Walking With Dinosaurs
(continued from page 1)

Mike Milne. Courtesy of FrameStore. © BBC/Discovery Channel.

Mike Milne and FrameStore
Returning to England empty-handed (and still left with two and a half hours of CG to account for), Haines and company decided to contact a local production company with impeccable credentials to do their dinosaurs. Enter Mike Milne and the London-based special effects company, FrameStore. Mike and his crew had already won Emmys for their effects in the prime-time productions of Alice In Wonderland, Merlin, The Odyssey and Gulliver's Travels. Undaunted by the task of producing two and a half hours of CG dinosaurs, Milne and his crew of 15 designers decided to take on an apparently kamikaze task with staid British aplomb.

Such as it was, Milne and FrameStore started out with 24 dinosaurs to make (but, per the needs of the entire run of six BBC episodes, ended up with 40 by the end of the production). However, since it was a natural history-type of series, it was FrameStore's job to not only create these creatures, but to synthesize the entire environment these dinosaurs lived in given a very limited amount of information. As it turns out, recreating the ecosystems themselves involved some pretty exotic location shooting and some photographic sleight-of-hand (to be described later).

Making the Models
To begin with, paleontologists were contracted by the BBC to assist FrameStore in the production so that the most up-to-date data on how dinosaurs were constructed could be used to make the creatures look as life-like as possible. Using this data from the science team, FrameStore's sculptors produced highly detailed scale models of each of the dinosaurs. These models, which are referred to in the CG industry as maquettes, were first sculpted in clay. Then a resin cast was made of these maquettes and these casts were, in turn, covered with an optically opaque paint for digitizing. FrameStore used a high-res laser scanner for this task and, along with partner Soho-CyberScan, developed a set of proprietary software tools to capture as much of the 3D form and texture detail as possible.

The evolving look of the show's dino-stars. © BBC/Discovery Channel.

Scanned data from the maquettes was initially imported into Softimage as a very large point cloud of over 6 million three-dimensional reference points, which was later reduced about 85% to produce a more computationally-digestible polygonal mesh consisting of about one million points. A low-res version of the maquette was then made for animation purposes, thus enabling the animators to see creature movement playback in real-time. A stick and ball skeleton was then made, thus enabling the animators to isolate different parts of the dinosaur for manipulation.

Once the high and low-res polygonal models had been made, the correct scale and orientation for each dinosaur had to be set, so as to match the camera and scene data for each shot. This was a critical part of how FrameStore saved expense as almost all of the background and many foreground shots were practicals, shot on location in New Zealand and other exotic tropical locales where flora, like ferns, resemble those of the prehistoric periods depicted in the show.

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