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Who knew the same special effects team behind Reign of Fire's memorably detailed dragons also gave us the hip-hop loving Kangaroo Jack? Before it was shuttered in 2001, Disney's short-lived special effects wing, The Secret Lab, worked on many high-profile projects for its parent company. And, not surprisingly, most of them involved animals. However, working on movies ranging from Mighty Joe Young to Snow Dogs actually prepared the effects team to tackle Reign of Fire's flying lizards.
Prior to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Reign of Fire featured arguably the best-looking dragons on film. They also were the most realistic, swooping and moving like actual living creatures. The effects team took inspiration for the dragons movements by watching snakes, lions, crocodiles, leopards, and other mighty predators of the animal kingdom. Meanwhile, cuddly dalmatians also played a part in the design -- 102 of them in fact. The effects team adapted the same program they used to create hair in 102 Dalmatians in order to achieve a realistic look for the scaly beasts. For the wing flaps, the team aped the majestic spans of hawks and eagles. The Secret Lab team was adamant that audiences recognize the movements of the dragons in nature. This brought an unprecedented level of realism to the dragons, without forcing them to sound like Sean Connery.
Reign of Fire proved to be one of the final projects for Secret Lab, a company that had its roots in pioneering special effects house Dream Quest Images (Total Recall, The Abyss.) Disney's bid to compete with the big boys at ILM and Digital Domain was disbanded after the company's CGI venture Dinosaur tanked at the box office in 2000. But Secret Lab's digital images live on, be they swooping dragons, or B-boy kangaroos.