ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.03 - JUNE 2000

Disney Takes a BIG Departure from Formula with Dinosaur
(continued from page 1)

Two lemurs, the elder statesman Yar and his daughter Plio, watch a baby dinosaur hatching from its egg. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.
A pteranodon carrying an Iguanodon egg swoops through a herd of grazing dinosaurs. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

A total of 48 animators worked on the film, one-third of who were already versed in computer animation, while the other two thirds came from traditional hand-drawn animation and stop-motion animation backgrounds. Early on, co-director Eric Leighton recruited several animators he knew from being a supervising animator on The Nightmare Before Christmas including Mike Belzer, Joel Fletcher, Angie Glocka, Owen Klatte and Trey Thomas.

From Stop-Motion to CG
"It’s a new place and a new technique but there are lots of similarities to stop-motion," says Joel Fletcher, "Working on a stage with a little puppet is all three-dimensional. On the computer, it’s a virtual three-dimensional world. The characters are on a virtual stage with virtual lighting and are essentially a puppet. The big difference is that with stop-motion, each performance is a one-of-a-kind thing that you have to live with even if you make a mistake. On the computer, if you don’t get it quite right you can keep refining until you get a more perfect result."

Mike Belzer, whose stop-motion work runs the gamut from Gumby to James and the Giant Peach, agrees, "The biggest similarity is you are working in 3D space. I missed the tactile nature of it, but the tools were created with that in mind, because we had so many different kinds of animators working on the film." Belzer had worked briefly at Pixar before joining the Dinosaur production as supervising animator for the characters Baylene, the brachiosaur, and Url, the ankylosaur. But learning the ropes at Disney was like starting from scratch because of differences in the proprietary software at both studios. The animators worked mainly in Softimage, but the Dinosaur software group wrote 70,000 lines of code to fine-tune the controls for the animators. They animated fleshed-out skeletons (Model Development Supervisor Sean Phillips compares the rough model parts to Tootsie Rolls) for the first run, then after rough animation, the Model TDs (technical directors) added muscles according to the animators’ directions.

Supervising animator of characters Baylen and Url, Michael Belzer. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

"One of the biggest challenges was key-framing," says Belzer. "With stop-motion you start with frame one and animate straight ahead." He had to learn to animate in stages, for instance "first just the legs and body, then I would animate the shoulder and other parts later." The extreme realism in the animation of the dinosaurs was achieved by taking this layering technique very seriously. "With stop-motion, you take it one frame at a time and you pray a lot," says Belzer. "One of the highlights of computer animation is the fact that what you do is enhanced so much more by other people’s efforts with the muscle and skin, the compositing and lighting."

One of the animation principles Disney always adheres to is ‘secondary action,’ which in this film is mainly the rippling skin and jiggling flesh of the dinosaurs as well as the fur of the lemurs. Baylene, the biggest dinosaur in the bunch, is a prime example of secondary action in animation. When she stomps her foot on the ground, several complementary motions accentuate the action: a ripple rises through her body and a rotation twists her leg slightly. Baylene’s foot alone contains four types of controls for distributing weight. A fascinating simulation of these controls is available on the official Dinosaur web site (www.dinosaur.go.com), where users can load a model of Baylene’s foot and toggle controls for its animation attributes: "hang" causes the sole to droop when the foot is lifted off the ground, "squish" controls the degree to which the fleshy regions of the foot spread out when weight is applied, and "heel" and "toe" controls indicate weight placement toward the rear or front of the foot.

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