Terra Nova: A New Breed of Dinosaur
In Terra Nova (airing Mondays at 8:00 pm on Fox), scientists from 2149 discover a time rift to travel back 85 million years to save humanity from its Orwellian imprisonment. Only trouble is, there are dinosaurs to deal with as well as a new tyrant in their midst.
But since it's produced by Steven Spielberg, the pressure was on to build great dinos. Overseeing the production is VFX supervisor Kevin Blank, who's been working with Pixomondo (Hugo), which is led by VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman and animation head Colin Brady.
"The biggest challenge of the dinosaurs is to create a quality product in a television timeline and a television budget point," Blank suggests. "And also living up to the expectations of something with Steven Spielberg's name on it. Comparisons to Jurassic Park are inevitable and we can't tell anyone not to compare, although when you talk about advances in animation or rendering capabilities, a more effective comparison would be Hercules and Xena."
According to Brady, believable weight is certainly important, but more than that, some characteristic of the species that they represent. There are several species, including Brachiosaurs and Carnotataurus, as well as the fictitious Slashers (derived from raptors) and Nyko Raptors (a composite of different raptors).
"We want each dinosaur to have its own distinctive movement and personality," Brady adds. "We're also working very closely with Jack Horner, who is Steven Spielberg's trusted paleontologist. And we're working with the most recent research on what these dinosaurs might have looked like and how they would've moved. So we'll get all kinds of notes from Horner that will, more often than not, direct us to move in a bird-like manner or motion. Of course, there are occasions when we have to break from that just to make it more entertaining. On one level, these were simply large chickens. Sometimes they might end up looking goofy instead of scary. We put all this in a blender and we do our homework. We study a lot of reference of animals: hawks and eagles and Komodo dragons and roadrunners. And we shoot the motion capture reference. We act this stuff out and Kevin is probably the biggest actor of them all. He really gets into the dinosaur characteristics."
The reason the show takes place 85 million years in the past, according to Blank, is because the fossil records of that time are the least defined. With 90% up to interpretation, they predate or postdate and use fossil records to guide designs and looks. But when they do a complete creation such as the Slasher, it's done under the watchful eye of Horner to make it plausible.
Initial designs were done by Neville Page (Avatar, Super 8) in ZBrush. Then Pixomondo's lead modeler and dino designer, Dan Katcher, did the final sculpt and has taken over design in production. With a 3D build in ZBrush, they've been able to do a 3D print. Although they built a puppet of the Slasher, it was derived from the digital sculpt.