Giving VFX Birth to Tree of Life
Moving on to the Natural History realm, there are four dinosaurs in the movie: a wounded Plesiosaur on the beach, a solitary juvenile Parasaur, an adult Parasaur in the background of the first river shot and a predatory Dromiceiomimus ("the Drama Queen"), which approaches, attacks and then leaves the young Parasaur alone that has lost its mother. This concept of mercy is revelatory, according to Glass. In fact, it illuminates the whole tension between how we're supposed to behave (nature) vs. transcendence (grace). "It was a very tough challenge," he concedes."
This is reinforced by Fink's experience with Malick as well. "Terry made it clear that there were certain emotional beats that he wanted to get," Fink adds. "He wanted to see things in the animals' actions and reactions that implied that they were sentient beings that were starting to evolve a social consciousness. And we talked about different angles that would help sell that. But he didn't want it to appear staged, and he didn't want to pull focus, so everything had to be sharp from foreground to background."
The dinosaurs were built in Maya but rigged in 3ds Max because Frantic [now Prime Focus] had a robust Max pipeline for creatures. Glass didn't want the animators to over animate, so, in many cases, he misdirected to give the creatures a sense of ambiguity. "In this way, we were able to make it feel more natural."
As Trumbull observes, it was all about "searching for the Tao."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.