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A Closer Look: Really Profitable Dinosaurs

Following up on the hugely successful television show "Walking With Dinosaurs," BBC British Television and The Discovery Channel have set into production on "Walking With Prehistoric Beasts." The 3-hour miniseries will start where "Dinosaurs" left off. The budget is set at US$10 million, which was the price tag for the original miniseries. In addition, the two channels will create a "science behind the series" special to air after "Beasts" sometime in 2001. "Walking With Dinosaurs" followed 155 million years of prehistoric events using computer animation and recent scientific discoveries to simulate what it was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. After its successful run on the BBC in England, the three-hour special premiered on April 16, 2000 in the U.S. and garnered an audience of 10.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-sports event on cable TV during the 1999-2000 season with a rating of 8.0. As word of mouth catches on, The Discovery Channel could see even bigger numbers for its scheduled re-broadcasts of what has been described as one of the most scientifically significant technological benchmarks in broadcast television.

It must have been easy to make the decision to produce a sequel to such a successful show. But it is an incredible feat that the BBC produced the original series at all. Furthermore, it is amazing that it looks as good as it does considering the television budget. When first approached in 1995 to do the job, Industrial Light & Magic, which had done the dinos for both "Jurassic Park" movies, quoted the BBC a whopping $10,000 per second to complete the CG. With 150 minutes of CG to produce, the producers at BBC could not justify that kind of expense. Without losing heart, the producers decided to contact a London-based special effects company, FrameStore, to do their dinosaurs. FrameStore 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, FrameStore head Mike Milne and his crew of 15 designers decided to take on the task with staid British aplomb, beginning this incredible three-hour journey into prehistory that now stands on its own as an unprecedented achievement for natural history. A month after the series' premiere on Discovery, Disney released "Dinosaur," one of its biggest animated films, six years in the making, with a budget of approximately $200 million. Some reports have it as being much higher! With a current total U.S. gross of $131.9 million, "Dinosaur" might not reach its low-end price tag of $200 million in the U.S. and probably won't make its rumored high-end price tag of $400 million in U.S. and international theatres combined. One cannot help wondering how much money the BBC series would have made, had it been a feature film with Disney-scale marketing efforts.

Related articles:

- Read Eric Huelsman's Animation World Magazine article about WALKING WITH DINOSAURS to find out what went into making this extraordinary television event.

- Disney Takes a BIG Departure from Formula with Dinosaur Wendy Jackson Hall takes a look behind the scenes at the animators of Disney's Dinosaur.

- In "Clone: CG Dinosaurs Don't Have To Be '65 Million Years In The Making...," Sam DeWitt from Spontaneous Combustion talks about their latest work, Clone, a network ID for Discovery Kids that features a fully CG Velociraptor. This article was published in Visual Magic Magazine, AWN's 3D animation and digital effects online magazine.