With Pixar's The Good Dinosaur coming to Blu-Ray and Digital HD next week, we were recently lucky enough to be invited to a special junket in Los Angeles to explore some of the finer details of the film. This included a conversation with one of the artists who worked on the film as well as a concert featuring the composers and some of the musicians that helped create the score.
First up were composers Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna — and, yes, they're related. Although an orchestra of 75 was used to performed the music for the film's recording sessions, a group of six still sounded mighty in their mini-concert for us. They later joked that perhaps they should find an Irish pub to play at next. Take a listen to some of beautiful and fun songs that this skilled sextet performed:
The brothers have worked both together and separately in the past on a number of well-known films. "We started working together kind of right from the beginning," Mychael said, adding, "we have our own careers but we have worked together for quite a long time on and off." While Jeff has scored horror and actions films such as Silent Hill, The Boondock Saints and Resident Evil: Apocolypse, Mychael has composed for such indie classics and award season movies as Little Miss Sunshine, Capote, and Moneyball. Prior to The Good Dinosaur, the last time they collaborated on music was for the FX series Tyrant.
One of the things that makes the music in The Good Dinosaur unique are some of the different and interesting instruments and percussive elements used. As the drummer (simply known as "Quinn" — even on IMDb) explained he has several lesser-known and even one-of-a-kind instruments from his travels around the world that he was nice enough to share with the composers during their sessions. Additionally, Jeff revealed that his brother played an upright piano for the film that was slightly out of tune to give some songs a "down home, grandma, porch piano" sound. They even employed some Tuvan throat singers to add to the rich musical mix.
After the stirring performance, we got to meet Alonzo Martinez who works in the character modeling and rigging department at Pixar. Martinez compares his role in the filmmaking process to creating puppets that the animators then bring life and act with to tell the story. But, before they can get to that point, there's a lot of thought that goes into the design of each character.
As you might expect, there are many different ways the design of a character and the overall aesthetic can go. "You could have made The Good Dinosaur in like Jurassic Park style, but the reason we did it that exaggerated type of way was because we wanted to have notes of the Midwest and notes of cowboys and America and all that beautiful terrain and mix it with something else which was dinosaurs," Martinez explained. "So you have these cowboy-dinosaurs that, instead of walking... they kind of gallop."
Once the style of a world is established, there are still many decisions to make about each individual character including choices that will subtly give the audience some clues about them. For example, Martinez compared the design of the Butch (a t-rex voiced by Sam Elliott) which has many sharp lines and angles to that of Arlo who has very rounded features. "One of them is very soft and kind of pudgy and kind of innocent and young looking and the other one is slightly dangerous," Martinez said.
Speaking of Butch, Martinez went on to show that those sharp angles were especially present in the character's various teeth. While that might seem obvious, a lot of thought and research went into those ferocious chompers. "I would zoom into each single tooth... I'm always thinking about, for this tooth, what has it been used for? What's the history of each tooth?," Martinez confessed. "I think that it's that level of detail, that obsession and thinking about where this character was and where he is now that I think the audience subconsciously picks up on... and it just feels very real."
Before concluding his presentation, Martinez took the time to draw one of his favorite characters from the film for us: Spot.