A few years ago I had the pleasure to work with people from Jellyfish Pictures on what was to become known as the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur series (wikipedia). And as opposed to the all-too-normal process, where the producers have basically formed a complete mental picture of how the film is to be made, where the artists have already build rigged 3D models and have animated them, where the storyline is completely finished BEFORE experts are brought in (a process that invariably leads to frustration all around) Jellyfish contacted dinosaur experts worldwide in advance, when only rough drafts had been made. Someone among the large number of people they contacted suggested they should also talk to me. They did, and it was a fun process that (I hope) improved the final result a bit.
The really great thing was that they would send me videos they wanted my comments on, then we had a phone conference with the artists (! – they got my feedback unfiltered) while running Cinesync, a program that lets several people at different computer see and interact with the same video. I could stop and advance or reverse the video as I pleased and draw and type on the screen, as could everyone else – very helpful! The videos showed early drafts of 3D models in simple walking or running cycles, and we talked through any issues very thoroughly. A great bunch of people, who didn’t let their egos get tied to positions, so that I was free to simply say “that’s wrong, you need to fix this, because……” instead of having to pussyfoot around issues. They clearly valued the time I put in, and wanted to make the most of it.
One of the things I noted early on was pronated hands on all theropods, i.e. they had their palms facing down, not in. That’s a common error, and it was only over the last decade that some colleagues and I, especially Matt Bonnan and Phil Senter with a seminal paper, managed to raise awareness for the non-pronated state of most dinosaur hands. Dave Hone wrote a wonderful post on his blog in 2009, clarifying that theropods were clappers, not slappers. In any case, I told the assembled artists that a slapper-handed theropod reminded me of a little old lady carrying her large bag by gripping it with both hands from above. Laughter all around and the hands got altered – see above!
A fun thing was that Jellyfish contacted me about theropods and ornithischians initially. When I told them I was more of a sauropod person, being employed in the sauropod research unit FOR 533, they also started showing me sauropod material and asked me on their planned storyline, despite having sauropod people on board already. A smart decision, as they got more info, and for free.
A specific topic I remember well was baby sauropods. They had this nice idea of them hatching and running around being cute, which they implemented very well – see above. However, I also suggested that baby sauropods were, essentially, meals on stilts for large theropods. And, to their great credit, although a segment showing huge ugly beasts chugging down cute tiny babies wasn’t really something that sells very well to a general audience, they did put it in! Hooray!!!!!!!
I must say I was very much surprised that they actually went and put a scene in that clearly was not going to be a viewers’ favourite, just because it was science’s best reconstruction of the actual life history of dinosaurs!
In the end, I greatly enjoyed working with the Jellyfish and BBC people, and I liked their final product even more! Below is another shot from it that shows off the wonderful work they did – which you can now finally buy in the 3D version on Blu-ray. Yes, that’s what this post really is about, although I relished the chance to laud the great team and the great result again: you can buy Planet Dinosaur 3D now. Go do it – it is totally worth it! I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen a few out-takes using these weird red-green glasses, and it does make the entire thing look quite a bit more alive – even more alive I should say. Here’s the link to the shop (US). It’s only ~25 bucks, for a really great dino documentary.