urbanfox - company logo  
          urbanfox.tv > technology articles > film effects articles > dinotopia

DINOTOPIA - Talking With Dinosaurs

by David Fox

The BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs brought dinosaurs back to life more realistically than any TV show had ever done before. Now, the facility behind the series is working on the next step - making them talk.

London post house, FrameStore is currently working on Dinotopia, a two year project which is "bigger in every way than anything we've worked on before," said its director of visual effects, Tim Webber. The Hallmark production for ABC, for transmission in April 2002, will be a three night action-adventure mini-series about dinosaurs and humans living together in harmony on an island, directed by Marco Brambilla.

It involves lots of animated dinosaurs and completely created backgrounds, amounting to about 1,500 complex effects shots (compared to the 400 simple compositing shots it did just four years earlier on Gulliver's Travels - its first big fantasy mini-series - which won Webber an Emmy for outstanding special visual effects, as did Merlin in 1998). It is currently filming on location in Wales and at Pinewood Studios, just outside London, on 35mm.

FrameStore, which is doing all the effects, has set up a dedicated department for the series, with about 30 CG animators (working on Softimage and Maya) and six compositor using mainly Flame and Inferno, including an additional Inferno and two new Flames it has bought for the series, "but as it goes on we may get more," he said. The film is being being telecined in Ursa.

It has already started work on some animation and virtual set creation, and will be computer generating two cities (Waterfall City and Canyon City) as well as the landscapes around them, probably in Softimage, although "we're not absolutely sure how we'll be doing all of it yet."

The dinosaur animation will be done mainly in Softimage, with some in Maya, "expanding on what we've done on Walking With Dinosaurs," the main difference between them being the lip-sync as these dinosaurs talk. "We hope to go on as far again as Walking With Dinosaurs did, especially with lip-sync and facial expressions and a lot more moving camera shots," he said. FrameStore is also working with the BBC on [Beasts] a follow-up to Walking With Dinosaurs.

Dinotopia follows soon after Disney's Dinosaur, which was seen in cinemas in late 2000. The movie involved only 1,300 effects shots (although some 2,000 had to be created, before it was finalised), including many where the creatures talked. For the (2k and 4k) VistaVision background plates Disney's Secret Lab built a special DinoCam (dynamic camera) which can pan and tilt through 360 degrees and ran on wires at speeds up to 35mph, to simulate a running dinosaur's point of view, between towers some 20 feet above the ground (which is too low for a helicopter and too high for most dollies).

The Lab's 50 animators also used Softimage (for the body) and Maya (for the head and face) to construct the creatures. To simplify matters, a customised version of Maya allowed animators pull a hood over the head to create expressions and mouth movements (picking a range of choices from templates).

back to the top

© 2000 - 2010

High Definition and 24P - is video finally good enough to replace film?
FreeD The BBC's camera tracking system is now available to help create real-time virtual sets on film having been adapted by London facility, The Moving Picture Company.
The Last Post? - interview with Mitch Mitchell - Professor of Advanced Imaging at the University of Bournemouth, a fellow of both the royal photographic society and the BKSTS, a freelance visual effects supervisor and general imaging odd job man....
Digital effects
- The rapid progress of digital effects technology means that the mantra "we'll fix it in post" can now apply to even low-budget film and TV productions.

David Fox