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Nerdist Chats with the Team Behind WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE

Attention, all Nerdist readers with offspring! Are you a dino-lover that is eager to share your passion with your own little nerdlers? If so, you’ll be happy to know that Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie comes out on Blu-ray today (March 25th).

Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie is based on BBC’s visually stunning 1999 TV series of the same name. While it retains all the educational integrity of the TV series, the movie very much caters to children. Instead of simply hearing about the dinosaurs you’re watching, you get to hear from them – the movie has actual dialogue between the dinos. The story follows Patchi, a Pachyrhinosaur, who becomes the unlikely leader of his herd over their epic migration through what is now Northern Canada and Alaska.

The Nerdist got to chat with paleontologist Steve Brusatte, who consulted on the film, as well as VFX supervisor Will Reichelt at Animal Logic, who make these CGI dinos walk.

WWD IP 2

(20th Century Fox)

Nerdist: Why is the Walking with Dinosaurs movie a great choice for parents who want to share their love for science with their children?

Steve Brusatte: I think that the movie is both very fun and also very educational. It’s a great story — the story of an underdog dinosaur who faces many obstacles like floods, fires, and predators as he grows up, migrates with his herd, and assumes the leadership of the herd. It’s a story that kids will really relate to. But it’s not just fiction. The story is based on real science. This film is definitely the most accurate portrayal of dinosaurs that has ever been done on the big screen, or any screen, for that matter. There were about 10 paleontologists like myself who consulted with the filmmakers to make sure that the dinosaurs looked and behaved like they really would have when they were alive, over 65 million years ago!

N: The story takes place in the Late Cretaceous series. Why was this particular chapter of the Mesozoic chosen over other periods?

SB: I think [the filmmakers] chose this time period because it was a very exciting time in dinosaur evolution, a time when many interesting species of dinosaurs lived together in North America, like the tyrannosaurs, the horned dinosaurs, the duck-billed dinosaurs, and the armored dinosaurs. And we have a lot of fossils of these dinosaurs, and know a lot about their environments, so it was not very difficult making the story and the dinosaurs scientifically accurate.

N: The TV series bounced all over the globe to cover a wide range of climates and ecosystems. What was it about Late Cretaceous Alaska that felt like the right choice for the film’s single setting?

SB: One of the coolest things about dinosaurs is that we know they lived in the polar regions, like Alaska, during the latest Cretaceous. This is a relatively new discovery. And it’s very exciting — it meant that dinosaurs could handle cold climates (although the poles were nowhere near as cold as they are today). So by placing the story in the Cretaceous of Alaska, the filmmakers could tell a really unique story, and show a type of fascinating environment that hasn’t been shown very often in dinosaur movies. Plus, the polar regions would have had very interesting weather during much of the year. There would have been periods that were quite cold, the winters would have been very dark, the summers very light. So this type of environment helps frame an interesting storyline.

N: Our main characters are Pachyrhinosaurus. Why was this species of dinosaur the best choice for the protagonists of this story? 

SB: I think that Pachyrhinosaurus makes a fascinating main character. They were amazing animals. They had spectacular horns and frills on their skulls, giving them a very dramatic look. They traveled in big herds — we know this because we find the skeletons of hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of individuals all in the same fossil sites. And they were very common and the main herbivores in this part of North America during the latest Cretaceous. I think they are also relatable characters–kids can recognize parallels with bison and other herd-living animals in today’s world.

WWD IP

(20th Century Fox)

Here’s what VFX supervisor Will Reichelt OF Animal Logic had to say about creating the incredible imagery of this Late Cretaceous tale:

N: Are there any modern advancements in CGI technology that made animating the Walking with Dinosaurs movie easier than animating the TV series back in 1999?

REICHELT: Computer graphics have advanced in leaps and bounds since the original series was made back in 1999, and we can now make the dinosaurs feel more realistic than ever before. We developed custom software to enable us to create finely detailed scales, as well as a new procedural system that recreates the way the bones and muscles deform the outer skin when the dinosaurs move around. We also took advantage of the latest developments in physically correct photorealistic lighting to integrate the dinosaurs even more seamlessly into their environments.

N: The original series had intermittent use of puppetry and practical effects in lieu of CGI. I don’t think I saw any such effects in the movie. Did this make life harder or easier on the production end of things?

WR: Correct, there were no practical dinosaurs used in the making of the film. Using puppetry or practical creature effects mixed with computer graphics in a movie like Walking With Dinosaurs can make things easier in terms of integration — puppets are real, tangible things that are immediately part of the scene because they are there on the set, capturing all the complexity of lighting and interaction with their environment. The hard part is that puppets tend to not have the capability for complex, subtle motion in a way that today’s computer-generated characters can, which can cause a noticeable discrepancy when you have shots that use different techniques next to each other in an edit. Having our characters completely computer-generated meant that we had the consistency of using the same technique on every shot, but we also had to make sure that the creatures were detailed enough to look real, even when seen close up.

Check out the trailer for Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie below:

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