While in San Francisco and during our visit to Pixar, not only did we get to see how they brought Arlo and the Spot to life, we were treated to a behind the scenes look at the visual design, the movie sets, and the special effects. All an integral part in making this movie come to life!
The first presentation was by Sharon Calahan (Director of Photography – Lighting and visual design). Her job is to support the film artistically. To begin this journey, she and Peter Sohn made a list of movies that they both loved visually, movies like The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf, Heaven’s Gate, and Dances with Wolves all gave them ideas of how they wanted the environment to look like in this film. 7 Years in Tibet inspired them as far as scope and scale and taking bits and pieces from these films helped achieve what Pete wanted, the setting to be like a character in the film.
After deciding what they wanted the movie to look like they set off on trips to discover the real-life settings in Wyoming, the Grand Tetons, Montana among other locations. She described some of the landscape work as “Painterly Realism” you can’t see all of the details of an object, but you know what the object is.
Sharon told us how she loved painting on location and outdoors, it created such strong memories for her to later create for the film since it was based on true experience.
“Memories are as important as the images”
“We’re often asked why we put highly stylized characters in a very realistic world,” Pete wanted the characters to be appealing and the world to be visually rich. he wanted people to feel how perilous a situation was. He wanted the viewer to feel the coldness of the water, the hardness of the rock, to really become a part of the movie while watching it.
Our next presentation was with Sets Supervisor David Munier, and hear how the team used actual USGS data of the northwest United States to create the sets.
David and his team are in charge of everything that isn’t a character or special effect. They are in charge of creating the foreground and the big wide establishing shots. Pete wanted to be able to capture environmental cinematography, he wanted to be able to see 50 miles in every direction when you see Arlo appear on the screen. He believed that this would establish a sense of depth and atmosphere to the film.
The team started with simple terrain shots then would hand that off so all of the details could be added. To get these detailed shots they actually went to the USGS data and pulled from13,000 square miles of data. They took the photos from the data to see what they could recreate from it and using this information they had a foundation to build the movie and to work with the art team.
Here’s a cool tidbit, Clawtooth Mountain was based on the Grand Tetons from the data they looked at.
They also were able to use Google Earth and its 3-dimensional views, these images and views helped them decide where to film and to find and match up the terrain that Pete wanted to use in the film.
Last but certainly not least, we learned about how the effects team created different environments using effects to support the storytelling with a presentation by Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch.
When you see the film, everything you see like fire, smoke, storm sequences, fireflies, mist, fog, a raging river are all thanks to the special effects team. They want to provide a connection between the CG world and the CG characters. Things like dust, brambles, leaves, Spot interacting with sand are all the result of the effects team.
Special effects give the viewer that tangibility that the characters are really there interacting in the world on screen. They help the audiences connect to the characters, and help to heighten the mood and drama of any given scene.
One of the stars of the movie that was a character all on its own was the water, raging, flowing, creating bubbles, etc. This was a tedious process but one that turned out visually amazing in the film.
*Tidbit – Pixar’s effects team worked on 900 effects shots, twice as many as any previous Pixar film.
The Good Dinosaur opens in theaters on November 25th
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.