Walking with Dinos for Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR

Pixar poses many “what if?” questions in their latest film THE GOOD DINOSAUR. What if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed Earth? What if dinosaurs and humans lived together? What if the traditional boy and his dog story were flipped? Once these questions were raised, it was up to Pixar’s creative storytellers to come up with the animation solutions. During our press visit to Pixar Studios, we spoke with the artists, designers, and animators that brought this latest world to life. Continue reading for an introduction to the characters of Disney•Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR, and how the filmmakers brought them to life.


Follow the river concept art for THE GOOD DINOSAUR by Huy Nguyen, layout by Robert Kinkhead. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Disney•Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR follows Arlo, an 11-year-old Apatosaurus, who’s the last of his family to hatch. “From the moment Arlo is born, he’s afraid of the world,” says director Peter Sohn. “He’s fun-loving and determined; he’s got a lot of fire when it comes to his desire to help his family. But he’s scared. His fear holds him back.”

In the story, when Arlo falls into a river and finds himself swept hundreds of miles away from home, he’s forced to face his fear for the first time in his life, braving the harsh, untamed wilderness and a long, arduous journey home. Along the way, Arlo encounters a host of unique personalities who all contribute to his evolution—whether they mean to or not. But the friendship he builds with Spot has the biggest impact.

“From the beginning, Spot is the opposite of Arlo,” continues Sohn. “He’s tenacious, brave and an animal in every sense of the word. It’s the story of a boy and his dog—only in our story, the boy is a dinosaur and the dog is a boy.”

Spot color study by Bryn Imagire. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Spot has lived alone in the wilderness for much of his life. He speaks in only grunts and growls, but his strengths are clear: he’s fearless, confident and a survivalist. Spot quickly proves to be a great resource to Arlo, and slowly, becomes a friend.

Harley Jessup is a production designer at Pixar and one of the artists who worked on creating the characters for the film. Jessup explained Arlo’s design evolved from that of an actual Apatosaurus into more of a stylized version of the prehistoric creature.

Production Designer Harley Jessup at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Marc Flores. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


To create the characters, Harley Jessup described how the artists build a model beginning with a wire armature, slowing adding clay until the piece takes shape, and ultimately creating the final maquette. Jessup said, “we’re looking for the most appeal we can create in a character.” Spot (the human boy) was a particular challenge because he’s wild, walks on all fours, and runs like a dog.

Production Designer Harley Jessup at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Marc Flores. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Once the models are created, it’s time to get them to move – that’s the responsibility of the animators, and 85 of them worked together on THE GOOD DINOSAUR.

Animator Kevin O’Hara and Directing Animator Rob Thompson at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Deborah Coleman. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Animator Kevin O’Hara and supervising director Rob Thompson demonstrated the animation process showing how they perfected Arlo’s walk. To create the dinosaur gait, O’Hara explained, “we took trips to the zoo to observe elephants because they are massive.” In THE GOOD DINOSAUR, Arlo is around 18 feet tall (he’s depicted on life-size banners hung in the Pixar Studios atrium).

Pixar Studios

An elephant is roughly the same height as the young dino Arlo, and through his research Kevin O’Hara noticed how graceful the elephant walks. “Locomotion is all about efficiency,” Kevin said, “the elephant could sneak up on you, and you wouldn’t even notice.” So his team worked hard to incorporate that gracefulness in Arlo’s walk while at the same time adding the personality that goes into the character. “It’s really fun to be an animator,” O’Hara explained,” because you get to become the characters you are creating.”

Animator Kevin O’Hara and at Pixar Studios. Photo by: Deborah Coleman. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


You can see the artists’ finished work when Disney•Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR opens in theaters on November 25, 2015.

DISCLOSURE: I was hosted by Walt Disney Studios on an all-expense paid trip to San Francisco, California including airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation, and meals to attend this press event and learn more about Disney’s films and shows.

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I’m a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.