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It looks so real, this world of awesome seas and dusty plains...of great trees and grey rocks.. .of living, breathing, feeling dinosaurs.

Here they walk, striding purposefully across the screen as they maich toward their promised land. Their skin stretches. Muscles move. And with every step, there is the sound of thunder.

It's all part of the illusion of life, as realized once again by Disney animators. In this case, they're CGI animators using computers, along with live-action background settings and physical effects footage, to imagine a world long gone, the Cretaceous Period, the time of Dinosaur.

In this summer of special effects miracles, CGI rebuilt Rome (Gladiator), helped construct a nightmarish outer-space future (Titan A.E.) and re-created terrible weather on the high seas (The Perfect Storm). But Dinosaur may be the most stunning achievment of all. For 75 minutes, movigoers travel 65 million years into the past, when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

And that was the goal all along. "No one else is trying to create an entirely new world, which is what we've done in Dinosaur," says Eric Leighton, who co-directed the film with Ralph (We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story) Zondag. "To have audiences exclaim, 'That's right! That has to be the way they would move, the way that foot would splay out! The jaws close the right way! A thirsty dinosaur would stagger just like that!' "

It's an awesome accomplishment in more ways than one. "We're talking 1300 shots," notes Leighton, who previously served as animation supervisor on The Nightmare Before Christmas, "multiple characters in a scene. There are herds, hundreds of characters in some scenes. The sheer mass of it is mind-boggling. You look at a picture like Dragonheart for instance—that's one character. One event might happen with the character, like gliding or hitting the water. But on our film, we have to deal with hundreds of characters and maintain a sense of reality."

Dinosaur Genesis

The idea of a Disney all-dinosaur movie dates back to 1988, when when Jon (RoboCop) Davison pallend to produce a stop-motion Dinosaur film under the direction of Paul Verhoeven and special FX ace Phil Tippett. The script was by Walon Green. "That was all stop-motion," reveals Leighton, "but this is the same project. They felt that it was a little too pricey at the time, so it kind of got shelved. Also, Jurassic Park came out [later], and films with dinosaur stuff lost momentum. Dinosaar was shelved before then, though, primarily for financial reasons and feasibility."

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