Crafting Natural Phenomenons In ‘The Good Dinosaur’: A Look at the Effects Process with Jon Reisch

Learn about how The Good Dinosaur Effects team created the natural elements (water, dust, and more) in the film.
The Good Dinosaur Screenshot

When you think of a Pixar film, you’re likely to think of your favorite character or even a tearful emotional moment, but did you know that the Effects department is behind many of those scenes? The Effects department is responsible for natural phenomenons such as rain, fire, smoke, dust, debris, and water – just to name a few. The team works to create believability in the CG world including interactions between characters and objects while adding realism to the scene.

The Good Dinosaur Arlo River GIF

With The Good Dinosaur being set in such rugged terrain and with nature itself being the main antagonist, the department had their work cut out for them from the very beginning. In a recent discussion with Effect Supervisor, Jon Reisch he discussed his role as well as gave us insights into the process of creating the film.

For instance, typically the Effects team would start on a film after the Layout department set their cameras and the Animation team had their first pass. However, for this film, the team worked closely with Layout to find out what camera angles would work in order to get the sequence to read a certain way in order to increase efficiencies and accuracy.

The Good Dinosaur Concept Art

Starting early on the film was a no-brainer as The Good Dinosaur had double the amount of effect shots than any other Pixar film – with 65-70% of the film having an effects shot (compared to a typical Pixar film of only 30-40%). Since the workload doubled so did the size of the department, with about 31 effects artists who range from software developers with a heavy computer science background to more visual artists with a knack for composition, aesthetics, and light. During production, these artists had quite the workload as simulations can often take a long time to solve and are amended on a per-frame basis — with 24 frames per second the work can add up quickly.

Water plays an important role in the film and as it is a very expensive process the Effects team would (whenever possible) break down the simulation and render each piece individually, layering them back together when it was done. If this sounds like a lot of memory, you’re right – in fact, 300 terabytes (or 300,000 Gigabytes) of the film was just effects. Fun fact — the effects file for The Good Dinosaur is larger than the entire Cars 2 film (effects, characters, etc.).

The Good Dinosaur Screencap

One particular effects shot that continues to stand out to us features the T-Rex trio (Nash, Butch, Ramsey), Arlo and Spot gathered around a nighttime campfire. Created by Effects artist Jason Johnston, who used his artistic approach when constructing the fire and incredible floating embers that enhanced the scene beautifully.

While the fire is an effect, it is also a light source and both the Effects department and Lighting department worked hand-in-hand throughout the production of the film (much like Layout and Effects) to ensure the highest level of efficiency.

For even more details regarding effects from The Good Dinosaur, tune into our upcoming podcast as we share even more details on our chat with Reisch (including how the team used physics to create an interaction between the characters and sand).

In case you missed it, take an overall look behind-the-scenes at the film and then listen to our interview with the Director of Photography for Lighting, Sharon Calahan.

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