As the theatrical release of The Good Dinosaur nears, colleges across the country are hosting various Pixar employees as they share stories of their own technical and creative work accomplished during the production of the film.
Artists such as Matt Nolte (Character Art Director), Jon Reisch (FX Supervisor), Sanjay Bakshi (Supervising Technical Director), Kevin O’Hara (Animator), and Jonathan Pytko (Lighting Supervisor) have been inspiring students as they discuss personal anecdotes and details from their craft.
We were fortunate enough to attend a presentation given by Jonathan Pytko at Eastern Michigan University this past week (Oct 21). The hour-long discussion touched on numerous technical aspects from lighting rigs created during production, to the countless lighting tests done to perfect the look of the film.
From a technical aspect, he shared the breakdown of the lighting elements on the film: Sun Light, Sky Light, Indirect Bounces, Character Lighting, Atmosphere, River Lighting, and Cloud Lighting.
Speaking of cloud lighting Pytko gave praise to Director of Photography-Lighting Sharon Calahan for her incredible color script and environmental paintings which defined the look and feel of the film.
We were treated to a brief synopsis of the film and shown a few extended clips featuring Arlo in a rapid-like river, an emotional/healing moment between Spot and Arlo, and a clip showcasing the introduction of a trio of T-Rexes (Butch, Nash, and Ramsey) and the first encounter with a Velociraptor named Bubbha.
The clips featured drew gasps, cheers, and tears from the audience – with one particular scene making us cry more than any other Pixar film to date and setting the stage for another big hit for the studio.
The audience of students was very vocal in their appreciation of the story points, character design, lighting techniques, and vocal casting – with one student shouting his praise when hearing that Sam Elliott would provide the vocal talent for Butch.
Towards the end of the presentation Pytko showcased a stunning shot of the Claw Tooth Mountains featuring a warm sunglow beaming from around the massive peaks, giving the audience a sense of home and safety – as it was later explained, this is where Arlo’s family lives.
This wonderful shot of the snow-capped mountain peak was Jonathan’s sole shot that he lit for the film – as Lighting Supervisor his time is dedicated to supporting the team. There was something about the shot that drew him to it and Sharon Calahan and Pytko earmarked the scene for him early on as one he would like to put his stamp on.
Throughout the presentation, we learned a great deal about the art form of lighting for animated films, as well as Pytko’s journey to Pixar. After college, he began working for an architecture firm lighting various models for clients and building his portfolio and work experience.
Additionally, prior to his current role at Pixar, Pytko worked at Fathom Studios in Atlanta, GA as a generalist technical director. The studio housed a team of about 15 where Pytko explained the importance of meeting and learning from other artists in a smaller setting (the smaller studio allowed him to work on more areas of the studio’s projects, making him more rounded).
Jonathan shared his journey from Shot Lighter (when he started in 2004 at Pixar) to Lighting Supervisor during the audience Q&A session – noting that although Pixar utilizes a proprietary in-house developed system, they still touch and work with many other packages such as NUKE, KATANA or Mudbox.
The Good Dinosaur hits theaters on November 25, 2015.