selected several representative shots and used scale model miniatures as the backgrounds for their computer-generated characters. A second test, using live-action plates as the backdrops for the CG action proved to be the most effective and became the blueprint for what was to follow.

While the filmmakers and technical experts embarked on the tests, the story team continued to flesh out the plot and a team of visual development experts worked on the character designs and look of the film. Thom Enriquez, director of story, led the story development team with director Ralph Zondag doing much of the storyboarding himself. David Krentz, a self-proclaimed "Dino-geek," served as one of the film’s key character designers and visual development artists. Inspiration for the final designs came from many members of the creative team as well as from renowned freelance artists like Mark Hallett (who provided detailed musculature drawings), Doug Henderson (who helped visualize the look of the Cretaceous world), Ian Gooding and Ricardo Delgado. Directors Zondag and Leighton also played a major creative role in determining what the characters would ultimately look like.

Although many liberties were taken in portraying some of the characters, the directors and animators did a considerable amount of research and met with some of the top experts in their field. Jack Horner, a noted paleontologist from the Museum of the Rockies, visited the Studio on several occasions and lectured to the "Dinosaur" team. Leighton also spent time at Horner’s Museum in Bozeman, Montana where he laid out the actual bones of a 100-million-year old Tenontosaurus (an animal similar in form to an Iguanodon) to get a sense of how the bones and muscles were connected and how that structure would affect its movements.

Dinosaur expert Don Lessem, a respected author and museum consultant/designer, also provided valuable information to the creative team. Stuart Sumida, a top paleontologist/biologist from Cal State San Bernardino, lectured the artists and animators on dinosaur locomotion and anatomy. The directors and several of the supervising animators also visited a local animal reserve to ride elephants and study their massive structures as reference for how a prehistoric creature might move.

Leighton recalls, "In the original script, the main character was a Styrachosaur, a big hefty bow-legged animal that looks like a rhino. It had a big crown with lots of spikes coming out. It also had a relatively small face with a beak, which would have made it very difficult for dialogue purposes. Getting the emotion and acting range we needed would have also been hard. The Iguanodon had two advantages for us. Most importantly, it was the most horse-like and gave us something we could attach emotions to a little easier. The eyes were close to the mouth so we could really get a whole range of expression. We also liked the fact that it was combination biped/quadroped so from an animation standpoint it was a lot more interesting as to what we could do with it. Based on our research at the Museum of the Rockies, we learned that Iguanodons had a grasping digit which could also wrap around and almost touch the palm."

"We really wanted to design our characters’ motion with a knowledge of the reality of their structure," adds Leighton. "The more we follow the subtleties of reality, the more believable they are, even subconsciously, and the more powerful they’re going to be to the viewer."

With regard to story development, Enriquez observes, "Because ‘Dinosaur’ relied on shooting live-action plates all over the world in advance of the animation, our challenge was to come up with solutions for story changes. In traditional animation, to change a sequence you would have a background painter do another painting. Here, if the story changed, you couldn’t very easily send the crew back to Venezuela.

"I grew up loving dinosaurs. One of the reasons I learned to draw in the first place is because I saw a reissue of ‘King Kong’ in 1955 and it just took me to another world. The art direction had this great atmosphere, which is what I tried to capture with my work on this film."

Enriquez adds, "Ralph (Zondag) was really great at story and he just bowled me over with the sensitivity of his story sketches and the way he could use a simple head turn or something to capture an emotion. He’s got a real beautiful sense of storytelling. I also have a lot of respect for Eric’s story sense and what he was able to contribute to the process."

According to director/storyman Zondag, "One of our biggest challenges in telling this story was to give the characters distinct personalities and create a chemistry between them that would show how they would work together during the course of their journey. This became the theme of the story where working together and adapting is what really helps you survive."

Shirley Pierce, who worked very closely with the project and is credited with writing additional story material for the film, says, "I consider it to be one of the best honors and privileges of my life to have worked on this film. It was a real joy. I always thought of Aladar as being the boy next door, who just happened to live a couple of million years ago. He was funny, had a good heart and he was just trying to find his way through the world. Your heart just goes out to him. Plio was like Mother Earth. As things were going insane around them, she was always centered and just trying to keep everybody together. Eema was my favorite because she spoke her mind. She reminded me of my Aunt whose feet were always hurting and I kept thinking about that Aunt when I was writing for her."

She adds, "I really liked the theme of the film that survival of the fittest includes having the most compassion. The fittest were those who stayed together. It’s not about one strong individual but rather the strength of the group. I was particularly moved when all the dinosaurs in the group who had been so afraid up to this point turn and join Aladar. They find this courage to bellow back at this Carnotaur that they have been running away from."

From a design standpoint, the characters in "Dinosaur" had to look realistic and still have the ability to meet the acting requirements that the role demanded. This creative challenge required input from the directors, inspirational artists and illustrators, and the Visual Development & Character Design department, which was responsible for creating and finalizing the look of the characters in the film.

For David Krentz, a lifelong dinosaur fanatic, designing prehistoric animals was a dream come true. He recalls, "When I heard they were making a film about dinosaurs, I begged and kicked and pleaded until I got on it. Even before they hired me to work on the show, I’d bring material over and make suggestions about the design. I took a crack at designing the main character and gathered a lot of attention.

"We had to walk a really fine line between reality and caricature," observes Krentz. "It was important to remember that these were characters first and foremost. Dinosaur facial muscles tend to be minimal so we had to take quite a few liberties. In the case of Aladar and the other Iguanodons, we threw in some horse facial muscles. We also added eyebrows and mouth shapes to help make them more expressive. There was a big debate for awhile about beaks or lips and we eventually settled on the latter. We ended up putting lips over the beak. Body-wise, the Iguanodons are pretty close to reality and the musculature is essentially accurate. They actually had a bone in their eyebrow."

In terms of accuracy, the herd members range from "bang-on" (e.g. the Ceratops) to loose caricature (e.g. Eema the Styrachosaur). Included in the group of over 30 species are some that have never been seen on film before, including the Microceratops and the Ankylosaur (Url).

Krentz describes his assignment on the film as "probably the most Nirvana-like experience that I’ll ever have in my life. For three and a half years, they paid me to draw dinosaurs. It was just a dream come true to be able to bring dinosaurs to life. My mother still can’t believe it. My career choices were paleontologist or animator. This is the best of both worlds. It was so much fun to work on that I couldn’t wait for Christmas vacation to be over so I could get back to work."

DIRECTING "DINOSAUR"

Unlike their live-action counterparts, animation directors have control over virtually every frame of film that is created and every element within that frame. They oversee the development of the story, the creation of the characters, the recording of the vocal cast, the color of each individual component in a scene and the composition of each shot. Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton had never worked with computer animation prior to this film, but their individual talents and dedication proved to be a potent combination. With each of the directors coming from different areas of the animation spectrum, they managed to pool their knowledge and experience to break new ground with "Dinosaur."

According to Leighton, "My big thing has always been stop-motion animation and working on stages, but I found computer animation to be a natural progression. All the problems are the same, although using computers is quite a bit more math-minded. Working with stop-motion can be very analytical. I would act out a scene repeatedly and think about each axis of movement as I acted it out. Then I would plot it on an exposure sheet and work out the movement, hip rotation, etc. on a frame by frame basis. That turned out to be exactly what you do on the computer, so for me it was a natural way to go. What you can do with this medium realism-wise is astonishing and something you could never achieve with stop-motion. They each have their own magic and I’m sold on both."

For Zondag, computers also opened up a whole new world of possibilities. He observes, "I loved working in this medium because it allowed us to tell this story in a way that would have been otherwise impossible. I was ready for this and now I just want to continue working with computer animation. For me, there’s no turning back at this point. It’s a very exciting new frontier with unlimited potential to tell stories. ‘Dinosaur’ is really a new form of animation because it looks more like a live-action movie"

As far as their specific areas of responsibility on "Dinosaur," the directors came together on all the big creative decisions including character designs and models, but concentrated on their strengths during the production. Leighton devoted his time to working closely with the animators and carefully establishing the movements and personalities for the characters. Zondag was deeply involved with the story development process and, in fact, storyboarded much of the film. He also served as the key point person with regard to the art direction of the film. Both directors took part in directing the voice talent.

Leighton adds, "With this film, I am most proud of the fact that we were all able to grow together. We were able to take a group of very talented but relatively inexperienced people and create something really amazing. I’m also enormously satisfied with the process and methodology we put together to make this film. I love the art side but I also love the mechanics of creating a filmmaking machine. It was fun to play such a major role in developing the tools that made it all possible. Working with Ralph has been a really great experience and we complement each other in so many ways."

"Eric and I had an incredible collaboration on this film," Zondag concurs. "He brings a brand new thing to the process and we were able to share the duties in a way that played to our individual strengths."

LIVE-ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY

In the exciting opening of "Dinosaur," Aladar’s egg is carried from its nest on a circuitous route to Lemur Island. The on-screen action begins in the swamps of Florida and travels to the waters and plains of Venezuela (Canaima) to the ocean off the Australian coastline. Hawaiian locations are seen as the egg drops onto the island. The scene concludes on Lemur Island, which was filmed largely at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

To create the vast prehistoric panorama on which the dramatic action of "Dinosaur" would unfold, the filmmakers created a plan to film locations all over the world and blend them seamlessly together. Two crews - a first unit and an exotic unit - were assembled to cover the needs of the production. Visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela, a veteran of ILM and Boss Films who had worked on such impressive effects films as "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Cliffhanger," was responsible for overseeing this critical area of the production. Terry Moews was the visual effects supervisor for the first unit with Steven Douglas Smith and Dave Hardberger serving as directors of photography. The exotic unit’s visual effects supervisor was Wallace Schaab with Timothy Housel overseeing the cinematography.

"One of the main things that I had to bring to the party," says Krepela, "was to help integrate live-action and animation together. The animation group had never really dealt with live-action before whereas in visual effects we use animation all the time. For ‘Dinosaur,’ I oversaw the actual location filming and worked with Neil (Eskuri) and Baker to build Disney’s digital facility from the ground up. This project is at the top of my list in terms of complexity because of the sheer number of shots, the amount of data that had to be collected, all the different locations, the coverage we needed to shoot and the multitude of characters.

"Our mandate was to create an environment that was very interesting," adds Krepela. "This wasn’t just a simple stage for talking heads. We wanted environments that moviegoers would want to visit again and again. We tried to find locations that were interesting and, in some cases, we created virtual sets to fit our needs. Some of the locations that we ended up using are not necessarily interesting on their own, but become so when you layer in paintings, skies, effects and characters. You basically take a background plate that had some interesting elements and make it much more interesting by adding things and changing things. I like to think of our backgrounds as being a character in the film. The earth is in a state of change. It starts out very lush and then experiences an apocalyptic devastation. Eventually, it turns into something very lush again.

"The real power of the digital studio is that we were able to manipulate the background and give it a unified look even though they were shot tens of thousands of miles apart and halfway around the world from each other."

Among the elements that were routinely changed in composing a final shot was the sky. In fact, only two scenes in the film have their original skies. The live-action units would film lots of additional footage of skies and ambient elements that could then be substituted for creative reasons.

The first unit filmed on location throughout the United States from Florida to Hawaii. The crew spent many months in California’s Mojave Desert - especially the Ridgecrest and Trona areas - capturing breathtaking vistas in which the dinosaurs could be placed. Filming in Hawaii took place at botanical gardens and other sites on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai. The smaller exotic live-action unit traveled to Australia (Port Campbell), Jordan (Wadi Rum), Venezuela (Canaima) and the beaches of Western Samoa in their quest for pristine panoramas.

With regard to the actual cameras used on the film, Krepela and the live-action team used VistaVision cameras fitted with Leica lenses. These special cameras were first introduced in the 1950s to give a wide screen effect to moviemaking. In later years, VistaVision cameras became popular for shooting visual effects. Krepela explains, "The film runs sideways through the VistaVision camera which allows us to shoot twice the negative area. This gives us the ability to move around within a frame and provided lots of flexibility in terms of composing the shot."

To help the filmmakers approximate the perspective of the towering dinosaurs, a special camera rig called the "Dino-cam" was invented. This special set-up is used to best advantage in the film when the Carnotaur is menacing the herd.

According to Krepela, "The ‘Dino-cam’ is a cable-operated computerized camera which is capable of moving at speeds of up to thirty miles per hour. It is suspended on a cable between two seventy foot towers and can move up and down seventy feet in height, has a 1000-foot run and can pan and tilt 360 degrees. It’s all computer programmable so that you can have actual events occur along the path in a predictable manner. You can program obstacles so you don’t hit rocks and things like that."

In addition to the live-action photography shot around the world, Krepela and his team spent many hours closer to home shooting real live-action effects images. Several effects, including water splashes, dust clouds and explosions, were filmed against black backdrops on soundstages at the Disney Studios. A matte element was then created so that the effect could be lifted and scanned into the final frame of film. Actual pyrotechnics simulating the meteor explosions were filmed as real live-action effects at Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch just north of Los Angeles and at a stage in Burbank.

Scenes where Baylene and Aladar use their feet to force water from the ground were similarly filmed on insert stages. Actual dirt from the real locations was brought back to the Studio and half-scale models of the dinosaur feet were built expressly for this purpose. As the foot pressed the ground, pumps would force the water into the depressed area. Later, those practical scale model feet would be rotoscoped out of the picture and replaced with CG animation.

ANIMATING THE CHARACTERS

With a cast of twelve main characters and more than thirty different types of dinosaurs, the designers, animators and directors of "Dinosaur" had their work cut out for them. The Visual Development group provided the designs for the characters, the Model Development team created the models and built in the animation controls and then it was up to the animators to bring the characters to life.

Supervising the lead character of Aladar was Mark Austin, a traditionally trained animator who had done commercials in his native England and served as the lead CG animator for the ghostly Casper at ILM.

"Aladar was tough to animate because he is so heavy and bulky that he doesn’t move very fast," observes Austin. "And his eyes are far enough away from his mouth that there were physical limitations in creating facial expressions. I wanted the audience to concentrate on his eyes because that’s where the acting was coming from, and not be distracted by the talking and the movement of the lips. Because of his size, staging was really important and we worked hard to compose each shot.

"D.B. Sweeney’s voice gave us a lot to work with in creating Aladar’s personality," continues Austin. "He brings an energy, an enthusiasm and an innocence to the character. He also gave Aladar a boyish quality that was very appealing and easy to connect with."

"I’m most proud of the scene where he swims ashore to the mainland and looks back at the island. He can see that it’s burning and his home is gone. The directors wanted me to convey that he was lost, exhausted and devastated by the loss of his home - all without dialogue. It was a real challenge, but I was happy with the way the facial expressions and body language communicated all those things. Overall, I felt really privileged to be a part of Disney’s first CG movie. Maybe 50 years from now, people will remember this film and say, ‘wow.’"

Joel Fletcher was the supervising animator in charge of the sensitive and strong-willed Neera. Julianna Margulies’ spirited vocal performance gave him inspiration and a solid foundation for his animation.

"The biggest challenge was to create a dinosaur with the grace and mannerisms that let you know she is a female," says Fletcher. "This involved giving her a walk that was different from the other characters and adding more fluidity to her movements. We tried to imagine what Audrey Hepburn would look like if she was a dinosaur. Making her look graceful and very heavy at the same time took a while to get used to. It soon became second nature to us as we animated her."

For Fletcher, a 15-year stop-motion veteran who had worked on Tim Burton’s "The Nightmare Before Christmas," the transition to computer animation was an easy one. He explains, "It’s a new place and new technique but there are lots of similarities to stop-motion. Working on a stage with a little puppet is all three-dimensional. On the computer, it’s a virtual three-dimensional world. The characters are on a virtual stage with virtual lighting and essentially a puppet. The big difference is that with stop-motion, each performance is a one-of-a-kind thing that you have to live with even if you make a mistake. On the computer, if you don’t get it quite right you can keep refining it until you get a more perfect result."

Overseeing the animation of the herd’s heartless leader, Kron, was Eamonn Butler. He observes, "I don’t see Kron as a villain. I see him as somebody who’s very driven and strong. He’s got great ambition and this incredible ability to focus. Basically, he totally believes he’s right and he sees Aladar as a threat to his way of thinking. His vision is clouded and he’s blinded by the power he has to control the herd. In many ways, Kron is a tragic hero because he believes what he’s doing in right. He’s certainly not your typical Disney villain. He’s a very sophisticated character so we tried to come up with more sophisticated and subtle ways to suggest his nastiness.

"We animate the character using a skeleton that appears to be made up of ‘tootsie rolls’," adds Butler. "It’s a low resolution model that’s broken up into pieces. It gives the animator an overall sense of volume and mass, but it doesn’t contain skin and wrinkles. We did an awful lot of research into how these creatures really looked and how they were built.

"Sam Wright did an absolutely fantastic job with the voice of Kron. He really got into the character and would usually finish his takes by asking, ‘Can we do that again?’ I got so much information from the videotapes of his performance and I pumped it right into the character’s facial animation. He was amazing. He could roar great growls by vibrating the soft tissue on the back of his palate. When I first heard he was being cast for the role, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, a Rastifarian dinosaur!’ I never realized that that was just an accent he put on for Sebastian in ‘The Little Mermaid.’"

Butler concludes, "The computer is just a tool. It’s not the computers that do the work, it’s the people. Unless there are people that have the talent and performance ability, the computer’s never going to give you an emotional character. We try to use the computer for what it’s good at, which is doing stuff that’s really hard to do in other mediums and making it look real. If we had to draw the fur that’s in this film, we’d still be drawing it today."

Kron’s loyal lieutenant Bruton was supervised by veteran animator Dick Zondag, who also spent 1-1/2 years working on the story. A traditionally trained animator, Zondag fell in love with computer animation and the results he was able to get.

"I’ve been animating since 1982 and this is my first film where I actually animated a digital character. It’s just a matter of taking the acting and having the computer as my new pencil. I’m able to control all the muscles and the results are phenomenal. Every time I finished a scene, I would look at it over and over again because I was in disbelief of how real this thing was looking. I really enjoyed it. Animation is about bringing things to life and this has become several steps closer for me. You could never draw anything this realistic.

"The character of Bruton has a huge arc in the film," adds Zondag. "He’s a very cranky regimented older guy whose job is to keep everybody in line. He is fiercely loyal to Kron but gradually he starts to see things the way Aladar does. We end up liking him quite a bit and understand where he’s coming from. Pete Siragusa was a great voice to work with. There’s something in his performance that makes you like this character. Since the character doesn’t have hands to gesture with, I would animate the eyes first and always try to convey whatever emotion was needed there. The mouth would almost mimic the eyes."

Mike Belzer, a top stop-motion animation talent whose credits include "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach," also made a smooth transition to the CG world. He was responsible for overseeing the characters of Baylene and Url.

"Baylene is the biggest character in the film weighing about 70 tons and reaching a height of 70 feet," explains Belzer. "She’s a very classy character and kind of theatrical. Joan Plowright is the kind of voice you just pray for and she brought a real presence to the character. She took great pride in doing the voice and even visited the studio to meet with the animators. Watching videotapes of her gave us so much to draw on."

To help him prepare for the assignment, Belzer and some of his colleagues studied elephants and giraffes. "We actually got to go out to a ranch and ride elephants. You can’t beat that. Elephants have a similar body structure to Brachiosaurs and it was very helpful to study them.

"With stop-motion, you believe in the characters but you know they’re not real. The process is very different too. You take it one frame at a time and you pray a lot. One of the highlights of computer animation is the fact that what you do is enhanced so much more by other people’s efforts with the muscle and skin, the compositing and lighting, etc. You get this glorious look that involves your animation. It becomes a living breathing animal."

Baylene’s long-suffering Styrachosaur pal, Eema, was supervised by Greg Griffith. With a background in both traditional and CG animation, Griffith found his latest assignment to be an artistic stretch.

"I love what we do," says Griffith. "I love the images we make and the idea of creating something that couldn’t and wouldn’t exist elsewhere; something that’s completely imaginary and yet has as much life as anything else you might encounter on the screen. Everyday I come in and am confronted by something that’s never been addressed before. Maybe it’s some sort of technological problem or maybe it’s a new way of creating an image digitally. I feel very fortunate in my career to have come along at just the right moment when Disney was making a major commitment to advancing technology in the service of great storytelling."

"Eema was a great character to animate. I went to several recording sessions with Della Reese and it was a marvelous experience to see the character unfolding in the actor’s mind. I would cue off that and take my own impressions and ideas and merge the two. In animating the character, I mostly focused on the voice and that wonderful instrument that Della has and uses. She concentrates on the words and the delivery. Getting a broad range of expression into Eema’s rigid face was one of the biggest challenges but we managed to work within the design and I’m quite pleased with the way she comes off."

The animators in charge of supervising the Lemurs were Trey Thomas (Plio), Tom Roth (Yar), Bill Fletcher (Zini) and Larry White (Suri).

White, a traditionally trained Disney animator, observes, "As much as I love drawing, animating on the computer lets you concentrate on your performance much more. The disadvantage is that there are lots of technical problems that you have to deal with. Eric (Leighton) was a great inspiration to the animators and I was constantly amazed at his ability to zero in on the details of a performance. It was a pleasure working with him."

White and the other Lemur animators spent many hours at the zoo and studying videotapes of real Lemur movements. Trey Thomas, a stop-motion superstar who made the transition to CG on this film, actually traveled to Madagascar and took his own video of the playful primates.

"Lemurs are difficult to animate because they’re very dynamic and all that moving around can sometimes force you into awkward perspectives," adds White. "With Suri, I tried to keep the strong emotions of her childlike innocence and balance that with a sense of realism. It was very helpful for me to watch Hayden (Panettiere) during the recording sessions and observe her facial expressions and expressive open attitude."

The animator in charge of overseeing the Carnotaurs was Atsushi Sato, who relocated from his native Japan to work on digital dinosaurs. His animation is among the boldest and most provocative in the film and adds a great sense of peril that drives the story.

ADDING LAYERS OF BELIEVABILITY

From its earliest stages, directors Zondag and Leighton wanted to push the boundaries of believability in creating their prehistoric cast of characters. Other films had proven the concept of combining computer-generated characters with live-action backgrounds, but the success of "Dinosaur" depended on the audiences’ ability to accept these characters as being real.

Working from detailed graphic drawings provided by the Character Design team, Sean Phillips supervised the Model Development department in creating three-dimensional representations of the characters. Once the models were built in the computer, the Motion TDs (technical directors) would add controls to enable the animators to create their performances. Model TDs had the added responsibility of creating musculature and skin to place on top of the animator’s actions. Phillips and his team also oversaw the application of secondary animation - jiggle, ripples and rotational movements - which was part of the Character Finaling process.

"In terms of adding musculature to the characters," recalls Phillips, "an illustrator named Mark Hallett gave us incredibly detailed drawings of where they should be placed and how they should be attached to the models. The muscle system basically lived on top of the bones. The animators would create their performance using low-resolution versions of the skeleton. Each bone would have a cylindrical shape like a tootsie roll attached to it to give them an impression of the volume of the final character. The Model TDs would then add the muscles, jiggle and secondary animation according to the animator’s directions."

"The skin system was really a breakthrough process for us," adds Phillips. "Initially, we had planned on shrink-wrapping the skin onto the muscles but that didn’t pan out. We ultimately found a way to fit the muscles between the skin and the bones. The muscles were all turned into a bunch of different polygons - little triangles, essentially - and each point of the skin would find the closest polygon and stick to it. As the muscles moved and did their simulation based on a bone movement, the skin would maintain its original distance and position it had attached to the different parts of the musculature. The skin was basically turned into a big spring mesh with all the points able to pull against each other. We had the ability to paint this great scale map to indicate where the skin should be relaxed or smoothed out. The skin and the muscles could be adjusted as needed."

The Model Development team did extensive studies of elephants and analyzed the way an elephant’s giant foot would behave when it impacted with the ground. They observed that not only would the foot get a jiggle running up and down but there was also a rotational jiggle that twisted up and down the limb. Based on that, the team built controls for the animators to roll the bone on its axis and create little twists that would kick off inertia in the muscles. This is particularly noticeable with Baylene, who has considerable rotational jiggle along her limbs due to her size and mass.

Phillips adds, "That secondary jiggle, which is added under the direction of the animators, really plusses the character and makes it more believable. The character seems much more organic and alive."

Another breakthrough in the film that added to the credibility of the characters was the fur on the Lemurs. Cliff Brett oversaw the creation of the fur tool in his role as supervisor of the Look Development Team. Charles Colladay was the fur stylist.

"The first thing that we do in the Look Development department is to take the surface of each model and break it down into manageable patches," explains Colladay. "Each of our Lemur characters has 540 patches, for example. We then created a map that indicates the length and density of each patch of fur for the animal. Each of the Lemurs has approximately 1.1 million hairs on their bodies, which is about the same number of hairs on the human body.

"CG fur has not been very dynamic in the past and this film marks a big breakthrough," adds Colladay. "This is the most realistic, interactive fur that has ever been done. It took software specialist Mark McLaughlin about six months to write the program and another year for us to get a usable model for Plio. We ended up creating an attribute map that would allow us to control the length, density and kinkiness of the hair. We assigned a serial number to each one of the hairs so that we could have very specific control if we wanted it. For example, we could make hair #500,009 a little bit brighter than the ones surrounding it if it added visual interest. Once the attributes for each of the characters were established, we would groom the hair using a brush-shaped cursor to get the look we wanted."

Adding to the challenge of the assignment, Colladay and the fur team had to create hair that would respond to a variety of environmental conditions, including wind, dust and water.

"To study wet hair, I experimented at home by wetting down my cats to see what they looked like. The hair comes to thousands of little points and you can see the skin in between. That gave us some direction to go in and we came up with a hair-clumping tool where we could actually grab a single hair on the computer and clump a bunch of others to our target hair. We went to the zoo to study real Lemurs but they kind of frowned on us wetting them down."

The breakthroughs in depicting waving hair turned out to have other applications during the course of the production. One day, as Colladay was out riding his mountain bike and thinking about hair, he noticed the grass blowing all around him. It reminded him of a giant head of green hair. He recalls, "I knew we had these shots coming up where the dinosaurs had to walk through the grass and mat it down. They were planning to shoot live-action grass and mat the grass down mechanically. Instead, we ended up using our fur tool program to create a field of waving grass that responded exactly as we needed it to. The grass reacts to each footstep by lying down and then slowly springing back up. We painted seven different types of grass for that scene."

COMPOSITING LIVE BACKGROUNDS AND CG IMAGERY

One of the key ingredients to making "Dinosaur" a success with moviegoers was its ability to create a real world with credible characters. Integrating the dinosaurs into their various surroundings required the talents of many experts and some innovative approaches. Production Designer Walter Martishius and Art Director Cristy Maltese were key contributors in helping the effects supervisors and the directors shape the look and style of the film. Together with the technical and creative teams, they helped to invent a world that was both real and mythical.

Maltese supervised all of the digital backgrounds for the film. This involved altering or manipulating every frame of film in some way or another. She also helped to lay out each scene and worked with the directors and the scene finaling group to make sure that all the visual elements came together as a cohesive whole. Among her other duties, she oversaw the application of colors on the characters and set the look of each sequence so that it would mirror the action.

"We typically did something to each live-action background," explains Maltese. "We would always change the color and manipulate the value relationships to achieve what we wanted. Most of the time, a scene would need some kind of alteration ranging from a slight touch-up to starting from scratch. It was our job to add and remove mountains, trees and telephone poles; to paint out unwanted or distracting highlights and to generally minimize the extremes. We also repainted light and shadow if the light was coming one way on the character and the other way on the background. It was easier to fix the background than the character.

"From an artistic standpoint," Maltese continues, "we would sometimes change the color of a background to support the mood of the story or to frame the action in a certain way. Other times we would create a background from scratch by taking elements from other plates - a mountain from here and a lake from there - and putting them together as a virtual set. In some situations, we had to change the setting from night to daytime which involved re-lighting the characters and changing the light sources."

She adds, "The story drives everything. It was our job to create a color palette that would support the story and reflect the action and emotion of the scene. Color-wise, there is nothing in the film that is random."

Once all the live-action elements were shot, the character animation finaled, and the various visual and digital effects completed, the last stop in the process is Scene Finaling. Jim Hillin served as effects compositing supervisor for the Scene Finaling depaent and Chris Peterson was the effects lighting supervisor.

"Our job in Scene Finaling was to make sure that all of the various elements came together to make a finished frame of film," explains Hillin. "We would have to creatively manipulate things within the scene to ensure that the directors were getting exactly what they wanted. This meant adjusting lighting, adding shadows, creating digital matte paintings and removing objects that didn’t belong in the scene. For example, when the practical explosions for the meteor shower were filmed out at the Disney Ranch, the explosions were so bright that they lit up a hillside about a mile away. Behind them you could see telephone towers and so we had to remove them. In other situations, rigs such as the Dino-cam would have to be painted out of a scene. When we used a stand-in foot for Aladar pressing the ground for water, that foot had to be carefully removed so the CG foot could be inserted."

Among Scene Finaling’s other duties was the changing of lighting conditions and the replacement of skies. In other situations, this team would change the camera move or extend a live-action plate by "tiling" it together with a similar image. Tiling involved painting two plates together in the middle so that the move would be seamless.

"Almost all of the scenes in the film required sky replacements," says Hillin. "The problem with shooting in the desert is that the sky has no moisture so there’s no clouds. They are pretty much uninteresting so we would take another plate with clouds in it, sometimes from another part of the world, and add it to give the shot some texture. When we go to light the scene, we have to be very aware of the sky and how it affects the scene. The sun will bounce off a blue atmosphere and give a blue fill effect called sky fill. There is also color reflected from the ground and water. You end up having to imagine yourself on the location and think about where all the light is coming from and how to recreate it."

"Additionally, we live in a world filled with atmosphere," adds Hillin. "So we had a thing called ‘atmospheric suppression’ which would suppress colors over a distance. We were able to use the computer to diffuse an object or character that is half a mile away in the distance. Being in a desert atmosphere for a large part of the film, we also had to kick up lots of dust. Sometimes we used live-action dust that we shot on an insert stage and sometimes we completely manufactured it in the computer. I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to get our digital effects to mix in with live-action effects in the same shot and you can’t tell the difference."

Incredible attention to detail throughout the production helped to make the environments seem real. The meteor shower and the "monster cloud" it creates are prime examples.

"The approach to Lemur Island from the water as the meteors strike was one of our most difficult shots in the film," recalls Hillin. "That shot, with the meteors hitting right in front of the moving camera, was entirely manufactured. There are no live-action elements in there at all. It took a lot of people a long time to figure out what gigantic fiery explosions on the ocean would look like as you’re traveling about 100 miles an hour. And it took up to 50 million particles per frame to make it happen."

The "monster cloud" effect, where tentacles of dust and debris reach out across the water to engulf Lemur Island is another testament to the "Dinosaur" effects team.

Visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela explains, "The whole idea was to create this other world that would be interesting to visit and to give it a sense of mythology. It appears real with real topography and real backgrounds but we tried to give the film a look that’s almost like faded pages of memory. It’s almost as if you’re experiencing someone’s memory as you’re watching the film. That’s the idea behind the ‘monster cloud.’ From the animal’s perspective, they don’t know what a meteor is but they do know about monsters. They personalize this thing and see it as another creature that’s trying to attack them and devour their island. So hence a mythological monster attacks them. This affected the way we designed the visual effect."

"The way we shot it, it’s moving across the water and has an animated feeling to it," he adds. "It had to have a sense of character. It appears to be reaching out and grabbing. The arcing meteors that come out of it are like claws. It’s like a cat going after a mouse and reaching for it. We basically filmed explosives being ignited upside down against an angled ceiling piece. There were a lot of pyrotechnic charges on the piece as it moved across creating flashes and generating a smoke cloud. We shot it at 200-250 frames per second to slow it down and give it scale. Lemur Island itself was a 1/8 scale miniature and that’s what you see when the tree is blown up right behind Aladar as he jumps off the cliff into the water."

Among the film’s most impressive shots is the opening where a young Parasaurolophus chases a gliding lizard deep into the primeval forest. As he races through the water, there are splashes (created as a live-action effect on an insert stage and composited with the other animation and live-action elements), a lens flare and other atmospheric elements.

Marsden notes, "We had a group of people on the film who were able to use a lot of different methodologies to achieve the desired shot. As a result, if you went through the film shot by shot, you would see it has cutting edge technology alongside some of the oldest tricks in the book. One of my favorite images in the film is the lens flare - part of the cinematic vernacular - in the opening sequence. This involved a live-action element which had to be removed so that we could put the characters in the scene. The flare was then put back in the shot as a composite element."


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