Travel Adventure Documentary Magazine
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Walking with Dinosaurs

Ralph Franklin Posted by Ralph Franklin in Blogs November 19th, 2013

 Editors Note: Some time ago I played the roll of an old fisherman in the short The Young Boy and the Sea produced and director by Marco Marenghi. Marco recently returned from a year and a half shoot in Australia as Animation Director for the 3D film Walking with Dinosaurs. He sat down for an interview regarding the film.

 Marco you have worked on so many films what excited you about Walking with Dinosaurs, a 3D Movie?
 
This is the movie's bad guy - he's a giant Gorgosaur
called Gorgon.
Since a child, I've been a fan of dinosaurs. When I heard the BBC was making a movie, I jumped at the chance to become part of it, especially as I was involved with the original documentary series.
 
How do we really know what dinosaurs looked like and how they moved?
 
Everything we know is based on skeletal fossils that have been discovered. In some cases we have full skeletons to reference and in other cases there is much speculation but that speculation is based on what we know from other similar species. There are markings on bones where the muscles attach - this can give us a good idea of the size and shape of the musculature of a creature. Some skin samples have been found also. We build up a dinosaur layer by layer this way. The design of joints and bones give us a good idea of how a dinosaur could move. Each joint will have a rotation limit and with the muscle structure information, we can get a good idea of how an animal could and couldn't move.
 
What is the process for creating the dinosaur characters in the film?
 
"Bad guy Gorgon has quite a bite." I loved him as our villain -
I could make/watch an entire movie on this guy!" Marenghi
We have departments that handle every aspect of building creatures at this scale. For example: while the art department draws up graphics for the creatures (based on paleo designs) the modeling department will build the dino's in a 3D computer form. This is basically like sculpting in a computer. We can look around the "sculpt" from every angle and pull or push parts to make it look like the design brief. Once we have a model it is passed on to the character setup department. These guys build a skeleton inside the model based on the positions and limitations of the real fossil bones for the animal. They also create a rig: a rig is a series of controllers that an animator can use to manipulate the dino like a puppeteer. The character setup artists also build and implement the muscle system and make sure the model maintains correct form when the joints are manipulated. Once we have a rig, we can start animation. The first steps in the animation process were to create basic walk and run cycles for each creature. While we were setting up the dino's for animation, the Look-Development department was working on the skin and colors for the creatures, making them look as realistic as possible.
 
 How did you use body language to develop the characters performance and what did you use as inspiration for the performance?
 
The bird is an Alexornis called Alex and the dino is a
Pachyrhinosaurus called Patchi, he's the main
character in the film
As birds have evolved from dinosaurs, we used "bird like" head tilts a lot to convey curiosity. We also used cows as reference as the main characters are herding animals. Before the original "Walking with Dinosaurs" documentary started production in 1998, I had access to the full BBC natural history library and yes, I watched nearly all of it so I drew on my experience a lot for the movie.
 
How many different teams came together to create Walking with Dinosaurs?
 
Production dept, on set plate shoot, lidar environment scan, paleo, art, story, layout, editorial, tracking, modeling, character setup, animation, look-dev, lighting, fx, crowd, composition, stereoscopic dept, hair and feather, shot finaling and DI (digital intermediate).... and that's just the ones I remember, 21 in all!
 
On this 3D blockbuster did you have different animators working on each character or species and how did you maintain consistency across the project?
 
I like to give animators a chance to work with every character, we had 32 of them from around the world working in Sydney. This keeps them happy and happy animators produce excellent work. Of course, some animators will connect better with certain animals and when it comes to crunch time, I'd be specific about my casting as I needed good results quickly - but every animator, at some point in the production, got to work on every creature. My job is to maintain that consistency and direct the animators in such a way that continuity is achieved across shots and species.
 
Did different team members have favorites dinosaurs to work on and how about you?
 
A giant Ankylosaur dwarfing the 4 week old Patchi.
Yes - it became apparent quickly that certain animators were good with birds while others were good with quadruped (4 legged) dinos and others with bipedal (2 legged) dinos. Similarly, some animators were good with comedy while others had a great sense of scale and weight. I take all these into consideration when casting shots to the artists. The team assembled for this show was one of the best I've ever worked with in my career so things went very smoothly. As I mentioned earlier, I try to let everyone have some animation time with his or her favorite character. As for me, I loved the Gorgosaur as our villain - I could make/watch an entire movie on this guy!
 
How did you manage to create the photo-real world of the film?
 
The secret to this is to use real locations where possible. The lighting and compositing departments take data recorded at the shoot location and use it to cast computer generated light onto the animated models. This makes it look realistic when combined with the live action "plates" which were shot in Alaska and New Zealand. Interaction with this environment also sells a shot as real. The FX department is responsible for creating footprints, splashes, dust and a myriad of other generated effects which make us believe that the CG dino is actually in the environment. A Lidar scan is delivered from the shoot. This is basically a scan of the shoot location, which gives us a massively complex 3D model which we can use as the "ground" in our animations. Finished shots are comprised of layers. A typical shot will have the following layers (from back to front most): The background environment (real), footprints, the animated CG dino, dust, lighting
effects, foreground (real) elements. This process of combining all the layers is known as compositing.
 
How did you create the dinosaur’s skin?
 
"Each scale of the skin, of which there were
thousands of on the dino, has its own shape,
height and bumpiness." Marenghi
We had a very talented department dedicated to just this task. The WWD3 skins have the most technologically advanced skin system created to date. Each scale, of which there were thousands of on every dino, has its own shape, height and bumpiness. When stretched, the skin beneath the scale expanded and the scales retained their shape. When compressed, the skin would absorb as much as it could before the scales collided and then - and here's the cool part - the scales would roll and not penetrate each other. This is what real skin/scales do. It's a pretty big deal in CG.
 
How have technological advances enabled you to create more lifelike animated characters? Are there any game-changing tech breakthroughs that contributed to Walking with Dinosaurs that you would point to?
 
The two big ones, in my opinion, were the skin/scale system and the excellent muscle system Raphaele Fragapane and his team of character setup artists created for us. This really told the animators and the paleos a lot about how these amazing creatures were built, able to move, and interact. Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is still a movie and designed to entertain but it is driven by many factual discoveries and where possible, as accurate as we could make it.
 
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D Release date December 20, 2013 in over 3000 domestic theaters (Fox distribution)
 
Marenghi Credits: Walking with Dinosaurs 3D · Green Lantern · Alice in Wonderland · Watchmen · Valkyrie · Speed Racer · I Am Legend · Ghost Rider . Bewitched · The Polar Express · Nightfire · The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers · Minority Report · Evolution · Jason and the Argonauts · Walking with Dinosaurs · Death of a Dynasty · Spirits of the Ice Forest · Giant of the Skies · Cruel Sea · Time of the Titans · Lost in Space · Tomorrow Never Dies.
 
Marco Marenghi Speaking Engagements CONTACT: Ralph, FFA 866-385-3824 — rjfranklin1@dslextreme.com

 

 

 

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