This week, just after the US premiere of Walking With Dinosaurs we had the pleasure of talking with Tim Haines, the creative force behind this spectacular project. We asked him about everything from the special features on the DVD to where to draw the line between science and entertainment. Here are his answers to these and the many questions submitted by DVD Talk Members!
How did you first become involved with Dinosaurs?
As an eight-year-old boy I first met them, but forgot them for a bit. As a TV science producer, which I have been for about 12 years, you always know Dinosaurs are a good subject to look at, and that was exactly what I was doing. As I looked at covering dinosaurs I decided that I wanted to find a new way of tackling paleontology. To that end we decided to go down a route that wasn't so much paleontological but more natural history in an attempt to provide some kind of a new experience for people.
In doing the research for Walking With Dinosaurs what was the most helpful discovery that helped give you an insight into the daily life of dinosaurs?
That's a tricky one. There's really no single thing. The helpful thing is that most dinosaur experts, paleontologists, are now prepared to speculate about dinosaurs' behavior, and in fact quite enjoy doing it based on the fossil evidence. Once upon a time paleontologists would have been much more reluctant and would just say, "we can only know this and that's all we can say, and we're not going to talk about that." Now a days they quite enjoy the process of speculating. I wouldn't call it a discipline but it is certainly an intellectual pursuit in its own right and a lot trace fossils have given us big clues as to what these things did as they lived, and that was very very necessary for us to be able to put the series together, because with out it we would have had no stores.
Were there any dinosaur discoveries made while you were in production that had an effect on what you were doing or changed your perception in any way?
These sort of things tend to be slow burn. People come out with great announcements and you read them occasionally in the newspaper, and most of the time there's no big surprise there at all. You are always waiting for a fantastic new find. The only one I think I can remember, which actually confirmed what we were doing, was a whole titanasaurus in South America, a beautiful valley full of eggs. In fact there was one paleontologist in the Times saying that sauropods in fact gave birth to live young, I think he was just doing it to get up people's noses, as there wasn't any solid evidence, but the discovery in South America was pretty solid evidence that they were laying eggs.
Of all the Dinosaurs you studied which one is your favorite?
I do like the Liopleurodon, which was not even a dinosaur but a giant marine reptile. He's big as a whale but carnivorous, and he has a mouth 3 meters long, a titanic creature. I didn't know anything about him, I knew a little bit, and most people wouldn't have seen him before, and we got a chance to animate him for the first time ever. This was true of a lot of creatures; it was the first time they'd ever been visualized outside diagrams. I almost can not comprehend what Liopleurodon would have been like in reality if you had met him under water, you probably would have been too small for him to bother with.
Why are dinosaurs important to modern man?
I think for the younger people they tend to be like the monsters in books, but they're real. So like a drama documentary when you see at the end they say "but this actually happened", that it makes it more interesting. These things are like dragons out of myths, and yet they are real; they walked where we walk, and so that's exciting. But I think intellectually they are a very stimulating way of bringing the kind of distance and time that our earth has moved through alive. It makes our own earth look so very different because these creatures dominated it. It's very tantalizing to people to think that it wasn't just fluffy mammals all the time; things were very different only a few million years ago. We also impose on dinosaurs a lot of our own images and feelings, so they can once be exciting science, or they could be old extinct useless things, or they could be kind of the power of nature, all these things people find dinosaurs are good metaphors for.
How did you balance the issue of science versus entertainment when creating Walking With Dinosaurs?
The temptation to be completely Hollywood was always there because we could do what we like with our creatures. We could have had them sing to the moon if we wanted to, but we didn't. We tried to discipline ourselves, we followed the story lines you would see in a natural history program, and we followed the behaviors that would be suitable and would be appropriate based on the advice we had. In our own minds with our advisers we followed a very strict regime. Of course you'll find people who watch it and say "oh this is completely Disney" or they'll appreciate that this was a genuine attempt to make it as accurate as possible, which is what it was. The truth it depends on the individual and how they react to it.
Has there been a lot of discussion around how much speculation went in to creating Walking With Dinosaurs?
When it was shown in this country all the journalist went running to find a story, but the truth is there really isn't a story there. The truth is, yes of course it is a mixture of things we are pretty sure about and things we are less sure about. It is a best guess of what that time was like, because we will never know what it was really like and the point is you either does this, or you don't. If you don't do it you are saying, "we will never know therefore mustn't pretend that we do know". Well, that's not very interesting to anyone, is it? It's like saying, "I know about this creature but I am never going to show anyone." Scientist have been talking to artists since 1840 when they invented the name dinosaur. They've built statues, they've drawn pictures, and they've recreated skeletons, all of which are a mixture of what we are fairly sure about and what we're not so sure about. That's what turns people on to this subject to start off with. It's exactly what Walking With Dinosaurs was meant to do: turn people on to the subject, then if they ask the question "how do we know all that stuff" that's great, I'll send them to a museum and they'll find out or they'll go to books and find out more. In which case it's served it's purpose. If they sit on their asses in their chair and go "how do they know all that stuff? I'm know going to bother with that, I am going to have a beer" then they'll learn as much as they deserve to learn.
Why did you decide to do Walking With Dinosaurs as both a television program and a DVD?
DVD is a very good high quality format and the beauty and resolution of these images is way in excess of TV resolution. Admittedly what you see on the DVD is lower resolution than film resolution or anything like that because we rendered it out. On TV you just don't get half of the stuff you seem to get on DVD. In the show that was shown in America they also had to cut some of the material, so you get a good 25% more in the DVD. On top of that the DVD picture in picture technology does allow us immediately to answer that question "How did they do that kind of thing?" and we used that in DVD.
When in the process did the decision to use the picture and picture feature come about?
When we made the decision to do the DVD, which came first, we then had to think about what would make a good DVD product as opposed to, "oh should we just slap this on DVD?" I am quite often disappointed when I buy a great looking film and all I get is a couple of extra languages and the ability to stop and start it. It doesn't seem to me enough reason for forking out for a DVD. So I was very keen from the beginning that we should have something extra in there and the picture and picture seemed ideal.
Walking with Dinosaurs was presented both in Anamorphic Widescreen on the DVD and in full frame on TV, what was the thinking behind producing this program for both formats?
Well over here in the UK we broadcast as both, so people with widescreen sources see wide screen people with conventional television see it in 4:3. There's a kind of widescreen commitment in the programs I make, so that fitted the DVD ideally. We couldn't have made it just 4:3 only because it is a high end product for television viewers over here.
Why did you decided to use puppetry in conjunction with computer animation?
Very simple, big fat close ups when you want dribble and blood to drop off it or water or drink or eat or anything like that, it's very difficult to make it look convincing with computer animation. To start out with we really didn't think we would be able to get very close to our animated creatures at all, but our skins improved enormously and we really were able to get as closed as I had liked. So that's what the models where there for, the close-ups and the wides where the beauty of the computer graphic animation comes through. The only gray area was where they met sort of in the middle: how far could you get from the animatronics and close could you get to the computer graphic.
Would it have been possible to do a program like Walking With Dinosaurs in the United States verses the UK?
Yes and No, Yes in that Mike Patronan the head at Discovery was very keen on concept from the very beginning, even before the BBC. So in terms of the funding I don't think it would have been a problem. The area that the US would have a problem is strangely enough the area that they invented in the first place which is digital graphics. You have a very strong tradition of digital graphics in films but not so much in Television. When I tried for a very short while to get some quotes from the west cost on what it would cost to do something like this, they were all so prohibitive that Television budgets couldn't afford it. That's because they are all attracted to the film industry. Over here we have a graphics community and they do a lot of high-end work for commercials and bits of films, but they are also used to dealing with Television contracts. So it was an ideal place to get a reasonable quote for TV.
What is the next project you're working on?
Unfortunately I'm raising money so it's a little difficult to talk about, but we'll be showing people other extinct animals, dinosaurs weren't the only ones. Hopefully if it proves successful we can give people a very broad sweep of evolution. I am sure we'll visit one or two dinosaurs again - it depends on which ones. I'm very interested in Big Al in Wyoming right at the moment, telling it's story would be nice.
Purchase the 2 DVD Special Edition of Walking With Dinosaurs