Pachyrhi­nos’ Stir­ring Saga

Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs puts a fam­ily fea­ture spin on BBC’S ac­claimed Cg-an­i­mated doc­u­men­taries about the Juras­sic gi­ants. by Ramin Za­hed

Animation Magazine - - Content -

Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs puts a fam­ily fea­ture spin on BBC’s ac­claimed CG-an­i­mated doc­u­men­taries about the Juras­sic gi­ants. by Ramin Za­hed

A“Orig­i­nally, we were look­ing at a film that could stand alone as a vir­tual silent movie…You can turn the sound­track off and still get in­volved with the story

and feel the emo­tions of the char­ac­ters.”

udi­ences have had a love af­fair with an­i­mated di­nosaurs ever since Win­sor McCay brought Ger­tie to the big screen in his sem­i­nal 1914 toon. Since then, the Juras­sic crea­tures have played a huge part in the pop cul­ture land­scapes, star­ring in fa­vorite TV toons such as The Flint­stones and Di­nosaur Train and beloved movies such as Don Bluth’s The Land Be­fore Time se­ries, Dis­ney’s Di­nosaur and Steven Spiel­berg’s Juras­sic Park. This month, a Pachyrhi­nosaurus clan will steal the lime­light in Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs, a fam­ily re­boot of the BBC doc­u­men­tary project, di­rected by

— Di­rec­tor Barry Cook

in­dus­try vet­er­ans Neil Nightin­gale and Barry Cook.

Writ­ten by John Collee ( Happy Feet, Mas­ter and Com­man­der), the film fea­tures CG-an­i­mated di­nosaurs in live-ac­tion set­tings filmed in Alaska and New Zealand, which were cho­sen for their sim­i­lar­ity to the crea­tures’ orig­i­nal habi­tats from the late Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod, about 70 mil­lion years ago. The pic is nar­rated by an Alex­or­nis bird name Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) and fol­lows the adventures of the Pachyrhi­nosaurus trio of Patchi, Scowler and Ju­niper as they grow up, mi­grate and fight an evil preda­tor called Gor­gon the Gor­gosaurus!

Barry Cook, the di­rec­tor of Dis­ney’s Mu­lan and co-di­rec­tor of Sony/Aard­man’s Arthur Christ­mas, tells us that he jumped at the op­por­tu­nity of work­ing on the movie be­cause it al­lowed him to work on a pic that com­bines CG an­i­ma­tion against live-ac­tion back­drops, some­thing that he hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. “You al­ways need to grow in your ca­reer, and I felt it al­lowed me to take the next step in my ca­reer,” says the di­rec­tor. “It also al­lowed me to get to­gether with the orig­i­nal screen­writer John Collee and put our heads to­gether to tell the best story pos­si­ble.”

Cook, who be­gan work­ing on the film in March of 2001, says the project had a rocky start since it went through many changes dur­ing early de­vel­op­ment. Orig­i­nally in­spired by a straight-for­ward BBC doc­u­men­tary se­ries, the movie was con­ceived as a silent movie—with no di­a­logue or nar­ra­tion. “It was sup­posed to have a lit­tle bit of score and the sound of the di­nosaurs,” says the di­rec­tor. “Com­ing out of an­i­ma­tion and vis­ual sto­ry­telling, I knew how to put shoots to­gether and tell a story visu­ally. I think

orig­i­nally, we were look­ing at a film that could stand alone as a vir­tual silent movie … You can turn the sound­track off and still get in­volved with the story and feel the emo­tions of the char­ac­ters. In its fi­nal ver­sion, the movie has a nar­ra­tion and goes in­side the heads of the an­i­mals, so you can hear what they’re think­ing.”

The fea­ture, which also in­cludes a live-ac­tion, mod­ern-day fram­ing de­vice, ended up re­quir­ing 800 an­i­mated shots, which were pro­duced by Syd­ney-based An­i­mal Logic ( Happy Feet, Guardians of Ga’Hoole), via the stu­dio’s Sof­tim­age pipe­line. “That’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally low num­ber for an an­i­mated film of any kind,” notes Cook. “In the end, the nar­ra­tion ended up adding more emo­tion and hu­mor to the film. Alex is a funny char­ac­ter, and the film may re­mind you of fam­ily clas­sics like Home­ward Bound: An In­cred­i­ble Jour­ney.”

For Cook, one of the most beau­ti­ful mo­ments in the film is the end of the sec­ond act. “Our hero, Patchi, has hit the bot­tom of his life,” says the helmer. “You don’t know if he is go­ing to sur­vive. From a pro­duc­tion de­sign stand­point, it’s beau­ti­fully imag­ined. It’s night in the for­est, and he’s been trapped, and the cam­era move­ment cap­tures the quiet emo­tional power of the scene.” He also praises many of the comedic el­e­ments of the pic. “There’s some very funny stuff when Alex is du­el­ing with the crabs on the beach. Af­ter all, any story that deals with an­i­mals will show­case strictly phys­i­cal hu­mor. That’s a given.”

The stereo­scopic 3-D as­pects of the movie also cre­ated their own set of chal­lenges for the cre­ative team. Cook points out that with the ex­cep­tion of a cou­ple of se­quences which fea­ture CG en­vi­ron­ments (in­clud­ing a frozen lake where Patchi and his brother have a big fight), the rest of the movie fea­tures live-ac­tion footage. “When you’re shoot­ing in 3-D, ev­ery shot re­quires two cam­era set-ups put to­gether, so, po­ten­tially, a lot can go wrong. For­tu­nately, we had Cameron Pace Group on board as stere­og­ra­phers and con­sul­tants and our cin­e­matog­ra­pher John Brooks was part of that group. Then, of course, we had to come back and get the char­ac­ters to work in those en­vi­ron­ments. But when you see the fi­nal ver­sion, it feels like we filmed the di­nosaurs like they’re against their nat­u­ral world.”

Cook, who started out his ca­reer at Hanna-Bar­bera stu­dios as an as­sis­tant an­i­ma­tor and worked on the first pi­lot episode of The Smurfs, says he is thrilled with the changes and in­no­va­tions that the new tools have brought to the busi­ness. “It’s great to em­brace th­ese new tools, be­cause they al­low di­rec­tors and sto­ry­tellers to bring their vi­sions to dy­namic life. That’s why I em­braced the shift from 2D to CG and now to this stereo­scopic for­mat.”

Draw­ing Di­nos

“When we started out work on the movie, it leaned to­wards re­al­ism, but then we had to make it more car­toony. For the first time in my ca­reer, I had sci­en­tists

ad­vise me to make the eyes big­ger on the ju­ve­niles!”

Life­long di­nosaur en­thu­si­ast David Krentz says work­ing on the movie as a char­ac­ter de­signer was a dream come true. “I’m a to­tal di­nosaur nerd, so when I got the of­fer to work on the movie, I felt like a kid in a candy store.” Krentz, a vet­eran of fea­tures such as Dis­ney’s Di­nosaur, Fan­ta­sia 2000, Trea­sure Planet, John Carter and Es­cape from Planet Earth, says what re­ally ex­cited him about the project was its ini­tial com­mit­ment to re­al­ism. “I loved the fact that I had to an­swer to five or six pa­le­on­tol­o­gists when I was de­sign­ing the char­ac­ters. The fact that I man­aged to please all of them was a great feat.”

Krentz re­mem­bers that he was work­ing on Dis-

— Char­ac­ter de­signer David Krentz

ney’s Di­nosaur movie when BBC’s dino se­ries hit the small screen. He be­lieves that you can ac­tu­ally watch Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs with­out the added nar­ra­tion and an­i­mal voiceovers! “Al­though the pro­duc­tion veered away from be­ing very re­al­is­tic, the an­i­ma­tion still plays in­de­pen­dently,” he in­sists. “The pow­ers that be de­cided to add nar­ra­tion and voiceover to reach a wider au­di­ence and the char­ac­ters be­came slightly an­thro­po­mor­phized to make them more at­trac­tive to younger kids.”

The char­ac­ter de­signer, who con­ceived close to 20 Juras­sic crea­tures for the movie, be­gan his as­sign­ments by first draw­ing them in pen­cil. “I did those pen­cil sketches, and then worked closely with the sci­en­tists to hit the right bal­ance be­tween re­al­ism and car­i­ca­ture,” he re­calls. “Then I used ZBrush to sculpt the char­ac­ters since I didn’t want to deal with pop­u­lar mesh topol­ogy—that’s why ZBrush is so handy.” (Mesh topol­ogy is a type of net­work­ing where each node must not only cap­ture and dis­sem­i­nate its own data, but also serve as a re­lay for other nodes.) Those CG mod­els would then go to an­i­ma­tion.

So how are this movie’s 2013 di­nos dif­fer­ent from the ones he cre­ated in years past? “Th­ese crea­tures have great mus­cle sys­tems, their skin is beau­ti­ful, they have beau­ti­fully ren­dered feath­ers— the level of re­al­ism has been upped. You can get ex­tra lay­ers of grit and dirt com­pu­ta­tion­ally—and it all adds up,” he re­sponds. “I di­rected a show called Di­nosaur Rev­o­lu­tion and a fea­ture called Dino­ta­sia, and I could have re­ally used th­ese new tools back then! I had to dig­i­tal sculpt 70 di­nosaurs for that show and we had to do with a lot less.”

Krentz, who was an­i­mat­ing di­nosaurs even back when he was a stu­dent at CalArts, says his big­gest chal­lenge on this movie was walk­ing that tightrope be­tween re­al­ism and car­i­ca­ture. “When we start- ed out on the project, it leaned to­wards re­al­ism, but then we had to make it more car­toony. For the first time in my ca­reer, I had sci­en­tists ad­vise me to make the eyes big­ger on the ju­ve­niles!”

Not only did he get to mix his per­sonal pas­sion with his job on the movie, he also gets to share his work with his kids for the first time. “This will be the first film I can ac­tu­ally bring my kids to see in a the­ater with me,” says Krentz with a laugh. “My fiveyear-old is just as dino-ob­sessed as I am!”

Fox will re­lease Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs in U.S. the­aters on De­cem­ber 20.

Pre­his­toric Pa­rade: The Cg-an­i­mated di­nosaurs cre­ated by An­i­mal Logic for the movie boast dy­namic mus­cle sys­tems, ul­tra-re­al­is­tic skin and ex­tra lay­ers of grit—and are smoothly jux­ta­posed against live-ac­tion footage shot in Alaska.

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