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.
Before the animation team can do their job Pixar gets help from the Effects team, Sets team, and Photography/Lighting team. Each team has a huge role in the final film but without one doing their part we would never see the films we love. In this case, it’s great to have a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
The open shots take a really long time which is why there is only a few in each film. The Good Dinosaur is set in the midwest as I’ve mentioned before, so to get the real life feel of the location and to cut down production time, the sets team actually used United States Geological Survey satellite photos of about 65,000 square miles of the northwest, along with their topographical data. When all of this was inputted into their computers, this gave them an easy 3D environment that could look out over 50 miles into the distance, important for Sohn who wanted Arlo to feel and look almost lost among the large setting.
“If Pete wanted a wilderness area like this, we could download the data and then start moving the camera around, just like we’re doing a location scout.“ – David Munier, Set Supervisor, The Good Dinosaur
With this rough terrain in place, the shots get sent off to Sharon Calahan, Director of Photography – Lighting, and her team. They actually went back to discuss what films were memorable to them first. The ones that stood out to them were those that had a lot of heart with rich, visual storytelling. The first part of The Black Stallon was really inspiring to them because of the strong emotions of loss and isolation, survival and friendship. In the film, Alro experiences all of these things on his journey back home so it only made sense to put the feel of the landscape into The Good Dinosaur.
“I’m happiest when I’m outdoors, painting somewhere in the wilderness.” – Sharon Calahan, Director of Photography and Visual Designer, The Good Dinosaur
Another movie the team was really drawn to was Never Cry Wolf with his vast feeling of the landscapes and how they were a key part in that movie. Other movies, “Sara From Falls”, “Heaven’s Gate”, Dances With Wolves”, all of which were referenced in The Good Dinosaur at some point.
After all of the movie research and USGS data from the sets team, the photography & lighting team go to work. They take the shot from the sets team and paint in details of mountains, every single tree, fog, etc. The landscapes are almost a character themselves in the film so it was crucial that it was set and done in the correct way.
They took these images and then built over and around them to create the final terrain we see in the film. As you see, the USGS data was able to give them a really quick way to insert the terrain that the director wanted for the look of the film.
I personally feel that they did a jaw-dropping job. Some scenes I would look at and study because I could not tell they were animated. I asked myself, “did they put in REAL live action shots?” because they really do look so real. Particularly a scene where Arlo is in the river. The rocks and lighting, waves… everything looks true to life that it’s hard to believe it’s all animation. Just from watching the trailer, people have commented that they think The Good Dinosaur was shot differently and it’s true. You will definitely see that Pixar stepped up their game in this film and surpassed expectations.
The next step The Good Dinosaur took is to the Visual Effects team with Supervisor Jon Reisch at the helm. The characters are finished and animated, the landscapes are in place, but now we need more storytelling, sound, and effects.
The Visual Effects team is responsible for all of the natural phenomenons we experience in the world: rain, wind, fire, smoke, dust, mist, fog and a big one in The Good Dinosaur is water.
The effects team is not what you typically make think their job is. They don’t only work on the thuds or the sound of the water hitting the rocks in the river. Their job goes much further and I think, really brings the movie to life. One scene, you’ll see Arlo trying to climb a mountain – all of the tiny rocks moving and falling down the mountain under him is the effects team at work. While watching a film, we as an audience need to believe that these characters could be real. We need that believable interaction with the world around the characters we see. We know if you climb a mountain that tiny rocks may fall around us, we know that if we walk in a river that the water will splash up around every footstep. Without the effects team, you wouldn’t see those small details that our brain is expecting.
“To me, we’re at our best when we’re using the effects to help support the story,” – Jon Reisch, Visual Effects, The Good Dinosaur
All of the work that FX did to make director, Sohn’s vision come to life also meant a lot of space. 300TB of server space to be exact. Yes, Terabyte, people. That’s about 300,000GB of data for the FX alone. That’s 10 times the entirety of Monsters University. This is on top of the over 900 visual effects shots (which include the movements of the river, rain, smoke and clouds), twice as many as have ever been used in a Pixar movie. Just one sequence of Arlo getting “swept away” by a river has more data than all of Cars 2. When I say, this film is like nothing you’ve ever seen, I mean it. The entire film is made up of 1,000 PETABYTES (!!!) or 1,000,000 terabytes (TB) or … a really, really big number in gigabytes (GB) which is technically “1e+9”!
Another way the effects team adds their touch to a film is to heighten the mood, drama, and atmosphere of a scene. They do that with fog or mist, or rain and lightening flashes. In the photo above you see the mist of the geysers around the T-Rex. That movement is created by effects. Now if we saw that and the mist stayed still or didn’t flow correctly the connection in our brain would tell us that it is wrong and we would disconnect ourselves from the film.
Watch the work of these amazing teams in this very special clip from The Good Dinosaur out November, 25th – ONLY TWO WEEKS AWAY!!
Other Good Dinosaur Behind the Scenes
- Research – Where Pixar did research for the film.
- Animation – Developing the characters with design and animation.