Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Studios
A scene from "Walking With Dinosaurs 3D," which used digital-mapping images from WHPacific for some of its backgrounds.

When moviegoers watched the film "Walking With Dinosaurs 3D," which premiered on Dec. 20, 2013, they were not just seeing the work of gifted computer animators; they also were seeing the work of WHPacific Inc., an engineering and surveying firm.

Many background scenes in the film were digital manipulations of mobile-mapping images generated by WHPacific from the Denali National Forest in Alaska.

WHPacific is a 400-person engineering firm with a 100-person surveying group. (No. 202 on the 2014 Top 500 Design Firms) It is wholly owned by NANA Regional Corporation Inc., an Alaska Native corporation.

"We were contacted by Evergreen Studios, the film's producer, to generate computer images of wilderness areas both in Alaska and in New Zealand," says Dan Wobbe, WHPacific's business development manager. NANA also has an ownership stake in Evergreen.

WHPacific had a team digitally capture about 10 sq miles of the Denali National forest using LiDAR technology—a light-sensing, remote-scanning system. "We used trucks, boats and all-terrain vehicles to map and model the terrain to create the digital images and then synced them with the camera movements in the dinosaur animations in the [story's] foreground," Wobbe says.

This innovative use of LiDAR and mobile mapping is nothing new for WHPacific. "We were one of the first engineering firms to use it, which was over five years ago," says Jason Keck, vice president of surveying and mapping.

He notes that the firm is using LiDAR for projects as diverse as highways, irrigation systems, and facility operations and maintenance.

WHPacific used LiDAR to scan part of Los Angeles' I-405 freeway to identify problems as part of the Sepulvida Pass widening project. "We took a LiDAR truck out at midnight and were able to scan 19 miles in one night," says Eric DeLeon, director of LiDAR technology at WHPacific. No surveyors were put at risk, and traffic was unimpeded.

The scans assisted in the early reopening of that I-405 section, avoiding what the press had predicted would be "Carmageddon."

The firm is pushing mobile mapping further. "We are now doing digitized images of facilities, [such as] hospitals and airport terminals, to help owners to decide where to make repairs or expand their facilities," DeLeon says.

For example, using conventional GPS data, WHPacific was hired to do a digital scan of the parking structure at Boise Airport to prepare a topographic base map of the structure in anticipation of a proposed expansion.

Further, Wobbe says San Diego Gas & Electric has embraced LiDAR imaging to examine its maintenance and upgrade needs.

Wobbe says the market for LiDAR is growing rapidly. "The hardware and software for handling and manipulating the immense amount of data supplied by LiDAR is finally catching up," he says. "It is faster, cheaper and safer than traditional surveying methods."