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TEn­vi­ron­ment plays a key role in a tale that puts a twist on the clas­sic boy-and-his-dog premise

in Pixar’s By Karen Idel­son.

he tragic loss of a par­ent. A long, treach­er­ous jour­ney home. An un­likely friend­ship. Th­ese are all el­e­ments of a clas­sic Pixar tale and in The Good Di­nosaur they’re brought to­gether with some of the most com­pelling con­tem­po­rary an­i­ma­tion tech­niques.

The story asks a sim­ple ques­tion: What if the as­ter­oid that struck the earth and caused the ex­tinc­tion of the di­nosaurs missed? What if di­nosaurs evolved? Who would they be and who would we be? In Pixar’s an­swer to th­ese ques­tions, we fol­low a young di­nosaur named Arlo.

Arlo’s jour­ney takes him across some vast and gen­uinely gor­geous land­scapes. The look was de­vel­oped us­ing both hard data and the spe­cial in­spi­ra­tion of

“The 3D vol­u­met­ric clouds are part of what gives this en­vi­ron­ment its look,” says ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Jon Reisch. “They give it a real liv­ing and breath­ing sen­si­bil­ity.”

With this more re­al­is­tic take on the en­vi­ron­ment, the de­ci­sion was also made to cre­ate char­ac­ters that were softer and less hard edged. Their more “car­toony” look be­came a con­trast against the more faith­ful ap­pear­ance of the world around them.

“We want to feel what Arlo’s feel­ing, and I think his ap­pear­ance, his eyes, let you into what’s hap­pen­ing in­side him,” Sohn says. Ele­phants and Gi­raffes and

Camels … Oh, My! In or­der to cre­ate a con­vinc­ing di­nosaur af­ter they fi­nal­ized Arlo’s look, the an­i­ma­tors had to come up with move­ments that felt real. It’s no easy task since there are no ac­tual di­nosaurs lum­ber­ing around to use as ref­er­ence. So, the an­i­ma­tion team started look­ing at ele­phants since they’re roughly the ref­er­ence size of Arlo.

They paid spe­cial at­ten­tion to the gait of th­ese large an­i­mals and how they moved their legs to ac­com­mo­date their mas­sive weight while still mov­ing quickly over long dis­tances. An­i­ma­tors also took to draw­ing with dig­i­tal tools on top of footage of the ele­phants to study their pace.

Arlo also has an es­pe­cially long neck and so it seems nat­u­ral that the an­i­ma­tion team would ini­tially use gi­raffes as a start­ing point for re­fer- ence. Though the gi­raffes cer­tainly had a long, el­e­gant ap­pear­ance, they ul­ti­mately seemed too stiff and not nearly ex­pres­sive enough to re­flect Arlo’s emo­tions, and the team turned to camels for the way their necks moved.

Along the way, Arlo be­friends a hu­man boy he names Spot. As you might think, Spot be­comes Arlo’s com­pan­ion and pet. And this pet boy doesn’t move like a boy at all. He’s got all the ex­u­ber­ance of a puppy, leap­ing with joy at his mas­ter’s com­mands and growl­ing and gnash­ing his teeth to pro­tect Arlo when he thinks dan­ger is near.

So it makes per­fect sense that Spot is a com­bi­na­tion of prairie crit­ters and preda­tors – wolves, dogs and rac­coons. All of th­ese crea­tures in­flu­enced Spot’s vis­ceral ex­plo­ration of his world. He sniffs, scratches and howls his way through the film, clearly pay­ing homage to all th­ese in­flu­ences.

The T. rexes in the film aren’t mod­eled on an­i­mals, on the other hand. Though the film­mak­ers made a pass at the time us­ing movies like Juras­sic Park and The Jun­gle Book for ref­er­ence, they ul­ti­mately set­tled on the move­ment of a horse or a cow­boy on horse­back for this trio of hard­ened fron­tiers­men.

A Touch of Spiel­berg While Arlo des­per­ately searches for his way home, his bat­tles against rivers and wa­ter be­come an epic spec­ta­cle through­out the film. When de­sign­ing the rush­ing wa­ter that car­ries Arlo with it through a nar­row canyon, Sohn came up with an un­ex­pected ref­er­ence for his team: Steven Spiel­berg’s leg­endary TV movie Duel.

Duel was shot on one small high­way but used clever cam­er­a­work to keep the en­vi­ron­ment in­ter­est­ing. The movie also cut back and forth, care­fully us­ing slightly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to hide that it was shot in one small area. So the ef­fects on The Good Di­nosaur used a sim­i­lar tech­nique when they re­quired more than 200 shots of run­ning river. They fash­ioned about eight in­di­vid­ual river pieces that could be fit to­gether in a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent ways in any scene of the film. Han­dled the right way, no one real­izes they’re look­ing at the same river bits viewed in slightly dif­fer­ent ways and rapidly cut to­gether.

Sohn’s over­all aim was to use the en­vi­ron­ment to push Arlo along his jour­ney and give him the op­por­tu­ni­ties to grown. In that way the en­vi­ron­ments be­come Arlo’s ad­ver­sary, his guide and even his com­fort dur­ing more peace­ful mo­ments along the path home. Whether this young di­nosaur is fright­ened or wildly coura­geous, the land­scape is al­ways chang­ing in ways he – and the au­di­ence – could never pre­dict. And that’s by the di­rec­tor’s de­sign.

“We went on our own river raft­ing trip to get a sense of how pow­er­ful th­ese rivers are and it was ex­cit­ing and scary and made you feel alive,” says Sohn. “We wanted to give that feel­ing of be­ing in the mo­ment with all the things that hap­pen to Arlo to the au­di­ence.” [

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