Animal Logic, in assosciation with BBC Earth and Evergreen Studios, created digital dino magic for the Barry Cook-directed film Walking With Dinosaurs, which extends the reach of the successful BBC television series into feature film territory. Set during the Late Cretaceous period 70 million years ago, the film follows the Alexornis bird Alex as he narrates about three Pachyrhinosaurus named Patchi, Scowler, and Juniper who grow from infants into adulthood.
Animal Logic's CGI work in animal skin, collision dynamics, particle systems and feathers had long impressed the teams at Evergreen Studios and BBC Earth. Marco Marenghi, Animal Logic's Animation Director on Walking with Dinosaurs, credits two rendering breakthroughs as being "game-changing." "The two big ones," he elaborates, "were the skin/scale system and the excellent muscle system our team of character setup artists created for us. This really told us a lot about how these amazing creatures were built, moved and interacted."
In order to create photorealistic dinosaurs, Animal Logic looked to paleontological research contributed from world experts retained by the BBC. The characters in the film exhibit relationships with each other but do not talk. In this way, the dinosaurs were not heavily anthropomorphised, which means for modelling and rigging purposes Animal Logic maintained the realism, only pushing movements for certain actions.
In order to animate dinosaurs with the intended realistic motion, Animal Logic developed a new muscle system dubbed Steroid, which according to VFX Supervisor Will Reichelt, was able to "provide interaction between outer skin, the internal fat and muscles and make that more automated for the animators as a simulation so they didn't have to worry about doing it by hand."
Along with the new automated muscle system, the dinosaur skin and scales were also elements tackled with a new approach by the Animal Logic team. Having successfully developed the Quill software for feathers in Legend of the Guardians, Animal Logic took the approach further for its scales solution known as RepTile.
The Visual Effects department, headed by VFX Supervisor Will Reichelt, also created footprints, splashes, dust and a myriad of other generated effects, which make us believe that a dinosaur is inhabiting a given setting. "We made sure the production received all the necessary information for integrating the dinosaurs into the live action plates captured on location," says Reichelt.
Some on-location environment action was filmed, with Animal Logic instead relying mostly on adding elements such as foot falls, dust hits and tree movement as visual effect particle elements crafted with tools like Houdini. As in the TV series, the methodology for making the film was to shoot real background plates and insert CGI dinosaurs. The starting point involved storyboards, which were edited together and developed into further layout and previs. The filmmakers collected large-scale LIDAR scans of the environments in the US states, with filmking taking place in Alaska and New Zealand.