Disclosure: Disney, Pixar, and Disney Junior have sponsored my travel, accommodations, most meals, and activities during this event. All opinions (and fun) in this article here are mine unless noted otherwise.
When making The Good Dinosaur Peter Sohn thought about all of the old Western movies he grew up watching. His favorite being “Shane”. Peter remembers that the opening shot of “Shane” was in Wyoming in the Grand Teton Valley and that’s where he wanted to go! Seeing the Snake River he knew that would become Alro and Spot’s “yellow brick road” to home in the film so the team needed to begin their research so that meant the first of many trips out to the Midwest!
Peter Sohn was born and raised in New York, he knew nothing about the Midwest and mountains, being a cowboy, or how one would make it back across the land back home when you’re all alone, as is Arlo. I remember Peter saying, “I was in this crazy place. We needed to go out, get lost, start researching, and get re-energized.” and he definitely had that kick start he was looking for when they visited Wyoming. He went on to say that he was amazed that their tour guides were experts in the land and kinda of telepathically knew what was going on around them.
Producer, Denise Ream, is from Washington so she’s use to the scenery, however, Peter was certainly not. Get him in the outdoors and “everything Pete saw he was going, ‘oh my god’” said Denise, “everything was new to him. It was really exciting.” Peter was so ready to soak everything in. He had so many questions and literally asks everything because he feels like there’s never a dumb question even if the answer is obvious. When you’re in a place that’s so large it makes you feel really tiny and it’s “soul enriching” as Peter put it.
They had two women guides on their trip who were real cowgirls. Like what you think a cowgirl is… it’s them! One only had her horse, a dog, a saw, and a gun living own their own in Colorado. Ramsey, one of the T-rex in the movie was inspired by this cowgirl, Melissa. She and her dog had this amazing relationship. Everywhere they would go she would look to her horse’s ears and her dog. The Pixar team “would be gone for hours walking along. That dog would zip right to her, make a little eye contact and zip off somewhere and wouldn’t see the dog until 15 minutes later” The non-dialogue communication with and the animals was super impressive.
These research trips are definitely needed for learning and how the team can bring these real-life experiences to their films. How do you make a film about the speed of water and how it changes when it hits a rock or how light bounces off the water, and the real feel of land masses if you don’t experience them in real life?
In The Good Dinosaur Arlo and his family live on a farm so the next research trip they went on was to Oregon where they stayed near Yellowstone National Park with a family of 7 on a ranch and that’s where Peter Sohn says his life was changed (for the better).
They wanted to go on a working ranch because in the film, the T-rex are kind of the carnivores that become ranchers essentially but they herd their meat. They’ve evolved to that. But really, they were inspired by this family of ranchers that they met.
The Pixar team thought they’d see some cows and maybe ride some more horses and that’d be a good trip. What blew Pete away in terms of what that lifestyle was and what it was like living out there. The love in their family was incredible. Joe McKay, the father was this huge six and a half foot white guy, his wife so welcoming & kind and they adopted five Haitian kids in the 80s so that there’s like these two white cowboys and these five black kids and the love in that family changed Pete and his understanding to what ranch living really is.
Joe was super intimidating to Peter. He instantly got the Pixar team on horses and led them on a cattle round-up without any direction what so ever. These weren’t the hoses they remember in Wyoming these were real WORKING horses. They got on the horses and had no idea what to do, but the horses knew. They knew exactly what they were doing and went on their way. They rode for a while then finally see this sea of black that turned out to be about 600 heads of cattle all being terrified by this rumbling of horses coming at them. Peter joked, “I, myself, like an idiot have my iPhone out trying to get this thing [pictures].” Honestly, that’d probably be me too, haha.
The group made sure to take hundreds and hundreds of pictures of even the smallest details so when they got back to California they had everything they needed. Seeing the trips they take, the details that go into these films makes me appreciate them even more, don’t you agree? You really understand the simple beauty of things around you and how inspiring these places are.
It was getting late… you know how once you and your friends start talking, the next thing you know it’s the middle of the night, that’s how it was! The fire died down (with a flick of a switch haha) and we all said our goodbyes. I left dreaming about The Good Dinosaur and wanting more.
You can catch The Good Dinosaur on November 25, Thanksgiving day! And when you watch the film, remember about how much actually goes into it. You’ll be amazed at the details the team put in and sometimes, you can’t even tell that it’s animated!