Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

A Virtual Tour of the Town of Dirt, from the Animated Film "Rango"

How does a filmmaker plan a shot in a town that doesn’t exist? That’s the sort of challenge that the director Gore Verbinski had with the animated film “Rango.” Fortunately, “Rango” is the first animated feature produced by Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic, so there are a lot a technical tools that a director can call upon.

As part of my recent visit to ILM, where first I interviewed CIO Kevin Clark and then toured the ILM data center, I got a look behind the scenes of “Rango,” the tale of a pet chameleon who is unexpectedly stranded in the desert and then finds his way to a tiny Wild West-like town called Dirt.

Dirt doesn’t exist. There’s no movie set to visit to plan shots as you might do with a set for a live-action movie. So the folks at ILM created a virtual version of the town–and the interiors of all its buildings–to help Verbinski and his team map out how they wanted to shoot each scene.

The mock-up of the town of Dirt was created inside an empty studio at ILM, with numerous cameras pointing into the center from the walls and ceilings, and as you’ll see in the video below, a director can “see” it using a digital tablet that presents a scene as it would appear if you were a character walking around in it. ILM’s Colin Benoit, who was layout supervisor on “Rango,” and Michael Sanders, digital supervisor on the film, were my tour guides. The video ends with a clip of the movie, where you see how the technology comes into use. Enjoy.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work