“The Good Dinosaur:” A Sneak Peek of Pixar’s Visual Mastery


Photo via Disney Pixar

Imagine a world where the infamous asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth – a world where a small boy and a young, wide-eyed dinosaur can become companions. Pixar Animation has imagined such a world and in conjunction with Disney, has begun creating a new movie, “The Good Dinosaur.”

This fun-loving movie would be nothing, however, without its animators. On Thursday, Oct. 29, The University of Washington held a special behind-the-scenes presentation led by Pixar artist,
Travis Hathaway.

Hathaway spoke to the unique aspects of the new movie and the animation behind its creation, which is said to be more outstanding in this film than in other films made by Pixar.
“I’m excited about the movie, especially if its design is notable,” said junior Mark Antony. “I grew up watching ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Monster’s Inc.’ and the animation in those movies blew my mind, so [the news] that this movie is supposed to have great visuals excites me.”

“The Good Dinosaur” revolves around two characters, Arlo and Spot and the unlikely journey they take together. Arlo is a young 8-10 year old dinosaur. His character is fearful and feels incapable when by himself. Arlo lived on a farm with his family until one day, when he falls into a river and gets carried far away from home.

On his journey, he meets Spot. Spot, Hathaway says, walks the line between a boy and a dog. He is a lovable character whose personality could wind up making a lasting impression on audiences young and old.

But beyond plot, the film focuses on the various visual landscapes and emotional elements embodied by the characters and with their surrounding environment.

“For me, it’s like a little bit of getting back to the roots of visual storytelling…It brings a fidelity to the world that really engrosses you as a viewer,” Hathaway said.

As a directing animator, Hathaway’s main job was overseeing all the animation and making sure it fit the intended vision.

“I knew the director. I knew the animation soup. I knew what they were trying to do with the movie and I was just like, man sign me up,” Hathaway said.

The film displays a vast, realistic world with very loose dialogue, similiar to that of another Pixar film, “Wall-E” held more. The story is shown through vivid animation that has created a world with awe-inspiring terrains and skies with a score to compliment. The characters are meant to coexist with one another in a film that, at its core, has a western feel.

“I think that films with very little dialogue can still be compelling in the present day and age,” said sophomore Gopi Mayor. “Take ‘The Artist’ or even ‘Wall-e;’ those movies had limited dialogue, but were still compelling because they had good stories.”

“When you see [that] this environment goes on for miles and miles and then you cut in and you see Arlo (going), “Uh”, you automatically empathize with him…We are trying to put the audience into the character’s perspective,” Hathaway said.

A movie about developing characters shown through the style of clear imagery and sparse dialogue was a challenge for the film’s animators.

“We knew we wanted them to feel realistic and heavy. We were not going to have the range of articulation as some of our other films, because it is a little less cartoony. We are stretching the models less. We are trying to ground them in a physical reality a little bit more.”

Each character’s walk was critically analyzed until the right angles and statures were created. Animators were able to get Arlo’s walk by videotaping an elephant walking and taking structural elements from that. They were then were able to add subtle adjustments to create the right amount of personality.

Expression tests were used continuously to make sure the characters kept their distinct facial expressions.

“The face is a little simplified and kind of cartoony looking, that is so we have a nice, appealing base to put all of our emotion on,” Hathaway said.

There are plenty of small details the animators were proud of as well. For example, all of the clouds within the movie were volumetric.

Though you can’t see it, the magic behind the movie is there. All of the animators worked tirelessly to make what they do look easy as it glides through the screen swiftly and cleanly. Pixar’s new movie will not be feel like a desperate attempt to entertain audiences, but it will aims to be entertaining none the less. The movie is set to release Thanksgiving Day.

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