In Part 1 of our interview, Neil talked us through some of the most memorable moments from Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie.
Here in Part 2 he tells us all about the challenges of making a blockbuster film set 70 million years ago – starring creatures no human eye has ever seen!
How did you divide the filmmaking duties with co-director Barry Cook?
“My background is natural history, while Barry has made lots of big films for Disney. What I brought, I guess, was a sense of realism to the film.
And what Barry brought was his animation skills and the ability to direct the animators to, say, convey the emotions of the dinosaurs. There were different skills and we were very complementary.”
It’s some of the best 3D ever seen. How did you achieve this level of excellence?
“We were keen to major on 3D because we wanted to transport people back in time and make them feel as though they were really in this world, so we planned it from the beginning. The dinosaurs were animated in 3D but then we went and shot real backgrounds in real native 3D.
We used Jim Cameron’s company Cameron Pace to do all the 3D photography. We wanted dramatic moments, particularly for the kids, like when the Pterosaurs fly out of the screen or the little Alphadon jumps out and surprises you. You use it in different ways and at different times. Sometimes to pull you into the picture and sometimes to make you jump back with surprise.”
How did you come up with the story?
“The basic story is all driven by what we know about dinosaurs. They really did live in Alaska 70 million years ago. We built the dinosaurs up from the fossils with the paleontologists, worked out how they moved, as closely as we could, what they looked like, and then things like the migration and how they lived in big herds and so on.”
And how did you strike a balance between the natural history and the humour?
“For the cinema, of course, you want an absolutely rip-roaring, entertaining story with a great hero that you can root for and love, so we layered that storytelling and characterisation on top of that.”
Was it a challenge to make the dinosaurs convey emotion?
“We didn’t rig the dinosaurs to smile or frown, although you hear their thoughts. We used body postures where we looked at modern animals and asked ‘how do animals express happiness or sadness or when they’re scared?’
We used natural history footage to inspire the animators to think hard about how to generate emotions in the characters, so you can really understand what they’re feeling.”