Ink & Pixel: Dinosaur

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Have you ever met anyone who doesn't like dinosaurs? No, you haven't; but do you know why? It's because dinosaurs are fascinating creatures, and anyone who doesn't share that opinion isn't worth knowing. Ha ha! I kid, I kid. Or do I? Anyway, I love dinosaurs, and by the looks of this Summer's box office receipts pertaining to JURASSIC WORLD, so does everyone else. For countless generations, dinosaurs have been a topic of much debate, as well as subject matter for many silver screen adventures throughout movie history. Since the existence of these majestic beasts has been tromping through my thoughts for the better part of this week, I decided it'd be nice to take a look back at Walt Disney's DINOSAUR.

As the 39th Disney Animated Classic, DINOSAUR marched into theaters in the United States on May 19th, 2000. Overseeing this live-action/CGI adventure film were Ralph Zondag (RUGRATS GO WILD, HOME ON THE RANGE, CURIOUS GEORGE) and Eric Leighton (CORALINE, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH). Okay, hold up! Live-action and CGI? Yes indeed, my friends. It's true that the dinosaurs seen in the film were composed entirely from computer-generated-images, however, many of the backgrounds and locales featured in DINOSAUR were shot on-location. Of course, the method of blending live-action with animation was not a foreign concept concept for Disney, as it had been used before in films like: THE THREE CABALLEROS (1945), SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946), PETE'S DRAGON (1977), as well as several others. However, the films listed above all featured hand-drawn cells placed atop live-action footage, and did not include the abundant use of CGI that you'll find all throughout DINOSAUR.

That's cool and all, but where does one go to shoot territories that look as if they could have existed back in prehistoric times? Well, many of the backgrounds that found their way into the film were shot at Canaima National Park. The park is located in south-eastern Venezuela, along the borders of Brazil and Guyana. Not only is this the 6th largest park on planet Earth, it's also the home to Angel Falls: the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall. This breathtaking rush of H20 towers above us tiny humans from a height of 979 meters with its plunge measuring at a whopping 807 meters! What's that? You really want to see this gorgeous monument of nature, but can't afford to go there? No worries, Angel Falls is included in the film and it looks magnificent!

Okay, it's plot synopsis time, kids! Grab your milk and cookies and pull up a spot on the magic carpet. Have you ever seen Don Bluth's THE LAND BEFORE TIME? Well, DINOSAUR is a lot like that. Heh, I'm kidding. Well, sort of. When a meteorite strikes the planet Earth, and all but destroys what was once called Lemur Island, it shakes an Iguanodon named Aladar and his unconventional lemur family to their very core.  Now, Aladar, and those left alive after the collision, must seek the aid of their neighboring dinosaur friends in an attempt to survive the catastrophe.

Together with the predominant Iguanodon named Kron (Samuel E. Wright) and his second-in-command Bruton (Peter Siragusa), Aladar joins a rag-tag party of survivors that include an aging Brachiosaurus called Baylene, a Styracosarus named Eema, the simple-minded Ankylosaurus, Url, and Kron's younger sister, Neera. Hoping to survive a brutal excursion through the sweltering desert, on their way to a known breeding ground where – with any luck – they can regroup and repopulate, Aladar and his new friends must battle the elements as well as the carnivorous dinosaurs left in the wake of all the destruction. Will Aladar and his friends triumph over nature's wrath and make it all the way to “The Great Valley” (heh heh, who doesn't enjoy a good LAND BEFORE TIME jab?) without losing even more friendly faces? You'll have to check out DINOSAUR to find out!

In an effort to create dinosaurs unlike any that had been seen before, the effects team over at Walt Disney Studios first created an unprecedented number of sketches to coincide with every species seen throughout the film. With every scale, feather, and claw meticulously crafted, the process of building 3D clay constructs could begin. Using the clay models as a reference, each creature was then sculpted using a sophisticated computer graphics engine. And because many of the characters featured in DINOSAUR were given speaking roles, a vast facial animation suite needed to be created. What is that exactly? Imagine a digital photo album that only features one subject, but in each photo that subject is making a different face. With hundreds of expressions to choose from, you're able to simply select the desired emotion and insert it into your scene. Sure, you'll have to tweak it just a bit almost every time, but in the world of animation this method is a valued time-saver.

In addition to facial animation, the artists and animators working on the movie needed to pay extra close attention to the way in which the dinosaurs moved; particularly their elaborate muscle structure. Building human characters in a 3D space might sound like old hat to most folks, but these are dinosaurs we're dealing with, here. This means that conventional ways of creating and manipulating muscle structure simply would not suffice. When fabricating some of the more massive dinos, the muscles beneath their skin had to stretch, sag, and fold in inventive ways to make them believable as living, breathing creatures.

Another major component to bringing the world of DINOSAUR to life was the film's dynamic sound design. Under the direction of Sound Designer and Supervisor, Christopher Boyes, the snarls, roars, and thundering noises heard throughout the movie were created using a library of recordings containing real animal sounds. Boyes and his team scoured innumerable Disney audio archives in an effort to amass as many bestial utterances as they could. Not wanting to stop there, an assistant to Boyes was sent to a zoo in order to record the sounds of jungle cats. Lucky for us, there was on leopard in particular who really didn't like the sound technician who was hoping to score some decent recordings. As a result, the fiercely unhappy feline let loose a chorus of ferocious feline discontent. The tech captured everything from hissing growls to guttural roars that were later manipulated into the deafening outcries of some of the films most savage antagonists.

Animals weren't the only contributors to the film's soundtrack. The studio's foley artists were also on deck to provide unique sounds that can be heard throughout the movie. I'm talking about anything from people breaking stalks of celery in half to squeezing ketchup out of a bottle onto a delicious hotdog that's then hastily scarfed down directly in front of a microphone. Furthermore, sandboxes were wheeled onto the set, through which a variety of different shoes were sent miked up and tromping. All of that kicking, scuffing, and smashing equates to a multitude of sounds, which the team then altered to created the fluctuating footfalls of all the different creatures found in Walt Disney's DINOSAUR.

Remember what I said about everyone loving dinosaurs? I'm going to prove it to you, right now. When DINOSAUR's box-office run became extinct, it managed to disappear with having earned a world-wide total of $349,822,765 in returns! With a production budget of $127.5 million, there's no question as to whether or not this film, like its characters, once ruled the Earth. It's a good thing too, considering that DINOSAUR was the most expensive film released in the year 2000. Certainly, Disney must have been thrilled with the film's reception, and happier still when their CGI dino-infested adventure became the 5th highest-grossing film of the entire year!

It had been years since I'd last sat down to watch this movie. If my memory serves me correctly, I remember (all the way back in the year 2000) thinking that it was just okay. Now, after having watched the technology used in this film grow exponentially throughout the years, I view it as a milestone in the evolution of special effects. Computers back then could in no way handle the the level of detail we are capable of creating now, and with that in mind, DINOSAUR does a very serviceable job in bringing its audience back to a time when man had yet to exist. Although the story elements feel a bit too familiar, there is still lots of enjoyment to be had while experiencing this all-but-forgotten Disney gem.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.