A few weeks ago I was able to go to San Francisco and do a lot of fun things over a few days time. Among them were a trip to Google HQ for Miles for Tomorrowland, a tour of the Pixar Archives, a tour of Pixar Studios, a trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum and many behind the scence events for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out! Today I get to share with you our Campfire Chat with The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn, as well as Producer Denise Ream, Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi and Director of Photography and Lighting Sharon Calahan. They were a fun group and it was a lot of fun to sit around and visit, eating great chuckwagon food and having S’Mores. I learned a lot about the research that went into The Good Dinosaur movie and it was really amazing to see all of their adventures and hear it straight from them.
The Good Dinosaur movie was based on the idea of the big “what-if” concept of dinosaurs never going extinct due to a meteor hitting the earth and about the journey of man and dinosaur together. They thought of the dinosaur family and came up with Arlo, and then needed to decided where to have the sincere farm family live. Because Peter Sohn grew up watching western movies and one of them was Shane. “George Steven Jr., Alan Ladd. Beautiful movie and what’s the best villain in that bad movie? Squinty eyes. He was in City Slickers too as well. Yeah, Jack Brown. Yeah, he was great in that movie.”
Another thing they needed was a river. The river was like their “yellow brick road” and since Sharon Callahan lives in Oregon the Snake River became a place that they went to over and over for research. We were shown several pictures of their trips and I loved hearing their stories and why they chose those places, what they learned from them and what they contributed to the actual film.
Denise Ream said “Everything Pete saw he was going oh, my gosh. Everything was new to him. It was really exciting. The enthusiasm and his curiosity.” I could see this in him as well as he told us about the trip. His energy and excitement was catching and it made it that much more fun to listen to the presentation. Peter Sohn added “It was so sole enriching but at the same time I think the effect of that is because everything is so large it makes you feel tiny and so you start to have a weird kind of feeling of growth somehow where you get very inward. Wherever we would go Sharon would have these little things that she would say about like if you don’t like the weather wait ten minutes and boy, that was true and that would really become something infected in me in terms of trying to make nature a character in our film.”
They took a ride on horses on the Idaho side of the Teton mountains because they wanted to know what it was really like to get lost and have that feeling of what it would look like around them. Everyone but Peter and Sanjay had been on horses before. Peter wanted to keep going, just to see what was around the next corner. They said they felt like everything was so big and so vast that they could see how even a dinosaur like Arlo could feel tiny out there, which was overwhelming. When they went to the Tetons they had two guides, Melissa and Ramsey. Peter said “One of our T-rex is named Ramsey (in The Good Dinosaur movie) and she was very inspired by this cowgirl that brought us out there and she was legitimately a cowgirl where she has it’s her, her horse and her dog, a saw, a gun.”
They talked also about going down the river and their experience on their different trips to capture footage of the water and how it acts and looks like. They told us a story of how one if their GoPro’s got dropped in the river and how the guide was able to calculate the speed of the water and the way the current ran and was able to recover it for them. They were able to make good use of that underwater footage as they did some of the water scenes in the movie.
One of the guides told them “you just have to understand and respect the land and the nature around here.” I think that this was an eye opener in terms of how you could read the land and use that and understand things just by looking and understanding nature. Peter said “he blew us away by finding this thing [the GoPro] and he will continue to do this by shell casing every little thing. We talk about nature. We talk about how beautiful it is. Everywhere we would go he would talk about like look at that. Rain has totally destroyed that area. You don’t wanna camp here. Why not? Look at the rocks around you. This is where landslides happen. We’re like oh, my goodness. We didn’t notice. It just looks beautiful here. There it is. There you can see it and these guides show us. I have so much respect for it.”
They made it a point to go back during the different seasons so they could see how the land looked differently and understand the differences. Pixar films have always been and always will be incredible with the amount of detail they put into the films. Denise said “Our department goes out on these trips and really studies environment to a huge extent but I think that there’s a large reason why the films hopefully from Pixar feel so rich and authentic and that was something that was really important to us. So taking pictures of the most minute details.” It is important to have the pictures from their research so the animators and artists can use those to draw the film and make it look as real as possible.
We learned so much more from them, and the night was amazing and fun. How often do you get to have S’Mores and listen to stories about a Pixar movie around a campfire? The Good Dinosaur movie has incredible detail and the way it looks is a testament to the dedication and direction of the team at Pixar and Peter Sohn. I was able to watch about 30-40 minutes of the film and I loved every minute of it. I captures your heart and you go through everything with Arlo and Spot.
If you haven’t seen the preview yet you can view it here:
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THE GOOD DINOSAUR opens in theaters everywhere on November 25th!
This trip is sponsored by Disney, Pixar & Disney Junior. This does not affect my opinions and they are 100% my own.