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Dinosaur is big - and it comes with a payload intended to blast the film into animated movie history, chewing up records, rumbling the box office earth and shaking the lucre trees . . . ANDREW L. URBAN pieces together some of the background to Disney's latest . . . er, cartoon.

The giants face each other across the carcasses of smaller creatures, their powerful limbs tensed, their eyes hungry, their claws sharpened . . . and that's just the studios who make animated movies. Anastasia (Fox), The Lion King (Disney), Toy Story 1 & 2, (Disney and Pixar), A Bug's Life (Disney and Pixar), Tarzan (Disney), Antz (Dreamworks and PDI), The Iron Giant (Warner Bros) and Stuart Little (Columbia and Sony Pictures Imageworks) are just a few of the movies which are in fact battlegrounds as the studios joust for market share - at enormous cost, but with entertainment as their arsenal, loaded with technological warheads.

"Thirty different species of prehistoric creatures"

With Dinosaur, Disney combines photorealistic digital effects and live action footage to elevate the stakes yet again, in its quest to remain the Number One in animation. They even built a brand new digital studio from the ground up to do it; took them four years. The end result (released in Australia on June 15, 2000) is a film whose cast features more than thirty different species of prehistoric creatures ranging in size from the 12-inch gliding lizard to the 120-foot long, 100-ton Brachiosaur.

According to Peter Schneider, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, "This film brings Disney to the forefront of digital technology and sets a new standard for the integration of computer-generated imagery and live-action. It also opens up whole new worlds of possibilities for our filmmakers. We are so proud of what our team has been able to accomplish and feel that TSL will continue to be a leader in this growing area of the industry."

"A little like the story of Tarzan"

Yet the actual story is a classic: in a way, it's a little like the story of Tarzan, in which Tarzan is replaced by …. Aladar. Set 65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous Period, the film follows the adventures of Aladar, an Iguanodon, who is separated from his own species as a hatchling and raised on an island paradise by a clan of Lemurs. When a devastating meteor shower plunges their world into chaos, Aladar and several members of his Lemur family escape to the mainland and join a group of migrating dinosaurs desperately searching for a safe new nesting ground. With water and food in short supply and bloodthirsty Carnotaurs posing an ever-present danger, the herd faces many life-threatening obstacles during the course of their treacherous trek. Aladar’s innovative thinking and compassion for the "misfit" members of the herd brings him into conflict with Kron, the rigid and stone-hearted leader of the group, and his loyal lieutenant Bruton. Winning support from Kron’s sister, Neera, Aladar reluctantly challenges the "traditional ways" and shows how being adaptable is the best path for survival.

Needless to say, it's not exactly a true story; however, the filmmakers consulted several leading authorities in the world of paleontology and spent considerable time researching their leading dinosaurs to ensure a high degree of accuracy and authenticity in portraying the movements of the characters.

"A movie that could not have been made until now"

"Dinosaurs have always captured our curiosity because their scale is profound and they no longer exist," comments Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. "This is a movie populated exclusively with dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. You are in that world and they are not portrayed as monsters. They are thinking and feeling and protecting one another. It is a movie that could not have been made until now. We could have done this movie a lot of different ways, but nothing gives the integration – character to character, character in background and character in an environment – as the combination of CG characters, live-action backgrounds and sophisticated effects elements. When they run, they kick up dust; they cast shadows; they interconnect with the water. Having our own digital studio gave us the ability to create living breathing characters in realistic environments with the kind of detailed articulating facial expressions we needed to tell our story."

A computerized camera rig known as the "Dino-cam" was used on certain complex shots to approximate the dinosaurs’ POV and allow the filmmakers the precision that they needed to add in the characters and effects. Back in Burbank, a team of digital experts used the tricks of their trades to art direct virtually every frame of the live-action photography and marry it seamlessly with the computer-generated dinosaur and early mammal characters. Breakthroughs in portraying skin and musculature on the diverse cast helped the characters come alive and gave an exciting dimension of credibility to their movements and actions.

Adding to the film’s sense of realism, two live-action film crews traveled around the world, including Australia, Jordan, Venezuela and Western Samoa, over an 18-month period to capture the dramatic backdrops. But as Schumacher points out, "This film … takes moviegoers to a place they have never been before."

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DINOSAURreleases nationally on June 15, 2000

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