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Exclusive Interview with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn + Producer Denise Ream! #GoodDinoEvent

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I was invited by Disney/ABC to attend this event and interview the director and producer of The Good Dinosaur. All my expenses were paid but I promise all my opinions are my own!

While I was in Los Angeles for the Good Dinosaur Event, we were given the awesome and exclusive opportunity to interview some talent from the film. In addition to the talent in the film, we were afforded the opportunity to interview those behind the scenes like Director Peter Sohn and Producer Denise Ream – what an awesome opportunity. I’m excited to share the experience we had in the room with these 2 backbones of The Good Dinosaur.

The Good Dinosaur

Interview with Director Peter Sohn + Producer Denise Ream
about The Good Dinosaur

We had a great time with Denise and Peter learning how they worked on the movie with the awesome talent. They shared some awesome input about their time on set, how they did things and what they loved most about the movie.

Interview + Group Photo with Director Peter Sohn + Producer Denise Ream

Group Photo with Director Peter Sohn + Producer Denise Ream

Question directed to Peter Sohn: “You have done lots of jobs at Pixar like storyboarding and now director. What led you into becoming the director this time?”

You know, what’s interesting was that this movie was pitched by original director Bob Peterson in 2009 and then he asked me to come help develop the project. During the development,t I was doing, story and designs for him and then he asked me to be his co-director. So, from that we were trying to wrestle the story and it was tough. A lot of these Pixar films go through that kind of place where you put every answer and you go in every direction. We had like the boy and dog story. We had a father-son story. We had like a trying to change community story and then just got — it was hard to kind of end it all. So, then they asked me to become the director from there because I had known all the paths that we have gone through and so I basically simplified it to Bob’s original pitch. I love Bob and he’s a great friend and so I just loved that original idea. So it was really Bob who got me kind of developing into that co-director position so overseeing a lot of that. To your point, I learned a lot from, working with the other departments too. However, that’s nothing like the directing job. There’s so much I didn’t know, I was scared but I’m surrounded with a lot of experienced people to help out with that. Everyone was just like here’s our hearts. Let’s do it. I’m like, oh, okay. Let’s do it, you know.

Question directed to Denise Ream: “Was there any special technology or animation advancement that was used to put that into place?”

Denise: It is not necessarily new technology, but we used Google Maps to create a lot of the locations.  It’s called USGS topological survey maps. So we started with that and that got us a long ways to kind of getting the big scope that we wanted and then the trick was populating that terrain with the trees that we had modeled, the leaves, the mulch, the rocks, sort of all of the vegetation. This was the first time we used 3-D clouds, they’re what we call, volumetric clouds throughout the entire film. Usually we map paint our clouds. We did a lot of water shots which is not a new technology but we did many, many more water shots then we’ve typically done in a Pixar movie. Then. just in terms of the actual process we just had a slightly different workflow process for the animators. So, what we did is  when you’re under the gun to get the show done you sort of dole out shots individually and instead we gave each animator sort of a run of shots that we felt would kind of make a more consistent performance. So that was a very different workflow for the animation department and they actually really, really loved it.

Peter: All of it was in service to the story like we did a lot of research. Denise, when we restarted this project, she took us out. She said let’s go get lost. You know, I’m from New York where we would go into the wilderness and the Rockies and I had never been before. Going out there, it was just so dang gorgeous because  horizon lines in New York was like McDonald’s to Subway and then going out there it was just like so awe inspiring that you could go from there and see 500 miles down that way and see the other 500 miles down that way. It was just full of clouds and it went forever and it was so soul enriching it is something we wanted to capture. And so that’s why all this technology was just like okay, if we want to do that we have to do this.

Denise: It wasn’t really our intention to set up where we did. Then,  when we got there we thought gosh, it makes so much sense because that’s where you find dinosaur bones and again it was just very inspirational to us.

Interview with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn & Producer Denise Ream

Question directed to Peter Sohn: “Once you decided that it was going to be in the West is that when you decided to bring in a lot of the Western elements?

Peter: It started off with the idea of a frontier story but where we would do it like a Southwest kind of look, even though Monument Valley is in Utah but there was that kind of a thing. II grew up on the Western and it’s all I did was watch these movies. Shane was one of my favorite movies and in the opening of that film was this farm in front of the Teton Valley. It was the Grand Tetons and I was like let’s go there. And so that’s where we started everything. Then  it was lucky that there was a Snake River that went through there that we were like oh, my goodness, this is exactly what we need for this story. The whole idea like when you go out there all you ever think about is how did people survive out here? How did they get across these mountains with nothing? How did they do that? And you know, like growing up in New York my dad had a grocery store and so it was a small family. All of us in this little grocery store trying to survive in a city. Then all the research that we would do in meeting farmers and ranchers out there it hit me so hard that these were the same types of families surviving but on thousands of acres each member of that family was an integral part for the survival of that thing. So it was a universal thing all of a sudden like it totally connected! Look at these people. They’re living in love and working together and up here in this really beautiful yet tough landscape. It was really inspiring for us to try and say you know what, let’s be a part of this family and feel like we can contribute. I want to. Everyone has to do something for the survival of the family. So a lot of the Western movies that we’d be are about survival and when we first started doing this story board it became a cliché.  The first version of this movie was literally like Sheriff, let’s go into a saloon and find us a Lunasaur or whatever it was. Then like you know, it just felt like we were making fun of it. Once we started meeting the family and doing the research and all these people out there it was just like no, I want to honor this. I’m American and born in this country. I love that people fought to live through this and so it’s inspiring.

The McKay’s were this ranching family that we met in Oregon. When re-started the version of this film that was so much like a parody, we had these T-rexes but they were like cowhands and it was JR, JW and JL, and it was like so silly.  They were kind of like running like with coconut noises. It really just seemed like we were making fun of it. So we said, “I hate this.” Then when we went to do some research we met this family, the McKay’s, and they have a ranch, a large ranch out in Oregon right on the border of Idaho and Oregon. It’s a unique family. There is the mom and dad, both white and then they adopted five black Haitian kids. So, when you get there it was like whoa, this is like a whole unique kind of family here. But they would change my life. The way that family lived in love really blew me away. I’ve realized as a parent how much of like a helicopter parent I am with my kids where I’m like oh, you can’t do it? Let me do that for you. Let me help you. Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll help you. And dad was just like you know, like I’m going to tell you this once and you’re going to learn to do it, all right. I’ve never been out there and he would do the same thing with us, he treated us like he would treat his children and I was so blown away by how — and it was all love. When you shake his hand it was like a tree and he would just tell you how to do everything. My hands are like marshmallows. But oh boy, I can’t tell you how much that inspiration of that family was where we were like you know what, I want to honor — let’s not make them clowns. Let’s make them a family. And it’ll also parallel what Arlo’s family is going through. It’ll help Arlo’s journey.

Question directed to Peter Sohn: “We had an opportunity to meet the young men who voiced Arlo, Spot and Buck in The Good Dinosaur! They were all so very complementary of the direction you provided them. They said was very inspiring to them. How was it working with these three young men?”

I love those guys! What’s funny is that I do scratch voice at work. I do a lot of temporary voices and I’d been through like all the directors at Pixar and how they direct you. Sometimes it can be tough because you’re just like the line is elbow macaroni. Elbow macaroni. Do it again like this. Elbow macaroni. And then you go elbow macaroni. No, no, like this, elbow macaroni. Okay, elbow macaroni. No, no, you’re not listening to me. Elbow macaroni. Then like on the 15th take you’re like I don’t know what you’re looking for. Or some other directors are like imagine that you had cereal and then like the milk is all the way up to the top of the bowl and you have to carry it like this and make noises would you make. You’re like oh, I don’t want to spill! So, every director has their tools. And I learned a lot from that. And so when I’m getting to work with these kids it was always like you know what, I’ve been in those shoes. This is all going to be about trust. If we don’t get through the lines don’t worry about it you know. Like, we’ll have some fun and whatever– and very observant. So sometimes you have to be very emotional and I would be uncomfortable like if I’m in front of you guys and I’m like okay and you have to cry now in this scene. Then you know sometimes we’re like let’s turn out the lights, don’t worry about it. It’s always just try to find a secure place where you can be vulnerable. Those kids are such pros. They were so amazing, all of them.

Interview with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn & Producer Denise Ream

Question directed to Peter Sohn: “What type of direction did you give them? Specifically with Spot since he didn’t say a lot?”

Spot was mainly like painting the situation for him and explaining that like there were rules to Spot’s world where we didn’t want to go into kind of like a primate world because there was Tarzan and there was all that kind of stuff. We really wanted to stay in this kind of canine world. But his arc and I wouldn’t explain it like that, and arc, I would just say like you come as a character that’s brave, strong and tenacious and you know, Jack, I already know you are like that. As we grow we’re going to kind of take some of the layers away and find  the little boy that Spot is and then he would understand that. Then it would be basically like okay, we’re in the woods. It’s raining. You’ve just pulled some animal out of the woods and I need some breathing down so let’s get into it. It’s just about painting a picture with Spot until we got to the emotional places. With Jack he would always be okay, let’s start, like you’re howl now, you’re teaching or low how to mourn and it’s almost like you’re telling your buddy you know, it’s okay. Can you give me a mourn or howl like that? Then we’d play and experiment with that. With Raymond (voice of Arlo), it’s so funny, he can get into emotions fast.  You paint the picture that you sit with him and you go okay, Raymond — and you would give some of the emotional stuff for in the middle because if you save it for the end of his voice would be tired but if you go to early then you may not be able to get to the emotion real quick. So you would do some fun stuff in the beginning and then let the story play out until we get to the mid part. We go, let’s go to the sequence. I’ll start painting the picture again and then feel where Raymond’s at but Raymond would go okay, I’ve got it. Let’s do it. I’m like okay, are you sure you’re in this thing right now? Like you know, you’re talking about loss here you know, your father — I mean your father just appeared in front of you. You’re sure you’re okay? Yeah, let’s do it. Come on. And it’s like okay. And then he would go and he immediately go from like this like okay, you ready? And he would just like jump into this like performance and you’re like oh my goodness.  Then, he would say “Dad” and ask how that was…. you’re like yes you were incredible. How did you do that? But it would just be that each performance is so different and so you’re just listening to what did they like or you know jumping around. Like Jack is such a sports guy and so you’re like what was the last game man? What did you do?

Question directed to Peter Sohn: “You’ve done a lot of voice work yourself and in this film you got to be the collector which is hilarious. Give us a little bit of background on doing your voice work and why did you choose that character?”

Peter: I didn’t choose it really.

Denise: It was funny, first when we were developing that sequence of, like Pete said, we end up using a lot of people at Pixar to do the scratch voices that we used to cut the scenes against. And I was like Pete, we don’t have time to go audition for this so you’re going to have to do it.

Peter: I said, no, we’ll find an actor. We’re going to find a real actor…..

Denise: No, you didn’t even want to do scratch. You were really reluctant to that. I was like Pete, please we don’t have time. Then you did the scratch and then we were just working on the scene. But then when Pete pitched the scene to John, John was like you’re going to be the pet collector. He was like no, no, no I really want to go and get an actor. You’re going to be the pet collector. So then John actually ended up directing the scene you know, which I thought was really fun.

Peter: He would push because he’s just like lower your voice. And you’re like okay, lower….. lower it here. Okay. And then just keep low. Okay, now say that. And you would say that word you know…. and then he would go lower, lower. And I’m like I can’t you know, I can’t get lower than that. But yeah, yeah it was really fun. I had never been directed by John.

Interview with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn & Producer Denise Ream

Question directed towards Peter Sohn + Denise Ream: “Is there talk at all about another Good Dinosaur film? Because we never really saw what happened to the Dad. Is there like a possibility of him being found? I want him to live.”

We have been talking about it. We keep joking because we just finished this film two weeks ago. It was the time I made this film because when we started we only had under two years to make this and most animated films take from 4 to 5. So, our schedule was just like really jammed and, and so much– like I had two kids born through the production from 2009. My daughter is five. My son, Sam, was three and the last two years my wife is a superhero because I haven’t been around and that is — so like more than any other project it’s just like after this is done it is like I owe my wife a huge life thing here. And I keep like, we’re doing this press stuff and I’m like still keep thinking what can I do that to be so– what can I do, you know what I mean?

The interview with Denise and Peter was amazing – we got to see their personal, family sides and also their professional sides for the movie production/directing business. They were truly passionate about The Good Dinosaur and spoke highly of everyone they worked with. At the end of the interview, we helped Peter find some ideas for what he could do for his superhero wife (as mentioned above). It was the perfect opportunity to hear from some Mom bloggers for some advice. The Good Dinosaur will be in theaters soon!! You should definitely plan to take your family. Stay tuned to This N That with Olivia for more exclusive interviews and movie details.

Don’t forget about these FREE Family Activities that I’ve posted HERE, HERE and HERE!

Interview with The Good Dinosaur Director Peter Sohn & Producer Denise Ream

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