How technology is enabling Pixar's The Good Dinosaur

Arlo and Spot in The Good Dinosaur

The road to releasing The Good Dinosaur was not what you'd call a smooth one – originally set to release last year, Pixar's head honchos decided to push the film back for 18 months while it went back to the drawing board.

Though original director Bob Peterson (Up) came up with the idea for The Good Dinosaur, he was eventually replaced by first-time feature director and long-time Pixar team member Peter Sohn (director of the Pixar short, Partly Cloudy).

While we may never know what The Good Dinosaur might've looked like back in its original form, the version we'll eventually get looks like another Pixar winner, with a twist on the familiar 'boy and his dog' tale that sees a talking Apatosaurus named Arlo in the role of the boy, and a grunting feral boy named Spot in the role of the dog.

Pixar showed several clips during the presentation, all of which displayed the film's remarkable environmental effects work – Morris opened the presentation with a clip of a tree branch with rainwater running off its leaves that looked completely real in motion. Needless to say, computer generated foliage has come a long way since A Bug's Life.

Leaves and branches

The next clip was one in which Arlo is separated from his family and thrown into a raging river – the water effects on display were extraordinarily realistic, with Arlo tumbling through the rapids and swept under the surface, trying desperately to keep his head above water.

Arlo in the water

The film's settings are unlike anything seen in a Pixar movie until this point, with a focus on large and extremely accurate open areas – Morris explained that the film's environments were created using terrain mapping technology to capture the actual geometry of several areas found in the American wilderness. As the camera pulls back further and further, our heroes become tiny specs on an enormous canvas.

The terrain of The Good Dinosaur

Pixar has also updated the technology used to create clouds in the film, ditching the 'sky matte' paintings that are traditionally used in animated films in favour of realistic digital clouds made of millions of particles – this volume of 'thinking particles' is particularly useful for a scene in which Arlo tosses Spot up through the clouds while running along the ridge of a mountain.

But with all the whiz-bang computer-generated imagery on display, the way these characters emotionally resonate with us is what will truly make or break The Good Dinosaur, and all signs point to another heart-wrenching film from the studio – one scene, in which Arlo and Spot use sticks to communicate to each other about what happened to their families brought tears to our eyes, and it was just a small, out-of-context scene. Better keep a handkerchief handy for this one.

Still, a scene featuring a family of peer-pressuring T-Rexs (voiced by Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley) provided some laughs, so it won't all be sad – we'll know more when the film releases in Australia on Boxing Day (November 25 in the U.S. and November 27 in the U.K.)

Stephen Lambrechts
Senior Journalist, Phones and Entertainment

Stephen primarily covers phones and entertainment for TechRadar's Australian team, and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming in both print and online for over a decade. He's obsessed with smartphones, televisions, consoles and gaming PCs, and has a deep-seated desire to consume all forms of media at the highest quality possible. 

He's also likely to talk a person’s ear off at the mere mention of Android, cats, retro sneaker releases, travelling and physical media, such as vinyl and boutique Blu-ray releases. Right now, he's most excited about QD-OLED technology, The Batman and Hellblade 2: Senua's Saga.