That’s the case for Director Peter Sohn. I first met him when he was working on Monster’s University where he was a voice of one of the monsters and one of the artist. Now in The Good Dinosaur he is the director of the movie, and yes he ended up being one of the voices but he has grown so much. I mean how exciting for him to now be a director and an amazing person because he remembered one of us from our last interview. I recently went to LA to watch The Good Dinosaur and interview him and the producer Denise Ream. They were a great pair in the interview and obviously worked well together because they created something very special in The Good Dinosaur.
Q : You have done lots of jobs at Pixar (i.e. story-boarding, voices, and now director). What led you to directing this time?
Peter Sohn : What’s interesting was this show was pitched by original director Bob Peterson in 2009 and then he asked me to come help develop the project. During the development I was doing story and designs for him and then he asked me to be his co-director. From that we were trying to wrestle the story and it was tough. A lot of these Pixar films go through that kind of place where you put every answer and you go in every direction. We had the boy and the dog story. We had a father-son story. We had a trying to change community story and then it was hard to kind of end it all.
They asked me to become the director from there because I had known all the paths that we have gone through and I basically, simplified it to Bob’s original pitch. I love Bob and he’s a great friend and I just loved that original idea. It was really Bob who got me developing into that co-director position. To your point, I learned a lot from working with the other departments, too. That’s nothing like the director job. There’s so much I didn’t know.
I was scared and Denise Ream, our producer, surrounded me with a lot of experienced people to help out with that. Everyone was just like ‘Here’s our hearts. Let’s do it.”
Listing to Peter reminded me of how modest he is. He’s so down to earth and I think he’s still amazed at where he’s come from and the path ahead of him is so exciting.
Q : Was is there any special technology or animation advancement that was used to put that into place?
So someone asked this and the answer really amazed me. I had no idea you could even do something like this so listen to her answer. I hope you’ll find this “newish” technology as fascinating as me.
Denise Ream: We ended up basically using Google maps to create a lot of the locations. It’s called USGS topological survey maps. So we started with that and that was what got us a long ways to kind of getting the big scope that we wanted and then the trick was populating that terrain with our trees that we had modeled, the leaves, the mulch, the rocks, sort of all of the vegetation.
So that was a special tool that we wrote. This was the first time we used 3-D clouds what we call volumetric clouds throughout the entire film. Usually we map paint our clouds. We used to do a lot of water shots. I mean…. it’s not new technology but we did many, many more water shots then we’ve typically done in a Pixar movie. And then just in terms of the actual process we just had a slightly different workflow process for the animators.
So, what we did is we ended up kind of getting…..you know, when you’re under the gun to get the show done you sort of dole out shots individually and instead we gave each animator sort of a run of shots that we felt would kind of make a more consistent performance. So that was a very different workflow for the animation department and they actually really, really loved it.
Peter Sohn: But all of it was in service to the story you know. Like, we did a lot of research. Denise, when we started we restarted this project, she took us out. She said let’s go get lost. And you know, I’m from New York where we would go into the wilderness and the Rockies and I had never been before. And so going out there it was just so dang gorgeous you know, like for me, horizon lines in New York was like McDonald’s to Subway you know and then going out there it was just like so awe inspiring that you could go from there and see 500 miles down that way and see the other 500 miles down that way.
And it was just full of clouds and it went forever and it was so soul enriching it is something we wanted to capture. And so that’s why all this technology was just like okay, if we want to do that we have to do this.
They knew for a while that it was going to be a frontier type of movie. I mean to have a character like Sam Elliot you have to have some sort of Western theme to it. Well part of their inspiration came from a family in Oregon.
Pete Sohn: Yeah, the McKay’s, this ranching family that we met in Oregon. When we first started with the original, I mean when we re-started the version of this film that was so much like a parody, we had these T-rexes but they were like cowhands and it was JR, JW and JL, you know. And it was so silly. And they were like ding, dang and it was like just a big cliché. But we met this family, the McKay’s, and they have a large ranch right on the border of Idaho and Oregon. A really unique family. There is the mom and dad, both white and then they adopted five black Haitian kids. And so when you get there it was like whoa, this is like a whole unique kind of family here. But they would change my life. The way that family lived in love really blew me away. Let’s make them a family. And it’ll also parallel what Arlo’s family is going through. It’ll help Arlo’s journey.
You can see Arlo’s journey this week. The Good Dinosaur comes to theaters on Thanksgiving Day.