Friday, October 30, 2015

The Making Of The Good Dinosaur





In August 2014, we learned that Bob Peterson was removed as director of The Good Dinosaur, and co-director Pete Sohn was appointed the sole director of the project. We’ve heard about just how much of the film has changed under the new direction, and the word “drastic” isn’t at all hyperbolic in this case. Perhaps that’s why my visit to Pixar to preview The Good Dinosaur felt very different from my past trips to Emeryville.

It was very clear during every conversation I had, just how little time the studio had to mount a completely new movie.  They threw out much of what they had and were tasked with creating a finished film in just 15 months. That may sound like a long time, but Pixar is used to having a lot more time on their films, sometimes five or six years.

And while this information might suggest a dire situation for the studio, it should be noted that Pixar has replaced the director and revamped the story on films as wonderful as Ratatouille. So no cause for alarm here — from what I’ve seen in the 30 plus minutes of footage that was previewed for me on this trip, we have nothing to worry about.

I’ll be completely honest — the cartoony dinosaur designs in the posters and advertising did not excite me. It wasn’t until I really got to take in some of the movie that I fully understood the vision of this film, and how the cartoony character designs are used as a wonderful contrast to the almost photo real environments.

But all of that is for nothing if there isn’t a good story at the center of it all. And while I can’t be sure of that just yet, I can tell you that one of the scenes that was previewed made me cry, as only a Pixar film can.

But for this article, I wanted to focus on how Pixar was forced to change their process in the time restraints of of the development of The Good Dinosaur.


Near Photo-Real Environments Created With USGS Data

You may have noticed that Pixar usually starts with big, wide establishing shots and then cuts into a smaller enclosed environment. But Pete Sohn was insistent that the story needed expansive environments unlike any other Pixar film ever created. The shrunken production timeline gave Pixar less time to design the film’s locations, and the extreme number of shots would make it impossible to have matte painters create the atmosphere and environment in the skies and distance, as they had in previous films.

The environments in The Good Dinosaur are breathtaking. There are moments in the 30 minutes of the movie I previewed that look no different from live-action footage. And if it looks real, that might be because they used real data to create the locations in the film.

“Everything you see on screen that’s not a special effect, we build and paint in the set department,” explained sets supervisor David Munier.


Pixar doesn’t want to use the word “photo-real,” and instead have coined the term “painterly realism” which means they are “just detailed in a way advanced technology and style decisions allow.” Some members of the team playfully refer to the look as “Sharon Calahan Realism,” in honor of the director of photography-lighting. Calahan is a passionate landscape painter and has spent many hours painting in the very areas that inspired the film’s setting.

Some shots in the movie look out more than 50 miles in the distance. To accomplish this near-impossible task, the set team used actual USGS data of the northwest United States to create the sets in the film.

The United States Geological Survey has satellite photos of all of North America along with typographical data for the height. As a test, Pixar’s set team downloaded the information and took a famous Ansel Adams photo and applied the data to where the photographer would have taken the image. The result was miles and miles of 3D geographic environment. It would take time to texture and populate the environment with vegetation, but the result was a lot of bang for very little buck.


They Researched the Land, Not So Much the Dinosaurs

When traveling to Pixar for The Good Dinosaur, I was expecting to hear a lot about the research that went into the prehistoric period and how what they learned about dinosaurs influenced the story and flavor of the film. Surprisingly, there was little mention of history or even the dinosaur species that are at the core of the story.

Instead, we were treated to campfire tales of research trips director Pete Sohn and his team took to Wyoming, in an effort to capture the look and feel of the wild.

Sohn and crew were inspired by the beautiful yet dangerous environment, which is why they came to the decision of give the characters a very cartoony, stylized look in contrast to the almost photo-real environment.


Pete wanted the environment to be another character in the film, especially considering there isn’t a lot of dialogue —  the landscape needed to help. They were also inspired by a family of ranchers they stayed with on one trip — the family became the basis of the T-Rex characters you see in the film.

During their white-water rafting trip down the Snake River, the GoPro camera being used to capture reference footage was dislodged and lost in the river. Thankfully, their river guide was able to actually “read” the lines of the river and figure out just where it would likely come to a rest down stream. The camera was recovered and the team even has footage of its solo journey.


The Digital Story Room: A New Way to Develop a Story

Story supervisor Kelsey Mann, who also worked on Monsters University, explained to us how the shortened timeline of this production made them rethink how they would develop the story of the film.



As with all of Pixar’s movies, The Good Dinosaurwas drawn and storyboarded many times, with artists getting notes on how to improve sequences and often times having to rebuild the story over and over again. The goal is to get the story right before they get to the more time-consuming, more expensive, render-intensive part of the process.

Traditionally, story artists will work on their storyboards on Wacom Cintiq tablets in their respective offices. The downside of  the equipment is that it isn’t portable, and Mann felt something was lost with this separation of the artists.


Mann decided to develop a new way of working that would allow for more collaboration and a better team atmosphere. His idea was to update the “story room” of the old animation studio days into a new digital story room, which they call “the bullpen.”

The Good Dinosaur story room is a conference room located on the second level of Steve Jobs building, overlooking the atrium from the east side. The idea was to create a safe environment “where you can and should say anything.” They encouraged all the artists to be open and honest about how we experience life as human beings, with the goal to get down to what Mann called “the true feelings.”



They had an open-door policy, so some artists could still work in their office if they needed to focus but would still be encouraged to join the group. The digital story room allowed everyone to be on the same page. Sometimes they would put a movie on the screen for inspiration, but often they would put on music because it was less distracting.

For storyboarding, they would assign the artists to tackle certain sequences of the story. A story artist who was better with funnier material would be cast for a more humorous moment, while a story artist who was better with the subtlety of emotion would be cast for more emotional moments.


A story artist will create at least 300, sometimes up to 1,000 drawings to pitch a story sequence. Imagine something closer to an animatic than what you might picture with traditional storyboards.

The sequences might have as much as a few frames per second. During the pitch, the story artist will do all the voices, narrate the actions of the sequence and maybe even play sound effects with a physical instrument (or in the case of the demo we saw, a squeaker toy) or play music from a computer. It’s more of a performance than a pitch.

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Virtual Location Scouting

They even used that data to conduct digital virtual location scouts — Pete Sohn would “visit” the locations using the virtual topographical locations created from the data and chose the locations needed for each sequence of the film. 64,600 square miles of North America were downloaded and adapted to help tell Arlo’s story. The river that takes Arlo away from his home was modeled after the Salmon River in Idaho. The desert where Arlo meets the T-rexs was modeled off of Zion National Park.

Once they decided on locations, Pixar artists added in more details like rocks, trees and grass. They kept the scale of the environment, but they chose different types of trees and such to suit the scene. They would also alter the data to fit their story, turning real-life locations into fictional ones.


The Claw Tooth Mountains, a landmark seen right above Arlo’s home, were created and added into the U.S. geographic data. Pixar needed the mountains to be iconic and recognizable to audiences .

The art team production-designed all the vegetation in the film, finding what shapes would represent certain kinds of trees. The set dressing team used the library of vegetation to populate each area. The simulation team added wind into the trees, whatever was needed to help tell the story of that particular moment of the film. If it was a turbulent moment in the story, then maybe the trees in the background would be moving angrily.

As for the prehistoric details, Pixar decided to use more modern vegetation versus what we know of prehistoric vegetation. While the story takes place in a universe where dinosaurs weren’t killed off by an astroid hitting Earth, it’s strongly suggested that the film takes place closer to our stardate which may explain why the planet looks more modern and less prehistoric.


Using 100% Volumetric  Clouds to Light Scenes

Clouds in Pixar movies would usually be painted in by matte painters, using layers to create the illusion of animated drifts. But for this film, Pixar wanted to light the entire set and not have to go back and forth with a painter in the background. So they chose to populate the skies of the world with volume clouds.

The set team designed a library of different clouds with a set list of 11 different cloud types. Pixar’s artists and technicians also created a rain library, featuring different types of rain that could be mixed and matched and manipulated to create any desired look.  The clouds would be combined to form unique looking formations, which were not just scenery in the background of the story.

The lighting team was able to have the volemetric clouds cast shadows on the ground, controlling the location of the sun to light each scene.


Dinosaur Movements Were Modeled Off Elephants

Animators will tell you that one of the hardest things to animate is a quadruped, so the characters in The Good Dinosaur posed a big challenge for animators. We don’t know how dinosaurs moved, but scientists have some ideas.

Because there are no living dinosaurs to model movement off of, Pixar traveled to the Oakland Zoo to observe elephants. They picked the elephant because it’s roughly Arlo’s size. They wanted to capture the heavy nature and locomotion of the animal. Animators returned to Pixar with the video clips they captured on the research trip, which they used for training the animation department on dinosaur movement. The animators would digitally draw on top of the clips to learn the locomotion of the animal.


The lead animators reduced the movements down to four basic ones which would be the core of how Arlo and other dinosaurs moved in the film. At the peak of production there was 85 animators, most of them working on Arlo since he’s in almost every frame of the film. To help keep things consistent, they built systems into the character of Arlo to keep him “on model.” Basically if Arlo was moved in a way he shouldn’t normally be, a visual alarm would be triggered in the animation to alert the animators.

The animation team also initially referenced giraffes for Arlo’s neck. However, they found their necks to be too stiff and looked more towards camels for their looser neck movement.

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T-Rex Movement Was Based on Humans?

The animators initially studied ostriches and other birds for the T-Rex characters in the films. They went back and looked at The Jungle Book and Jurassic Park for reference, for good and bad. And they came out of it all with a working model of how the T-Rex would move. But director Pete Sohn was not happy with the results. They looked too realistic and not character-like.

Instead, he wanted their movement to look more like the movement of a cowboy on a horse, to better reflect their personalities and jobs as ranchers. When they’re running, their lower bodies mimic that of galloping horses, while their upper bodies have the feel of the riding cowboy.

Butch, the tough T-Rex Arlo encounters on his journey, has a fun easter egg. According to supervising animator Mike Venturini, when Butch grins, his big white teeth resemble the actor who provides his voice, Sam Elliott’s signature moustache. Filmmakers looked at classic movie cowboys like characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood and Jack Palance to help inspire Butch’s physical look and performance.

Spot’s Movements Were Not…

For Spot, the human character that is befriended by Arlo and comes along on his journey, the animation team studied a lot of wolves, dogs, critters and raccoons. The character of Spot is more of a dog than a human in the function of the story, so it just made sense to model his movements off of creatures of that kind.


More Than Twice as Many Effects Were Created Than in Any Other Pixar Movie

Over 900 effects shots were created for The Good Dinosaur, twice as many as Pixar has ever done in a feature. And the effects run a very wide range from big to subtle. For those of you who don’t know, the effects department is responsible for providing many of the natural phenomena you see onscreen: smoke, fire, fog, water, etc. Motion is important to the effects department to give you a sense of scale, timing and weight. For instance, the way snow mists in the wind off the top of mountain might reflect the mood of the scene.

They use physics simulation software, using different toolsets for different problems. The software solves equations of motion for every frame of an effect, as it understands the physics of how things are supposed to move and behave.


How Spielberg’s Duel Influenced The Good Dinosaur

Brave had a couple dozen shots of a river, and it was one location, one small river. The Good Dinosaur has over 200 shots of water in the film, and it’s a long river so there is more than 125 shots of the river alone. And to make matters worse, water is by far the hardest thing for the effects department to create.

Everyone knows what water is supposed to look like, so if they get it even a little wrong, everyone will notice. The effects team took a research trip with the crew and went whitewater rafting, capturing video footage to use as reference for a big sequence where Arlo gets carried downriver. Software simulations of a river can be very expensive and time-consuming and take up a lot of render time.

The river needs to parallel the emotional relationship between Arlo and Spot. You will notice that the water has a more angry, foamy whitewater appearance early on, and later after the characters have developed a friendship, the water appears a lot calmer.

To accomplish the task of creating over 200 shots of a running river, the effects team created seven or eight different river pieces that they could combine like LEGO building blocks to fit any scene of the film. When properly combined, no one will notice they are seeing the same sections of river over and over again. Director Pete Sohn referenced Steven Spielberg’s Duel, which was filmed using one small section of highway over and over again.


One Water Sequence in The Good Dinosaur Is Larger Than the Data for Cars 2

The Good Dinosaur had over 300 terabytes just for the effects data alone. For comparison, that’s ten times more than the effects data for Monsters University. Just the big sequence of Arlo being swept away took up 17 terabytes, or more than the data for the entire production of Cars 2 including all the characters, environments, and effects. Pixar’s storage and network had to be significantly upgraded to handle the effects workflow of The Good Dinosaur.

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Pixar provided us with some progression images to show how one shot evolves from storyboarding, to art, to sets, to layout, to animation and finally to lighting where the shot becomes finalized:


#1 Story:

This storyboard was drawn by story artists Rosana Sullivan and Gleb Sanchez-Lobashov, both members of the story team for The Good Dinosaur. Storyboards are used for the purpose of pre-visualizing the film, and to convey a rough sense of how the story unfolds. This storyboard, from a sequence called “Above the Clouds,” is one of approximately 154,061 boards drawn for the film, of which 87,748 were delivered to the editorial team. The storyboarding process, in the form it is known today, was developed at Walt Disney Studios during the early 1930s.


#2 Art:

Once the storyline for a sequence is completed, concept art is created by the production designer and art department to determine the look and feel of the film. This concept art piece was drawn by Sharon Calahan, director of photography – lighting and visual designer for The Good Dinosaur. It showcases the exploration of color and light, and the design of new characters and environments.


#3 Sets:

Using the concept art for reference, the basic environments needed for a shot are translated into the computer by the sets department during what’s called the modeling process. The sets team for The Good Dinosaur used data from the U.S. Geological Survey to inform much of their work and help to create 360º sets, something no other Pixar film used before. Once the set for a scene is built, it then needs to be “dressed,” which is where the shading team comes in. Technical artists use a combination of painting, programming, and photo references to apply textures, colors, patterns, and other material properties to the sets, giving them complexity and appeal. This is a wireframe image of one of the landscape environments, showing the underlying modeling.


#4 Layout:

Once the storyline for a sequence is completed, the scene is created in the computer. This frame shows the phase known as layout, in which a virtual camera is placed into a shot. The layout team on The Good Dinosaur had the advantage of working with 360º sets in the film, allowing for more options to place the virtual camera. Once the camera has been placed, the characters and set are then “staged” or placed into positions that work visually within the chosen camera angle. The look of the set is simplified during this phase, but is then seen fully built in the next stage of production. Layout precedes character animation.


#5 Animation:

After the layout team has completed their work, the characters are animated and brought to life by the animation department. Animators create the personality and “acting” of the characters. Any secondary motion such as hair, fur, or feathers is added by the simulation department, and who make them move naturally with a character’s movement.


#6 Lighting and Final Image:

The lighting department is responsible for integrating all of the elements – characters, sets, cloth, hair, and effects – into a final image. The lighting process involves placing virtual light sources into the scene to illuminate the characters and the set. Technical artists set up the lighting to draw the audience’s eye to story points and to create the correct mood in a scene. The images are then rendered at high resolution. For every second of the film, there are 24 lit frames, each including over 2 million pixels.

Who was Confucius ?


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Blackberry still has not learnt anything


The latest joke on the internet now is Blackberry Priv. Its a joke because it is one of the priciest phone using the free Android operating system. Even after their debacle, they still have not learnt anything about affordable devices, and have announced a price tag of USD 699 for their technologically inferior Priv devices.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Today is Back to the Future Day !!


Has it really been that many years ? It feels like just yesterday I was watching the 'Back to the Future' series on video cassette. And today is October 21, in the the future year 2015. The highlight of the movies series was of course its modern and stylish take on time travel, what better way to jump timelines than in a cool looking stylish car ? The first movie was about travelling back in time, but the second movie took it one step further ,and took the movie into the future. What would our future look like ? The scenes presented in the movie were really imaginative.  The world of 2015 had flying cars, and mini hovercraft skateboards, instant pizza, 3D movies, and tonnes and tonnes of advertising.



Well, they got couple of those right, specially the advertising part. But watching the movie today is a little disappointing. Most of the movies predictions are yet to come true. Except for a few advancements in the area of real time communication and information sharing, nothing else has changed. Even in the most developed parts of the world, life is pretty much the same as it was in 1985. We have only got to flying drones, and they are still in legal trouble. Flying cars are couple of centuries away, IMHO. It is still a 9 to 6 day at the office, and the education and work systems are the same. The movies depict people in the future having more fun, but if anything today the world is more polar and divided than ever. There has been almost no progress in most aspects of life.

But coming back the the movie, this is a little gem for ages to come. I am sure that this movie will be enjoyed by anyone in the future, but more as a piece of history than anything else. Future generations would want to know what the 80s people thought of the future. And what their past the 60s. The movie does not discuss the details of how that time travel is achieved, that's all taken for granted. Instead the focus is on fun, adventure and being careful not to change anything. For me, I am a 90s kid, I grew up during the 90s and this movie captures a little part of that fun growing up years. If I had that car today , I would dial in a year in the 1991 and decide never to come back.




Back To The Future Day Live: It's October 21, 2015 And The World Is Just As The Film Predicted (Sort Of)

It seems like wherever you go today, you'll see tepid Back to the Future jokes, including on this live blog!

What a glorious occasion!

It must be a bit confusing for those who have not watched the film.


Apparently Back to the Future Day is going on until tomorrow morning. It is unclear whether livebloggers will be expected to sit at their computers until then (a source says that she hopes that isn't the case).

This tweeter has pointed it out, apparently they actually went Back to the Future after midnight UK time.

Oh, and luckily for us, the DWP have chipped in with some 'banter' which is sure to make all of their many fans amused.

They wrote: ‘Pensions? Where we’re going we don’t need pensions…’ #DontIgnoreIt #BackToTheFuture "

And then on their image, they put "Erm, actually you do."

It's a bit of a weird joke.

Superfan explains why Back to the Future is so important

Back To The Future Superfan, Charlie Moore, explains why today is so important and what he will be doing to celebrate

Protesters park a DeLorean outside Parliament to protest the fact that hoverboards are illegal

Hoverboards have been made illegal to ride in public, along with Segways, and this has annoyed some fans of innovation.

We've received a press release from Project 42, who manufacture hoverboards.

Naturally, they are annoyed about the ban so they are parking a DeLorean outside Parliament and will have a Marty McFly lookalike on a modern day hoverboard.

Here is what they said:

"21st October 2015. That’s the date Marty McFly travelled 30 years into the future at the end of “Back to the Future.” He arrived in a world where a can of Pepsi costs $50 and where hoverboards were on every street corner.

"Today, Pepsi remains affordable but the dream of hoverboards seems further away than ever despite thousands of British consumers purchasing the self-balancing devices. On Sunday last week the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) outlawed ‘hoverboards’ and other self-balancing vehicles due to a law that was made in the 1835 Highways Act, 180 years ago!

"Project 42 (P42), a UK accelerator behind the UniWheel, one of the self-balancing products, has arranged for a genuine DeLorean to descend on the Houses of Parliament to highlight how this archaic law could stifle tech and innovative products that were once a dream. With the technology developing so quickly, only now has it become clear that this law will prevent people in the UK from experiencing their dreams and riding hoverboards."

Back to the Future: Its enduring appeal, and why it should never be remade

The University of Leicester has analysed the appeal of Back to the Future and has argued that it should never be remade (especially, perhaps, by Keith Lemon...)

Here's a snippet:

"In recent years, following the film’s cinema re-release for its 25th anniversary, Secret Cinema’s highly acclaimed immersive screenings of the first film, and technological developments such as Lexus’ hoverboard inspired by the films, the appeal of Back to the Future seems to be increasing. Perhaps this is because nostalgia for the film and its characters has not been affected by attempts to remake or re-boot the series. Unlike many other popular franchises of the 1980s such as Indiana Jones or Ghostbusters there are no plans to remake or extend the Back to the Future series.

"In fact its creators are set against the idea of a remake, with director Robert Zemeckis saying it could not happen until he and the film’s writer, Bob Gale, are dead – and hopefully not even then. In a rather grandiose claim, Zemeckis argued it would be like remaking Citizen Kane asking ‘What folly? What insanity is that?’ (Collins, 2015). But is he wrong to compare Back to the Future to, what is often thought of as, the greatest film of all time?"


Here are 13 things you may not know about the film franchise, kindly put together by tjhe experts on our Film team.

To start you off, apparently tt was almost called Spaceman From Pluto and Crispin Glover hated the ending...

The Surrey police force has got in on the action...

They're probably trying to get a few more followers, but their Photoshop skills are pretty impressive:

Marty McFly's back to the future trainers become reality

This video does what it says on the tin:


ITV 2 are showing all of the films today and the Keith Lemon Back To The Future trubute...

Police forces in Aus are trying to outdo each other

It's been Back to the Future Day in Australia for a little while now, and some police forces have attempted to get in on the action.

07.00 What's the plot?

Dr Emmett Brown takes Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer to the future to prevent their kids from "ruining their lives".

Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel to in the screen classic's 1989 sequel<br /><br /><br />

After doing that, Marty buys a sports almanac for 1950-2000, thinking it might help him in his time. Doc finds out and throws it away, but 2015 Biff (now a very old man) finds the book and uses the DeLorean to give the almanac to his younger self.

When Marty and Jennifer arrive back to their own time, they find it has totally changed - Biff is very rich and practically owns the city, (sound familiar?). He is married Marty's mother, killed his dad, and when Marty starts to ask about the almanac, he wants to kill him too.

Doc also finds out that he was imprisoned in an asylum, so the two go back to 1955, the night of the Enchantment-Under-The-Sea party in an effort to take back the almanac.

What did 'Back to the Future II' get right about 2015?

While some of these “inventions” seem laughable, not all have fallen wide of the mark.

Big-screen televisions and video calls

The film features several scenes of characters watching screens very much like the oversize ones we actually use these days. That's saying something, because most TVs of the 1980s were heavy, square appliances with bulky picture tubes. Some of them even came in wood-grain cabinets like furniture!

Also, the "BTTF II" characters talk to the screens just like we do today. Not bad, given that videophones -- though long promised -- barely existed in 1989. With FaceTime and Skype now staples, the video call has evolved from a business medium to an essential of everyday life.

Earlier this year, Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru broke the world record for the longest hoverboard flight, standing on the back of a Omni Hoverboard, his homemade, propeller-powered vehicle. With its downward-thrusting propellers, powered by a dozen lithium polymer batteries, it looks like a military drone and floats like a giant swimming aid with a man on top.

In May, Duru flew his patent-pending piece of kit at a height of 16ft above a Quebec lake, for 300 yards, on a trip that lasted a minute and a half.

Duru is not the only engineer who believes we can fly. A California company used Kickstarter money to develop the Hendo Hoverboard, which uses electromagnets to zip above a metal floor, while car manufacturer Lexus recently unveiled a wheelless skateboard made from bamboo and carbon fibre fitted with a superconductor cooled by liquid nitrogen to enable it to levitate above magnetic flooring.

To celebrate the date Marty McFly arrived in the future, an advert for the ‘Hover master’ has been made by Universal.

Video glasses

The Back to the Future films also presaged wearable technology, such as wraparound glasses which Marty uses to answer and speak on the phone (Google Glass, anyone?). Microsoft's recently announced Hololensbears more then a passing resemblence to Junior's goggles.As Doc might say: “Great Scott!”

Self-tying shoes

Nike is promising to develop hi-top trainers with inbuilt motors so the laces do the hard work by themselves.

Nike's self-lacing trainers - available by the end of the year?

While we’re no nearer to a flying car than when the film was released in 1989, it got some things right. Biff, one of the series’ main characters, pays for a taxi ride with a thumb print – just like the fingerprint technology used on the iPhone 6 and cashless apps such as Uber, Hailo and Bounce.

Jaws 19 trailer has actually been released

A parody trailer for Jaws 19, the film seen in Back to the Future II, has been released

he scene in Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future II, released in 1989, when Marty McFly travels in his DeLorean to 2015? In the background, a cinema is advertising Jaws 19. It is an amusing detail; a sly dig at the increasing absursity of the (never-ending) Jaws sequels. But it could never really happen... could it?

What did Back to the Future II get wrong?
Flying cars powered by rubbish

We're not quite at the stage of seeing cars zip through the air - although this guy has given it a good go... And fossil fuels still power our cars despite electric making inroads. What price a flux capacitor. Can someone get Elon Musk on the video phone..?

Power clothing

Now this is one thing we wish 2015 had brought: jackets that dry themselves and shoes that lace themselves up. Look, no hands!

Fax machines

The film went a little too heavy on its predictions for fax machines, which it imagined would be everywhere in 2015. Fortunately, they're not

... And there's one key invention Back to the Future II missed out: smartphones and tablets, undeniably the most important technological breakthrough of the last decade. Apple didn't even get a look-in.

Might have come in handy when Marty and the Doc wanted to escape the future and head back to 1985.

06.45: It's here - at last!

Hello and welcome to our Back to the Future liveblog on October 21, 2015 - the date that Marty McFly and Dr Emmett “Doc” Brown chose to travel forward in time from 1985 in the hit sequel Back To The Future II.

According to the time-bending 1980s sci-fi flick, by October 21 2015, we would be living in a world of hoverboards, flying cars and self-tying shoelaces. And now that the day has actually arrived.

Back to the Future day october 21 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Google Books Isn't Copyright Infringement

After a decade of court battles, Google's massive book-scanning project has finally been deemed legal. On Friday, a three-judge panel in the Second Circuit sided with the tech giant, declaring that its project to digitize library books is within the boundaries of fair use.
In the 11 years since Google Books Library Project began, the company has amassed a collection of more than 30 million books, nearly putting its collection on par with the Library of Congress. Although Google intended to make snippets of its books searchable, while charging a fee to access the full versions, a lawsuit brought by the Author's Guild has kept its collection locked behind a digital fence, Tim Wu explains at the New Yorker.
The decade-long legal fight hinged on whether Google's project counts as fair use under copyright law. In the United States, fair use is defined as "a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances" depending on what medium the original work is in, how it is used, how much of the original copyrighted work is used and whether the new work directly competes with the original.
In this case, the Author's Guild argued that Google was guilty of copyright infringement for scanning books, then publishing them without permission from the original creators. Google's defense claimed that digitizing the books into snippets had changed the material. Though the court ruled that the Author's Guild case "tests the boundaries of fair use," it ultimately found that Google did not break the law. Judge Pierre N. Leval writes in the ruling:
Snippet view, at best and after a large commitment of manpower, produces discontinuous, tiny fragments, amounting in the aggregate to no more than 16% of a book. This does not threaten the rights holders with any significant harm to the value of their copyrights or diminish their harvest of copyright revenue.
This is the second time an appeals court has ruled in Google's favor, though it may not be the last. The Author's Guild plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Had the judges found Google guilty of copyright infringement, Cory Doctorow writes for Boing Boing, the ruling could have challenged the very concept of the search engine itself. If the court had decided Google Books infringed on copyright, that legal precedent may have also applied to the excerpting tools that make search engines useful. Without those snippets, it's possible that navigating the Internet would be more difficult.
But for now, Google is in the clear — unless the Supreme Court steps in.

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Indonesia's illegal gold mine


Today I learnt about Indonesia's new and illegal gold mines. If BBC is to be believed, it all began with one mans' bizarre dream. In Buru, a small island in Indonesia, locals are flocking to a nearby mountain where people have found gold. The place is now overrun by outsiders and people from other countries who use special equipment to mine out the gold from the mountain, but using mercury.  About 15% of the world's gold is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners, many of whom use mercury to extract it from the earth. In Indonesia, some three million people make their living from the precious metal and the income provides a financial lifeline to some communities.

The story of how gold came to be on earth is also interesting. Gold is extra-terrestial, and are the results for supernova star explosions.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Martian - Second best movie of the year


Jurassic World is the first, obvi :-) .I got to finally watch this movie in 3D, and must say it tells a very realistic and believable story of Robinsonade on Mars. I guess it will be best enjoyed by scientists and engineers, people who solve technological problems every day, and even by anybody who has ever fixed a bike or plugged a leak. The director, Ridley Scott, has made movies across genres and timelines, but has been steadily delivering big budget duds, like Exodus and Prometheus. But in the Martian, he had decided to tell a simple story of engineering problem solving, and a man's resolve to survive.

First things first. Matt Damon, as the astronaut  stranded on Mars, nails it. He gets the best scenes and dialogues. And the supporting cast also does a good job. Matt's space cowboy role is much better written than Cooper from Interstellar, and the astronauts from Gravity. But thats mainly because he is still on solid ground (Mars) and has better equipment and state of mind. Instead of saving the world like Cooper, he is focussed on saving himself, wanting a little bit of spotlight on himself. He is also very logical and plans his actions without emotions getting in the way. While this means he approaches problems scientifically, I think it stops from his character development. And this is my biggest problem with the movie. During the entire 500 sols on the red planet, we never even once see/hear Mark Watney talk about his family, his friends, his hobbies..and what he misses the most on earth. 500 days alone without even a way to hear a human voice. It can mess things up. But Mark does not go crazy or suicidal. He works it out like a robot.

In Interstellar, decades have passed on earth after Cooper leaves and he is desperate to return to his kids. In Gravity, Stone wants to get back to her family and daughter. But Mark was no one close. Even in the end when Mark is safe on planet earth and is now teaching, he is seen alone, without a shot of his home or a partner, or what kind of music he likes. The only thing we get to take away from the movie about Mark's personal life, is that he prefers coffee. The book (which I am reading) tells us a lot more about Watney, that he grew up in Chicago, and likes beer, and that he is sick of potatoes. The movie does not describe his loneliness and isolation while being stranded 250 million miles away.

There are some spectacular shots of the Mars horizon in the movie, you gotta watch it in 3d. And the rescue sequence in the end is awesome. The ships are not overdone, they look functional and well designed. The equipment of the crew is what modern astronauts have. There is not too much jargon in the talk , on hindsight, this is unexpected. And there is almost equal coverage of the actions on earth and Hermes spacecraft to the scenes on Mars. But they could have done a little more, IMHO.

Gravity on Mars is only about one-third earth gravity (actually 68%). So it should have been visible on the planet. But the Mars visitors walk around like they do on Earth. Weird.

There is a huge time lag for electronic communication between earth and mars. Max 22 minutes. Even light,the fastest thing in the universe, would take 22 minutes to travel from earth to mars. But in the final rescue sequence, the crew at Houston is shown listening on the rescue in real time.

Mark does not fall sick, or injured during this 500 sol stay. After the injury from the debris, the staples himself shut, and there is no show of infection or side effects. Except for the passing out on the Mars Ascention Vehicle in the end, he is in excellent health ! Prolonged exposure to low gravity environments  should have shown effects on this health.

Mars is a low gravity planet very far from earth. Relativity tells us that time on Mars will be slower that of Earth time. What effect does this have on communication, and aging ? Nothing addressed.

But these are minor issues. The movie does justice to the book. Clearly the movie is about surviving odds. And solving problems. And team work. All in all, positivity. I am sure at least a few young minds will be inspired to take up astronomy as a career prospect after watching this movie.


Friday, October 16, 2015

How Pixar Changed All The Rules To Make The Good Dinosaur A Stunning Masterpiece



Pixar’s new movie The Good Dinosaur takes place in a bizarre alternate history—what if the dinosaurs weren’t wiped out 65 million years ago? But the process of making this wild, ambitious film required a very different counterfactual: What if the way animators create scenery and characters had been turned on its head?

Even for a studio known for taking risks and breaking new ground, The Good Dinosaur is an odd duck. And the more you learn about it, the stranger it appears. We spent a day and a half at Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, CA with a group of other reporters from online outlets, and we saw a big chunk of the film. And director Peter Sohn and his whole crew explained to us how they threw out the rulebook to make The Good Dinosaur, and basically came up with a whole different way of creating a world.

We sampled the first half of The Good Dinosaur

We had already seen a lot of footage from The Good Dinosaur at Disney’s D23 event back in August. But the half hour or so that we saw last week was the biggest sizzle-reel that anybody outside Pixar has seen. And it had the final music, sound and other effects, which made a big difference. And in answer to your first question, yes, The Good Dinosaur will make you cry.

In a nutshell, we learned that Arlo, an apatosaurus, lives on a farm with his parents and two siblings, where Arlo has a hard time fitting in with the rest of the family. But then Arlo’s father is killed, and soon afterwards, Arlo himself falls into a swift river and is carried hundreds of miles away from home, in a crazy kinetic sequence that conveys the feeling of not knowing which way is up. Arlo winds up in a strange landscape, where he struggles to climb and get food despite his lack of opposable digits—there is a lot of four-legged slapstick in this film—and then he meets a human boy, who brings him food and seems friendly.


The human boy has basically the intelligence of a smart dog, and can’t speak, unlike Arlo. And Arlo has no interest in acquiring a human pet, so he keeps trying to shoo this unruly beast. But the boy keeps coming back, and turns out to be incredibly useful to Arlo (because hey, opposable digits. And climbing.) When another dinosaur, a styracosaurus who collects other creatures as symbiotic pets, tries to claim the human, Arlo fights to keep him. And whoever names the boy gets to keep him, so Arlo finally gives him a name he’ll answer to: Spot.


Then Arlo and Spot bond over their shared sense of loss—Spot has lost his entire family. Spot howls at the moon in sorrow, and Arlo finally joins in.

There are also some pretty hilarious sequences where Arlo and Spot mess with some irate gophers who keep getting pushed out whenever Arlo and Spot blow into their holes. And Arlo and Spot catch fireflies, too.


We also saw a huge chunk of a sequence where Arlo and Spot team up with a family of T-rexes, who are basically cattle ranchers and act like cowboys. The T-rexes have lost their herd of buffalo, and they enlist Arlo’s help to track them down and then flush out the cattle thieves who stole them.

The cattle thieves turn out to be a gang of raptors, who are the only feathered dinosaurs in the movie and are designed to look sort of like they’ve got mullets. They’re uncouth and vicious, but ultimately no match for the T-Rexes. Then Arlo and Spot sit around the campfire with the victorious T-Rexes and they share stories.


The footage was pretty exciting and wild, but it also showcased the movie’s main strength: the beautifully rendered landscape, which almost looked photorealistic. The landscape is one of the main characters in The Good Dinosaur, the film’s creators explained, including that river that sweeps Arlo away. The wilderness is one of Arlo’s main antagonists, but it’s also something he has to learn to make peace with. And that river changes to reflect his circumstances and his relationship with Spot: When Arlo and Spot are fighting, the river is choppy and turbulent, but when they’ve become friends, the river becomes more placid, almost like glass.

The makers of The Good Dinosaur made a few research trips to Wyoming and Montana to try and get the landscape right in the film, and they spent a whole evening telling us about their research. Including a trip whitewater rafting up the Snake River where they lost their GoPro in the water—only to retrieve it later, full of footage of getting swept away that proved invaluable. But in the process of learning about the wilderness of the old West, Sohn and his crew also learned more about the people who lived there, and this led to the film’s characterizations being less stereotypical. Take those T-rexes: Originally they were much more like stock cowboy characters from old Western movies, but after Sohn spent time with real-life ranchers, he could no longer depict the dinosaur cattle ranchers in such simplistic terms.


The next day, we spent hours listening to the makers of the film describe their process—and the main elements that required a lot of inventiveness seemed to be 1) creating believable dinosaur characters, particularly Arlo, and 2) bringing that landscape to life.

Wide-open spaces = insane render times

And the landscape, in particular, posed a huge challenge. As David Munier, the film’s sets supervisor, explained, previous Pixar films might have one big “establishing shot” of the landscape at the beginning. InBrave, you get one big shot flying over the mountains, and the rest of the film is set inside the castle or in the woods, and we never see those mountains again. This initial shot of the mountains is a “specialty shot,” that requires special computer modeling to create the mountains and then add details to it, a time-consuming process that takes months.

“But Pete [Sohn] loves nature cinematography,” said Munier, so he wanted to have lots and lots of big shots of the landscape in the distance, so we could follow Arlo and Spot on their journey. “He wanted the environment to be a character.”

But there was absolutely no way to do the number of sequences featuring big landscape shots that Sohn wanted, using Pixar’s traditional process, said Munier. They couldn’t design and render that much landscape in the time they had. And meanwhile, Sohn had fallen in love with the Jackson Valley on his research trips to Wyoming, and basically wanted to set the film there.


Enter the U.S. Geological Survey, which posts incredible amounts of topographical data to its website—including the height above sea level of all of the land features, and lots of satellite images. So Munier and his team tried downloading a lot of the USGS data and putting it into their computer, and then using that to “render” the real-life landscape. And it worked: They were able to take a classic Ansel Adams photograph of the Grand Tetons and duplicate it pretty closely using their computer-generated landscape. And with this data, they could point a digital “camera” anywhere, in a 360-degree rotation, and get an image.

“We ended up downloading over 65,000 square miles of USGS data,” said Munier. This “gave us the sense of scope for [Arlo’s] journey in the film.”

From there, they added more detail to the USGS data, rendering trees and other vegetation along with rocks. They used photoreference for a lot of the vegetation, rather than building it from scratch. And Munier showed us what that process looked like, and the result was increasingly detailed and photographic-looking. (The vegetation also provides a reference for how tall Arlo is—he’s 18 feet tall, which is huge except that he’s dwarfed by a lot of other dinosaurs.)

In the end, the film is basically set at the base of the Grand Tetons, except that the designers added one fictional landmark: the Clawtooth Mountains, near where Arlo’s family lives. These are the only mountains with snow on their peaks, and they’re where Arlo is trying to get back to, so it was important for them to be easily recognized.

Once they had this method, they could go “location scouting” using Google Earth—in one case, when Arlo is trapped in a canyon, they found that location in Idaho, and then added more rocks so Arlo couldn’t just get out the easy way.


On top of that, Munier needed to be able to put realistic clouds over this metafictional landscape. And here, too, his team came up with a very different way of doing it—instead of painting the clouds in, they used the volumetric effects software that was designed to create storms to “compose 3D clouds in the sky.” The clouds needed to be lightable, just like the landscape, and this method meant that the lighting department had 100 percent control over everything in the shots, from the clouds to the mountains.

The final result is not quite photorealistic—if you look at the computer-generated landscape and a real photo side by side, you’ll see the differences. “We tried to put in just enough detail,” said Munier. But the background looks as detailed as the foreground, and there’s enough detail so the world feels like it’s full of dangers as Arlo travels through it. They kept adding more and more detail, until they worried about overdoing it, then pulled back a bit.


Lighting study by Sharon Calahan

The realism in the movie is more of a “painterly realism” than photorealism, added Director of Photography Sharon Calahan. You can’t actually see all of the leaves on a tree, but you know it’s a tree.

In the end, between the landscape and the nature effects, The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space—ten times as much space as 2013’ Monsters University, according to Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch. “Every major system had to be upgraded.”

“We needed to think differently about how we created the world”

“We’re often asked why we put highly stylized characters in a very realistic world,” said Calahan. When you look at Arlo, he’s incredibly cartoony and simple, and yet he’s standing in a landscape that looks amazingly detailed and real.


This was a deliberate choice, said Calahan—they didn’t want overly realistic-looking characters, but they wanted a world with “scale and realism.” And they wanted something that looked real enough that the audience believed that Arlo was really drowning in cold water and that the rock he hits his head on is hard. The simple design of Arlo helps his green body pop out from the green foliage he’s standing in front of.

“I actually love the way our simplified characters look in that detailed environment,” said Production Designer Harley Jessup.


Above: Lighting study by Sharon Calahan

If you compare their “sets” in the film to actual photographs, you can see how they simplified the landscape down to its basic elements and removed the chaos of nature, Jessup added.

Calahan is a landscape painter, and she’s spent a lot of time painting these landscapes in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West. So she was able to do a lot to simplify the chaos of nature down to something that the eye could make sense of, in some of the individual shots. Instead of distributing trees or other features in a random way, Calahan tried to distribute them into clumps, and she wanted to have “light and shadow as major design elements.”

“We needed to think differently about how we created the scope of the world, so we could free the camera to move around in it,” Calahan told us.


Above: concept art of Clawtooth Mountain

Normally, for each landscape shot, they would have done matte painting followed by “foreground tests,” but there wasn’t enough time to do that for this many shots. So the USGS data was a huge blessing. They could do a partial version of a set, adding elements like trees and rocks, and then do lighting tests and start rearranging the elements to get the “painterly look,” before finishing it up.


Lighting study by Sharon Calahan

With every shot, Calahan said, she was thinking about “ways to instill a little bit more visual poetry into the film.” She wanted the colors and the lighting to sell the mood of each sequence. Like, Arlo’s last scene at home before he’s swept away is melancholy and conveys a sense of the “golden hour,” but then when he’s swept into the river, it’s as cruel and cold-looking as possible. When he finds himself in a strange landscape the next day, the colors are neutral and uncertain, and the clouds are moving quickly. Calahan wanted there to be deep contrasts of color, from scene to scene.

Here are some “color scripts” that Calahan created:


In addition to using the USGS data for the landscapes, they needed to be able to capture the feeling of the rushing waters on the river, because that’s such a major element in the film, said Jessup. “That river is the visual spine of the movie,” added Jessup—it’s the Yellow Brick Road that Arlo follows to get home. So that whitewater rafting trip was a huge help in getting realistic water footage to draw on.

There are approximately 200 shots of the river in the film, and they needed to be able to show it in all kinds of states of activity, said Reisch. In Brave, there was just one river sequence, and this movie required tons of river shots—so in the end, they created eight segments of river that they could plunk down in any sequence as needed, like LEGO blocks. There are about 400 shots of rain in The Good Dinosaur, which was another huge challenge to animate. Overall, there are 900 effects shots in the film, twice as many as any other Pixar film.

Also, the film-makers spent a lot of time trying to imagine how the dinosaurs could have built cabins and other structures without the use of hands, because they wanted to avoid a Flintstones kind of feeling to the world, said Jessup. Everything is crudely put together, but the dinosaurs have enough power to dig and move rocks and trees around easily.

The process from beginning to end

As part of the materials released to us after this junket, Pixar shared with us examples of the six stages that every shot in the film went through. Here they are:







Designing the characters

The other major challenge in the film was creating dinosaurs and other characters who looked believable, but also were something the audience could invest in.


Above concept art by Huy Nguyen and Robert Kinkhead

According to animators Kevin O’Hara and Rob Thompson, they went to the zoo to observe elephants, to see how they moved. “One of the scariest things to animate is a quadriped, because there are a lot of moving parts,” said O’Hara. So they came up with a system where when Arlo’s hips go up, his head also goes up and his chest goes down.


Above: T-rex character study by Matt Nolte

For the T-rexes, they had to look sort of like cowboys riding on horses, so the animators gave them the motion like the rear legs of the horse, and then the “rider” is the top half of the T-rex.


Above: “Pet collector” character study by Matt Nolte

According to Jessup, Matt Nolte did a series of “character studies” for all the major characters, to see how they might look in different poses—like what does Spot look like when he’s running, for example?


Above “Spot” character study by Peter Sohn

“Spot was one of the hardest characters to do,” said Jessup. He has to be able to run like a dog on all fours, and sit like a dog as well, but be a human boy.

Spot started out in the very earliest sketches looking like a literal puppy, just a shaggy dog—and then they “found the boy” in that, said Jessup. The body had to be stretched out a bit to make it work. Originally his hair was full of leaves and twigs, and they tried to make this work in an actual wig to see what it would be like, but this “went down in flames.”


Above: Spot color study by Bryn Imagire

Early concepts of Arlo by director Peter Sohn were very doodly and almost like a hand puppet. Here they are:




To get an idea of the scale of Arlo, they created a full-size model of his head. And then Sohn asked if they could create a complete full-size Arlo, all 18 feet tall. They did it, out of cards and foam core. The whole crew went outside and took photographs of the massive Arlo statue, which we sadly didn’t get to see in person.


Above: Set design by Noah Klocek and Philip Metschan.

The Good Dinosaur comes out on November 25.