Fun by Firelight with Pete Sohn at Pixar #GoodDinoEvent #Travel http://wp.me/p1GpT1-dGU
I received an all-expense paid trip to Pixar in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own.
Growing up in Utah, campfires are a part of who I am. I love the process of building the fire, watching the fire dance from log to log, the smell and the gathering of family and friends for stories–some made up, but mostly the ones about the moments that shaped us–the tales of a journey that made us laugh out loud, dig a little deeper and celebrate how it came to be “ours”.
Arriving at Pixar, the sun had set. Luxo Jr.‘s light illuminated Ball on the main patio outside The Steve Jobs Building.
We walked past the soccer field and into the Brooklyn Building. The entrance was lined with flickering luminaries leading the way inside.
Inside, I had the honor to gather around the campfire with the real-life Junior Wilderness Explorer from Tribe 54, from Disney-Pixar’s UP!– Peter Sohn.
No. Seriously! Sohn served as the visual inspiration for Russell, the boy in UP! who goes on an adventure with Carl. I know you see the similarities.
But the evening of my visit wasn’t about that little boy Russell or Up! It wasn’t about his debut as a short film director with four-minute animation “Partly Cloudy,” which was released along with “Up”, or his being a story artist on “Finding Nemo”, or the voice of Emile in Ratatouille”, or Squishy in Monsters University.
It was about Peter Sohn, an CalArts grad and 15-year Pixar veteran who is the director of The Good Dinosaur, arriving in theaters November 25 at theaters everywhere.
Due to rain earlier that day, we gathered in the Brooklyn Building’s main room, with majestic cathedral ceilings and one of the most beautiful fireplaces. The fire was an incredible site…
Pixar knows how to throw a party. This campfire was themed to a Western Campfire complete with cowboy songs:
There were sliders and root beer and so much more, including this Cowboy chili–trust me when I tell you, this stuff was good and hardy!
As we settled in, feasting on campfire food and treats, like smores, Peter Sohn welcomed us. He shared about himself:
I’m from New York. I had never gone to the North West. When we first started The Good Dinosaur project we were talking about that big “what if concept”. It started with a farm dinosaur and that became the family and then we find Arlo pretty soon.
Then, Peter Sohn’s love of movies came into play. He confessed to growing up “watching a lot of western movies, and one of them was Shane.” He rattled off the actors, George Steven Jr., Alan Ladd. He shares his thoughts on Squinty Eyes being the best villain in the movie. It seems like an off-shoot, but Sohn brought us back with…
That movie was shot, that opening was shot in Wyoming in Teton Valley.
A picture flashes on the screen of majestic, jagged mountains, highlighted with glacier white snow–a place I recognize from my own family’s travels. A place still untamed, filled with adventure and wilderness.
It was here, the background for The Good Dinosaur was created. Washington born, painter, and Director of Photography – Lighting, Sharon Callahan, has been here too, painting the vast landscape, the scenery along the Snake River, which becomes “kind of our yellow brick road because all of our movie really does take place along the river.”
Pixar does a lot of research before creating a movie. They traveled several times to the Grand Tetons to add to the story that becomes the story of The Good Dinosaur.
We are watching a slide presentation in front of the fire, as Sharon Callahan joins Sohn to share the history and beauty of the Mormon Road Area, where the early Mormon centers established small farms.
It would be the Tetons that become The Good Dinosaur’s mountains.
We are joined by Producer Denise Ream (producer of Cars 2 and Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone) who shared, “Everything Pete saw was new to him. It was really exciting. The enthusiasm and his curiosity.”
Having stood at the foot of the Tetons myself, I can tell you it is surreal. Sohn took me back to that first time I saw the Great Tetons when he shared his experience:
“It was so soul enriching, but at the same time I think the effect of that is because everything is so large it makes you feel tiny and so you start to have a weird kind of feeling of growth somehow where you get very inward. Wherever we would go Sharon would have these little things that she would say like, “If you don’t like the weather; wait ten minutes” . That was true and that would really become something infected in me in terms of trying to make nature a character in our film.”
In fact, Nature becomes more than a character is The Good Dinosaur, she becomes the protagonist.
Part of the research was going as far back into the mountains as possible to see what it felt like to get lost. A five-hour trip, in one direction, on a horse helped with that research. Everyone had been on a horse except Sohn and Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi.
It was this experience that gave Sohn one of a perfect descriptions of what the Tetons are like:
“The Wyoming side of the Tetons is literally flatland up against the wall, just a giant wall of mountains. The higher side is what looks like– if you took your rug and just shoved it up against that wall. Just crazy angulations everywhere and that was kind of the feeling that you’d get when you’re in the middle of it. That every turn that you would make it would just…you wouldn’t know where you were going but it wasn’t just the surrounding that was so gorgeous. It was the people that were meeting.”
While in the Tetons the Pixar Research Team had two female guides, Melissa, and Ramsey. The latter had such a profound effect on the group that one of the T-Rexes in The Good Dinosaur, is sort of a tribute to her. Ramsey was a legitimate cowgirl, relying on her horse, her dog, a saw and a gun, out there living on her own in Colorado for months on end.
Sohn shared a little more about Ramsey:
“Let me just break her down just a little bit more. The way she rode the horse… Obviously she’d been riding it all her life. Everywhere we would go she would look to her horse’s ears and her dog. I grew up with a dog, but inside an apartment. I guess my dog is really not a dog. What I have is a piece of furniture because what she had was a real dog– as wild and free as that could be. We would be gone for hours walking along and her dog would zip right to her, make a little eye contact and zip off somewhere. We wouldn’t see the dog until 15 minutes later and there was this quiet, none dialogue communication that she had with the animals around her.”
The Pixar Research Team went white-water rafting “just to feel the color of it.”
“The river becomes the character in our film when Arlo is feeling terrible or has just gone through something, the river is boiling and becomes wild. When Arlo’s at peace the river can become like glass.
And then, the storyteller the is most likely the core of Peter Sohn, talked about that river and how it comes to life through a painter.
We want to experience all the different things, and the way Sharon paints, it’s every color of the rainbow on the river. You know, like my idiocy. Rivers are blue. Rivers are black. Understanding what the river rocks can do. Understanding that science. The reason the footage looks the way it does is because of Sharon’s understanding of what refractions can do and how light bounces off of it–which is incredible. Just understand that the science of it and the beauty of it is amazing.
For me, this campfire was one of the greatest highlights I’ve experienced. There was magic in this room as Peter Sohn told his story of how research helps make Pixar movies come to life. How there are details and rich experiences that are within us all to create our own story. It was a campfire that changed my life. A campfire that not only made me laugh but, even now, when I walk my dogs, I see the water in the creek differently, I see the horizon and the silhouettes of the trees in a new way.
Take the family to see The Good Dinosaur in theaters beginning November 25, and experience the storytelling of Peter Sohn and Pixar Animation as they take us on a journey of “what if” with a boy and his pet!