Director Brett Leonard, executive producer/co-writer Andrew Gellis, and producers Antoine Compin and Charis Horton led the extensive research effort during pre-production for the film. In addition to consulting with paleontologists for the script points, and also for the selection and depiction of the dinosaurs that would come to life through visual special effects and computer-generated imagery, the filmmakers also did extensive location scouting for the live-action portions of filming.
Principal photography began on September 22, 1997, on location at Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Badlands region of Alberta, Canada, and near the town of Brooks. Filming began by capturing the scenes in which Ally Hayden time-travels back to the turn of the century to go on expedition with famous bone-hunter Barnum Brown.
"It was great to shoot the scenes with Barnum Brown right on the Red Deer River because it made it a lot more authentic," enthuses Liz Stauber, who stars as Ally Hayden. "In the surrounding Dinosaur Provincial Park, there are still holes visible in the ground in places where Brown actually dug. In the film, Ally gets to meet him on his barge in the Red Deer River, which is actually where he went on expedition. It's real and authentic and I think the audience will appreciate that as well, knowing that we were not doing the scene on a soundstage in Los Angeles. It's right there, where he was."
"Barnum Brown did his digs in the area where we filmed between 1909 and 1916," notes producer Charis Horton. "The southwestern part of the province of Alberta is acknowledged around the world as having one of the richest collections of dinosaur bones. And, of course, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is also immediately adjacent."
"Anybody who has worked at Dinosaur Provincial Park is aware of how rich that site is," notes Dr. Philip Currie, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. "It is arguably the richest dinosaur site in the world, and we can make that determination from a number of aspects. First of all, in the number of bones you find. There are literally millions of bones exposed there at any one time. In terms of the diversity of dinosaurs we find, there are more than 35 species of dinosaurs that have been discovered there. We have, collectively, more than 500 skeletons that have been excavated from the region so far. If you want to find a dinosaur, you have a much better chance in Dinosaur Park than any other place in the world."
"Dinosaur Provincial Park is located along the Red Deer River, which we like to refer to as a river of Time," continues Dr. Currie. "It cuts down through sediments of different ages... from the age of mammals and then back in time through the age of the dinosaurs. Along the Red Deer River, we not only have Dinosaur Provincial Park, but also the Drumheller and Huxley areas. The bones displayed in each of these areas represent different time periods when dinosaurs were still around in that part of the planet. We can effectively look at the last 10 million years of dinosaur history and see what was going on with the dinosaurs in that stage of their history."
Filming continued for two weeks on location in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Yet the filmmakers faced a challenge in finding a realistic environment to set the live-action filming portion for the Cretaceous period sequences when Ally finds herself wandering amidst the lush vegetation of 65 million years ago.
"IMAX® 3D presentation has certain requirements that you must be mindful of when you're scouting for locations," explains producer Charis Horton. "You need to be aware of things stacking up in the foreground of the shots and of the depth of the location as well. For the scenes with the dinosaurs, we found a place in Washington State that is very magical and unworldly, with tall ferns and cycads plants... and it is certainly nothing like what the average person would experience in their daily lives."
"The remote location that we used to shoot our Cretaceous period work was in the Olympia rain forest in upper Washington state," explains director Brett Leonard. "It was just one of the most magical, amazingly lush locations that I have ever seen. The vegetation and environment is very similar to what scientists believe it was like in the late Cretaceous period. The IMAX® Experience is an amazing way to take people back to that period in time."