SHOWBIZ: Gigantic ingenuity

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Walking With Dinosaurs transports audiences to prehistoric Alaska. The crew explain how they set about creating the scenario

.FOR the first time in the history of cinema, audiences can see and feel what it was like on Earth four million years before dinosaurs became extinct. Inspired by the very latest paleontological discoveries, Walking With Dinosaurs The Movie transports audiences to the heart of prehistoric Alaska, 70 million years ago.

It is family entertainment at its best: An immersive coming-of-age story with strong characters.

The protagonist is Patchi, a plucky little Pachyrhinosaurus (thick-nosed lizard) who has an arrogant older brother, Scowler. Patchi meets Juniper, a spirited female dinosaur from another herd and they form a strong bond, but the path of true love does not run smoothly for the pair. Facing many challenges on the way to becoming an adult, including confrontations with fierce predators, the tenacious dinosaur grows up to become a true hero.

Co-director Neil Nightingale, supervising stereographer Vince Pace, director of photography John D. Brooks, animation director Marco Marenghi (working for Animal Logic, an animation and digital effects company) and character designer David Krentz, discuss how they constracted the dinosaurs.

How accurately are the dinosaurs depicted?
Nightingale :
We’ve been very painstaking in our reconstruction of the dinosaurs so that they are the right size and they move in the right way, as far as anyone knows.
We also used whatever evidence we had in terms of their colour. We tried to reconstruct a world that felt very real, as though every shot in the film could have been taken out in the wild.

How did you bring the creatures to life?
Nightingale:
We built the dinosaurs from the skeleton, using drawings that the paleontologists drew up. Then we layered on the muscles. We worked out how the dinosaurs would actually walk. Afterwards, we layered on the skin. One of the things I love is that you see the muscles moving under the skin of our dinosaurs. The audience can see the back of the calf of a big Pachyrhinosaurus that is running.

For the pterosaurs, we did lots of experiments with their wing motion and how they take off. This level of detail in computer animation has only been possible in the last two years.

Marenghi: The muscle system of the dinosaurs is incredible. The scales actually sit on the skin and when the skin stretches, the scales move apart. When the skin compresses, the scales collide and bend. It was a complex simulation. That is why Walking With Dinosaurs looks so amazing. All the dinosaurs are very photo-realistic.

How closely did you work with the paleontologists?
Marenghi :
We worked very closely with them and we were inspired by fully formed skeletons (fossils) found by paleontologists. We were careful to include as many of the current discoveries as we could. We looked closely at footprints, because we can tell a lot about how an animal moved and walked by its footprints and the markings on the bones of the fossils.

How did you visualise the main characters?
Krentz: Patchi is the hero who is a little gawky. I used a lot of ovals and circular shapes to make him appealing. Scowler is a little abrasive and I chose sharper angles and parallelograms that would reflect his personality.

 For Juniper, the female Pachyrhinoaurus, we used soft, elongated egg shapes, which made her feminine and graceful. Gorgon, the bad guy, is my favourite dinosaur, a Gorgosaurus. He is elegant and very beautiful but also fast and powerful.

 There’s always a danger that if you caricature animals too much for a computer realistic film like this, it is no longer believable. So we made sure as far as possible that they looked like the correct species.

How challenging was the 3D aspect of the film?
Pace:
We wanted to make the 3D a part of the storytelling process and we set out to make the experience very intimate for the viewer. We used the 3D camera system that we used on Life Of Pi and Avatar. My role was to create a bridge (between) the work done in the computer world (the CG animated dinosaurs) and the background environment (the work done on location). All of the plates (the backgrounds) filmed on location were shot in native 3D.

What were your responsibilities on the film, John?
Brooks:
I was not only the director of photography, I was continually interfacing with Animal Logic  (digital visual effect company) on the representation of the fantastic 3D dinosaurs they were building in the computer, to make sure they looked as real as possible.

 Walking With Dinosaurs is a Hollywood film. It’s not a documentary, but at the same time we wanted to stay as true as possible to what it might have been like in prehistoric Alaska.

 What is unusual about the film is that it is a blend between what the BBC does so well in documentaries and what Twentieth Century Fox has set the world standard for in films.

What kind of experience can the audience look forward to?
Brooks :
Instead of crossing a barrier of fantasy, which is normally what would happen in a film of this nature, audiences are going to divorce themselves from reality and step into another reality. It is almost like time travel.

 I think people will lose themselves in this story. It is going to be very hard for them to forget that dinosaurs aren’t around today. I think some people might leave the movie imagining that the next time they go off into the wilderness they might just encounter one of these creatures. That is the sense of realism we were trying to achieve. The dinosaurs are certainly the best and most realistic I’ve ever seen.”

Pace: This is an incredible opportunity for audiences to experience the Late Cretaceous era as if they were there. The directors, Neil and Barry Cook, have created an experience that allows us to witness something that in our lifetime we’re never going to actually see. Walking With Dinosaurs The Movie does a great job of delivering a unique experience. Twentieth Century Fox

 


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