The Good Dinosaur

By Ankit Verma

Mailed on November 29, 2015

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Dear Gaston Ugarte
Set Modeling Lead

Dear Gaston,

You’re a staple at Pixar studios. You’ve used your expertise in 3D set modeling to provide Pixar with some of their most visually striking films, such as Wall-E, Brave, and Up. But your work on The Good Dinosaur is a whole new level of magic.

Watching a Pixar film always guarantees two things: a warm feeling in your chest, and tears. Pixar has mastered the art of playing our heartstrings like a fiddle. Try mentioning Up to anyone without being told how much they cried during the opening few minutes. You can’t, it’s impossible. Pixar has become synonymous with raw emotion, which is what makes your set modeling all the more impressive. You steered the conversation away from heart strings to eyeballs. 

Inspired by the picturesque Jackson, Wyoming, your expert layering and texturing created an atmosphere so lifelike, moviegoers have had trouble distinguishing a computer-generated image from a real fly-over of Snow King Mountain. Your attention to detail and command of Presto, Pixar’s in-house 3D animation software, was paramount when modeling the varying densities in the foliage, the ripples in a calm body of water, and the precision ridges in distant mountains. It was awe-inspiring.

The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s second 2015 release—which is a pretty big deal. Following the monumental firestorm that was Inside OutThe Good Dinosaur takes place in an alternate universe where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, missed. After losing his father in a severe storm, Arlo, an easily frightened Apatosaurus, must learn to fight his fears and make his mark in a vast and unknown, yet beautiful landscape. 

Don’t get me wrong, every Pixar film is stunning, but the lumps in people’s throats are always part of the chatter as they leave the theatre—and The Good Dinosaur provides a hefty one. But the pace is a lot slower and a tad darker here than what we’re used to with a _Pixar vehicle. There are recurring themes of death and loneliness that will warrant some consoling for the younger viewers—as was the case for the two small children sitting behind me. Despite that, your environment is the main takeaway for audiences.

Your set design is further enhanced by the recognizable caricature design style of Pixar. The protruding, gangly shape of Arlo complimented your detailed landscape surprisingly well. They both shared the screen without stealing each other’s thunder. Speaking of thunder, I’d classify your set as a character of its own. Although Arlo meets a slew of characters on his journey, it’s his relationship with the force of nature that strikes a chord. Arlo is constantly interacting with nature, whether it’s scaling up a jagged cliff, powering through a strong river current or trembling as a thick storm cloud brews; the set is the ultimate test of dino manhood and your greatest work yet. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if The Good Dinosaur has been your most rewarding experience. It was a pleasure to watch, but probably a bitch to create.



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