Designing the World of The Good Dinosaur and Bringing Arlo to Life #GoodDino

Designing the World of The Good Dinosaur and Bringing Arlo to Life #GoodDino 3

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THE GOOD DINOSAUR filmmaker presentation
Production Designer Harley Jessup is photographed on August 4, 2015 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

When we visited Pixar last month we attended a few different presentations about how the film The Good Dinosaur was made. One of our presentations was given by Harley Jessup who is an Academy Award-winning production designer and visual effects art director with Pixar.

Harley discussed how the Art department designed the different dinosaurs in the film and their surrounding environments. Once the real location was decided upon, the art department would work on all of the details such as rocks, plants, animals, and environment. One of the most interesting parts were the Dinosaurs and other critters they created to inhabit this world.

Designing the World of The Good Dinosaur and Bringing Arlo to Life #GoodDino 1
THE GOOD DINOSAUR – Pictured (L-R): Ramsey, Nash. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


The Story is about a boy (Arlo) and his dog (Spot)


As for Spot, he is a human boy, but for all intent and purposes he is a “dog” and walks on all fours. So with that he had to look like he was wild with dirt, and twigs and disheveled hair with pieces of sticks and leaves in it.

Peter Sohn wanted the three T-Rex’s characters to appear like they were cowboys. Harley had to then figure out how to do that, so with research and models, he made it looks like the legs of the dinosaurs belonged to horses that were galloping. When you see the film, you will see what I mean, they really do look like galloping horses when they run, you definitely go there in your mind and envision them that way.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR filmmaker presentation 7
THE GOOD DINOSAUR – Production Designer Harley Jessup presents at the Long Lead Press Days at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Marc Flores. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Because Peter Sohn had actually visited the locations, he would have suggestions on how to make things more realistic. He had insight into how things really looked and with the hundreds and hundreds of pictures he collected with his team, the art department could bring these pictures back to life on screen.


Our next presentation was from Animators Kevin O’Hara & Rob Thompson who gave us an animation demo highlighting the reference used by animators to inform the movement of the dinosaurs. What was that reference you may wonder? Elephants. Since no one really knows how a Dinosaur moved in real life they had to recreate how they thought they moved.  They went to the Oakland Zoo and observed the elephants since they had the type of gait and forcefulness they imagined a dinosaur would have when walking.

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One of the scenes that really stuck out for me was a scene where Arlo was walking and they were focused on his feet. Each step that he took you could see the force his weight had on his feet, they would move and contract as if he really weighed a few tons. This was so amazing to me, the detail in which they create these animated characters is astounding! Just take a look at the picture above, you can really see how much elephants inspired the creation of Arlo.

Observing the elephants not only helped with Arlo’s movement but it set the tone for how all of the other Dinosaurs would move. As I stated previously the T-Rex characters movements were based on horses and how they galloped.



 Animating Arlo was a huge task, with many, many animators involved to get him just perfect. Be sure to see the movie on November 25th!


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Disclosure:  I was provided with an all-expense trip to San Francisco by Walt Disney Studios to attend various events. All opinions are 100% my own.