ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.03 - JUNE 2000

Disney Takes a BIG Departure from Formula with Dinosaur
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Brachiosaur Baylene and the other "misfit" dinosaurs find an alternate route to the lush, green nesting grounds. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Drawing From Life
Throughout the production, the directors and animators did a considerable amount of research. The animators met with paleontologists, including Stuart Sumida, who lectured to the artists about dinosaur locomotion and anatomy. (Sumida is writing a book called Anatomy for Animators.) They took frequent trips to the L.A. zoo to observe elephants, rhinos, ostriches and giraffes, but zoo animals are remarkably sedate, recalls Belzer. "I said to [the producer] Pam Marsden -- I know they brought in deer for Bambi. So…Can you get us an elephant?" A week later the animators headed up to a ranch to study and videotape Nellie, the famous Hollywood elephant walking and running. "One of the easy things about the Baylene character was the trunk of the body was very similar to that of an elephant. We were really able to study the skin and the muscle inertia. But with the long neck and the tail we had to wing it!"

Eamonn Butler, supervising animator of Kron. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.
A group of thirsty dinosaurs on their journey across the arid desert. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

After animation was completed, intricate skins were painted on using a technique that matched points on the skin to the muscles underneath, creating a believable effect. Hundreds of shaders were written to create the unique look of surfaces, lighting and shadows. Additional effects such as dust and splashing water were filmed in live-action then applied to the characters. Integrating the CG and live-action elements proved to be quite a challenge.

Mammoth Technology
Bringing Dinosaur to life required 3.2 million processing hours and the film’s total elements occupied 45 terabytes of disc space (45 million megabytes) stored on 70,000 CD-Roms. The studio’s render farm consisted of 250 dedicated computer processors and another 300 desktop processors at the workstations. On average, 30,000 processing hours per week were devoted to rendering and compositing the film.

At the conclusion of production on Dinosaur, the digital studio joined with Disney’s effects division Dream Quest to form a new entity called the Secret Lab, now co-located in a modern building near the Burbank airport. The name accurately portrays Disney’s closed-door policy about projects in development. Even family members are not allowed in the studio. Mike Belzer and other animators are currently working on several new CG films at Disney, which are of course under wraps.

Wendy Jackson Hall is an independent animator, educator, writer and consultant specializing in animation. Her articles have been published in Animation Journal, Animation Magazine, ASIFA News, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Wired. She was previously associate editor of Animation World Magazine.

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