Pixar animator Sanjay Bakshi talks ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ past experiences

On Friday, a handful of University of Miami students had the opportunity to see what the life of a Pixar animator is like when Sanjay Bakshi, the supervising technical director at Pixar Studios, visited the Cosford Cinema to talk about his experiences.

Bakshi has quite the resume, having previously worked on films such as “Cars,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Monsters University.” His newest project is finally complete after five years with the involvement of more than 200 team members, and needless to say, “It’s a great feeling,” Bakshi says. 

The animation guru was on campus to present a sneak peek of Pixar’s newest feature film “The Good Dinosaur,” which tells the story of a friendly, innocent Apatosaurus named Arlo who finds himself a long way away from home. On his journey back, he befriends a human boy named Spot, and together they traverse the land, encountering a variety of interesting creatures and formidable challenges.

“I loved working on ‘The Good Dinosaur‘ because it’s a different kind of movie,” Bakshi said.

Many aspects of this film set it aside from other movies Pixar has done, but the primary factor, Bakshi explained, is its heavy emphasis on nature. Director Pete Sohn wanted to capture the beauty of the ambient environment and highlight its treachery and mystique.

The environment in the film is based on an area in Wyoming, with some scenes being exact replicas of the terrain, made precisely identical using data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Prior to beginning animation on “The Good Dinosaur,” the Pixar team took a trip to the Cowboy State.

“We did a bunch of research … We went horseback riding, and the purpose of that trip was just to get lost,” Bakshi said. “We went as far as we could and took pictures. We really tried to immerse ourselves in the beauty of that area.”

There is no feeling quite like experiencing the beauty of nature firsthand and then recreating and sharing that beauty with millions of people, he said.

All that magnificent nature isn’t easy on the computers, however. “The Good Dinosaur” was the most graphically intensive Pixar project to date, and one of the biggest technical challenges of the film, according to Bakshi, was the river. A motif throughout “The Good Dinosaur” symbolizing Arlo’s journey, the river animations alone took up more than 300 terabytes of storage, and some sections took more than 100 hours to render, despite Pixar’s sophisticated and powerful computers.

In addition to discussing “The Good Dinosaur,” Bakshi gave some insight into his life as an animator.

“I view my job as a bridge between the technology world and the story and art world,” he said. “The story tellers, like the director, they don’t know… what’s hard or what’s easy about the technology, so I have to be able to speak their language and speak the language of the technologist.”

Bakshi played down the stressful 12-hour work days and constant frustration from technical problems, emphasizing how rewarding the job is, and how proud he is of his newly-completed project.

“What my job [has been] the last few months, is a series of half-hour meetings … I can go from a meeting talking about the render farm and how many CPU’s we need, and the next meeting can be about the emotional journey of Spot and if the facial expressions are doing what they need,” he said. “That’s the fun of it for me, I’m involved in such a wide spectrum of the film making … I love every part of it.” 

“The Good Dinosaur” will be playing in theaters from Nov. 25.