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The trouble with "Dinosaur"

The trouble with "Dinosaur"

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My first digital film assignment was at Disney not at Pixar Animation Studios. Nearly a year earlier than my move up north, I spent a fair amount of time working on a Disney project that was supposedly a breakthrough movie. A cutting edge film guaranteed to knock the publics' socks off. The film was called "Dinosaur," and hopes were high that this would be Disney's crowning motion picture achievement.


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Photo courtesy of  Google Images

Since I have mixed feelings about this motion picture, let me put it this way. Shortly after "Dinosaur" was released, I was having lunch with friends and their ten-year-old daughter. I was curious to learn what the ten year old thought about the film, and asked for her impression. "Well," she replied, "It was kind of like 'The Land Before Time.' Only without the fun." I confess this was the most concise review of Disney's "Dinosaur" I had heard.


Photo courtesy of Google Image

So, how does a wacky cartoonist like myself get involved with a dinosaur movie? Well, the story begins while I was finishing up my chores on "Mulan." in the "Hat Building" in Burbank. My old pal, George Scribner invited me over to Glendale to check out a new movie he was developing. When I arrived at the Sorbus building directly across the street from Disney Imagineering, I admit I was impressed. The building was filled with amazing artwork, and the filmmakers gave an effective demonstration on how they planned to bring these prehistoric creatures to life. Even at the time, a special test was being created on a local sound stage that would combine miniature sets with digital dinosaurs. Once the powers that be saw the results of this demo, funding would be provided and production would begin. However, once the Disney accountants ran the numbers, all realized that this approach to making the film would send production costs into the stratosphere. It was clear the filmmakers would have to find another approach to bring this movie to life, but then I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, back to the question, where does a cartoonist fit into all this? Well, it seems George wanted his film to be more than just a struggle for survival. He wanted this dinosaur movie to have elements of fun and humor, and that's where I came in. Sure, dinosaurs can be scary. We all know the T-Rex, Carnosaur, and Velociraptor can scare audiences out of their seats, but all dinosaurs are not scary, in fact some are downright funny. Our director wanted to explore the fun elements of dinosaurs, such as their size, shape and texture. George also knew that since dinosaurs come in all sizes, and what wacky relationships might I come up with? What funny situations might plague a critter of such massive size? Well, I spent the next few months exploring these concepts, and filled several storyboards with dinosaur humor.

Not being a dinosaur expert, I gathered together every dinosaur book I could find. One of the first was the wonderful "The Dinosaurs" book by artist, William Stout. I started slow, but eventually as I got to know these fascinating creatures the ideas began to flow and limitless situations presented themselves. I explored every wacky situation a dinosaur might find itself in, from being tangled in trees, wedged between rocks, or stuck in the mud. Again, these were not life threatening situations, rather opportunities for physical humor that I hoped the animators could exploit. Needless to say, not one of my visual gags ever found its way into the movie. As was typical of Disney animated film making at the time, visual humor had been replaced by smart-ass dialogue from live-action screenwriters. Instead of the film having its own sense of time and place, you felt you were listening to two teenagers from Van Nuys.

That's the trouble with "Dinosaur," I guess. Simply making this film was an epic struggle for survival. The filmmakers had to abandon their original ideas, and the movie was produced combining digital dinosaurs with live-action plates. After several viewings of the opening prologue one has to admit the technique is still very impressive. Yet, even after several rewrites and hundreds of storyboards, the film story still comes across as less than compelling. This was a motion picture with enormous potential. It had input from the finest artists, scientists, technicians, and craftsmen in the business. For all the time, talent, and money spent making this film, it could have at least provided a little entertainment.

"Dinosaur" didn't survive and neither did I. Eventually I was pulled from the story crew and given another assignment. My departure was somewhat bittersweet. I truly wanted this to be a great movie, and in a strange way felt I had let my crew down. Then again, it was all probably a problem of miscasting.

It wasn't that I couldn't do dinosaurs. It just had to be the right dinosaur. And I was lucky enough to find a prehistoric critter that truly fit my style of humor.

You probably know him. His name happens to be Rex, and he's part of the cast of Pixar's "Toy Story 2."


Photo courtesy of Google Images

Did you enjoy today's story about Floyd's adventures while working on "Dinosaur" ? If so ... Just be aware that Norman has three great collections of writings & cartoons currently on the market: his original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's excellent www.cataroo.com web site) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to the Afrokids.com website.

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