During our trip to Pixar we had the pleasure of attending a campfire presentation with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn, Producer Denise Ream, Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi and Director of Photography/Lighting, Sharon Calahan (Not shown).
We entered the building to some familiar faces ….
They had a nice spread laid out for us with dinner and drinks. We all gathered around the fireplace to cozy in and listen to the presentation.
I’m always fascinated by what it takes to create a Pixar film and am surprised by it every time when I learn what goes into it. Director Peter Sohn welcomed us all as we gathered around to hear about the trip he took to the North West. He told us how he was a city boy and never ventured that far, so we already knew he was in for a few surprises.
Peter grew up watching a lot of western movies, one if his favorites being “Shane” from 1953, the quintessential Cowboy film. Shane was shot in Wyoming in Teton Valley, the perfect place to have his farm family live. Pet had explained earlier that he looked at the Dinosaur in this movie as Farmers, like “What if the asteroids hadn’t destroyed the Dinosaurs?,” He wondered what would they have been like? In his vision, they were farmers and this is where he envisioned them living.
The river also played a huge part in The Good Dinosaur so it became a focal point for the rest of the movie and it had to be just right.
“The river becomes the character in our film when Arlo is feeling terrible or has just gone through something the river is boiling and becomes wild. And then when Arlo’s at peace the river can become like glass and so we want to experience all that different things.” ~ Peter Sohn
The first thing that Producer Denise Ream said was “let’s go out there and get lost and start researching and just kind of get reenergized.” Sharon Calahan broke down some of the places they visited, like the base of the Tetons where early Mormon settlers established small farms. In the movie, the Tetons play a huge role and they become the Claw Tooth Mountains.
Being from New York, everything to Pete was amazing as Denise explained, “….everything Pete saw he was going oh, my god! Everything was new to him. It was really exciting. The enthusiasm and his curiosity.” Seeing and being out there in the open like his was inspired Pete to incorporate nature into the film almost as its own character.
The vastness took them all by surprise, but it made them feel that even as a Dinosaur in the movie, the surroundings could make you feel small and tiny. Getting that feeling first hand really does help to develop a character and the world in which they exist in.
They were lucky enough to have to women guides who showed them the ropes, as it were. Melissa and Ramsey, one of the T-rex in the movie is named Ramsey and she was very inspired by this cowgirl. She was amazing they said, it was just her, her horse and her dog, and some weapons. She would just be living out on her own in Colorado from months on end. Seeing these women ride horses and the terrain they have to deal with a daily basis really hit home in how Arlo would survive out on his own.
They needed to focus back on the river, and the life of the river so they took out two boats. Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi had a go pro camera mounted to his boat which eventually fell off into the water. The guide stopped the boat and literally got into the river to look for it and found it! The guide knew the river so well and how to read the land in the water that it was almost instinct….
“You just have to understand and respect the land and the nature around here.” Derek
The guides played a huge part in teaching them how to be aware of their surroundings, although most of it looked beautiful to an outsider, they quickly learned that not everything was what it seemed.
Denise showed more images from the Mormon Road and explained how the department goes out on these trips and really studies environment to a huge extent, taking thousands of pictures. They do this so that hopefully films from Pixar feel rich and authentic.
“Coming from New York going out here the idea was let’s go and see a working ranch ‘cause the T-rex if you’ve guys seen in the film are kind of the carnivores that become ranchers essentially, but they herd their meat. They’ve evolved to that. And so when we started coming down that idea our T-rexes were voiced by A J Buckley as Nash, the young brother, Anna Panquin who plays the sister and then Sam Elliot who plays the father and he’s so perfect with that voice.”
This family in the movie was inspired by a real-life family they met. Joe McKay, his wife Joan and their five adopted Haitian kids. “..the love in that family just blew me away in terms of this lifestyle” said Peter. Joe and the family gave Peter and the crew a look into how it was to really be ranchers and live off the land.
All of these experiences. every single aspect of them, the river, the horse rides, living with this family and watching them live, all played a huge part in how The Good Dinosaur was made. I only saw 30 minutes of the film but from what I did see I was felt immersed in the movie and believed the characters and the surroundings that they lived in.
Stay tuned for even more behind the scenes coverage about the making of The Good Dinosaur.
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.