Virtual Location Scouting

They even used that data to conduct digital virtual location scouts — Pete Sohn would “visit” the locations using the virtual topographical locations created from the data and chose the locations needed for each sequence of the film. 64,600 square miles of North America were downloaded and adapted to help tell Arlo’s story. The river that takes Arlo away from his home was modeled after the Salmon River in Idaho. The desert where Arlo meets the T-rexs was modeled off of Zion National Park.

Once they decided on locations, Pixar artists added in more details like rocks, trees and grass. They kept the scale of the environment, but they chose different types of trees and such to suit the scene. They would also alter the data to fit their story, turning real-life locations into fictional ones.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR - Production Designer Harley Jessup presents at the Long Lead Press Days at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Marc Flores. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The Claw Tooth Mountains, a landmark seen right above Arlo’s home, were created and added into the U.S. geographic data. Pixar needed the mountains to be iconic and recognizable to audiences .

The art team production-designed all the vegetation in the film, finding what shapes would represent certain kinds of trees. The set dressing team used the library of vegetation to populate each area. The simulation team added wind into the trees, whatever was needed to help tell the story of that particular moment of the film. If it was a turbulent moment in the story, then maybe the trees in the background would be moving angrily.

As for the prehistoric details, Pixar decided to use more modern vegetation versus what we know of prehistoric vegetation. While the story takes place in a universe where dinosaurs weren’t killed off by an astroid hitting Earth, it’s strongly suggested that the film takes place closer to our stardate which may explain why the planet looks more modern and less prehistoric.


Using 100% Volumetric  Clouds to Light Scenes

Clouds in Pixar movies would usually be painted in by matte painters, using layers to create the illusion of animated drifts. But for this film, Pixar wanted to light the entire set and not have to go back and forth with a painter in the background. So they chose to populate the skies of the world with volume clouds.

The set team designed a library of different clouds with a set list of 11 different cloud types. Pixar’s artists and technicians also created a rain library, featuring different types of rain that could be mixed and matched and manipulated to create any desired look.  The clouds would be combined to form unique looking formations, which were not just scenery in the background of the story.

The lighting team was able to have the volemetric clouds cast shadows on the ground, controlling the location of the sun to light each scene.


Dinosaur Movements Were Modeled Off Elephants

Animators will tell you that one of the hardest things to animate is a quadruped, so the characters in The Good Dinosaur posed a big challenge for animators. We don’t know how dinosaurs moved, but scientists have some ideas.

Because there are no living dinosaurs to model movement off of, Pixar traveled to the Oakland Zoo to observe elephants. They picked the elephant because it’s roughly Arlo’s size. They wanted to capture the heavy nature and locomotion of the animal. Animators returned to Pixar with the video clips they captured on the research trip, which they used for training the animation department on dinosaur movement. The animators would digitally draw on top of the clips to learn the locomotion of the animal.


The lead animators reduced the movements down to four basic ones which would be the core of how Arlo and other dinosaurs moved in the film. At the peak of production there was 85 animators, most of them working on Arlo since he’s in almost every frame of the film. To help keep things consistent, they built systems into the character of Arlo to keep him “on model.” Basically if Arlo was moved in a way he shouldn’t normally be, a visual alarm would be triggered in the animation to alert the animators.

The animation team also initially referenced giraffes for Arlo’s neck. However, they found their necks to be too stiff and looked more towards camels for their looser neck movement.

Continue Reading The Making of The Good Dinosaur >>

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