Describing the genesis of Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg says: "Michael Crichton and I were actually working on another project together, a screenplay,' and I asked him, 'What are you doing in the world of books?' He said, 'Oh, I'm writing this thing about dinosaurs and DNA. My eyes got wide, suddenly I wanted to hear more and I coaxed it out of him until he told me basically the whole story. That's how the whole thing began."
From the beginning, the overriding concern for Spielberg and the rest of the Jurassic Park production company was to bring the dinosaurs to life with absolute credibility. The filmmakers wanted to show us the animals as the immense and beautiful living beings that were once lords of the earth. Through an extraordinary combination of paleontology, artistry and breakthrough technology, they did just that.
As Spielberg conceived his ambitious plan for the movie, and its dinosaurs, it became clear that bringing his vision to life would require an unparalleled level of special effects.
Historically, the action of large creatures had best been achieved with old fashioned stop-motion photography, but the filmmakers had hopes of pushing the special effects envelope and developing technologies that had not been used before. They assembled Hollywood's top special effects talent &emdash; Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren and Michael Lantieri &emdash; for a unique collaboration, challenging them to go where no movie had ever gone before.
Stan Winston designed the live action dinosaurs &emdash; full-size robotic animals that had to be both quick and mobile. A miracle worker in makeup as well as creature effects whose creations for such films as The Terminator, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day dazzled audiences around the world, Winston broke the project into three phases: research, design and construction.
Winston and his team spent a full year in the research phase. Consulting with paleontologists, museums and hundreds of texts, Winston's artists prepared detailed sketches and renderings that would later lead to fifth-scale sculptures, and finally, to such enormous creations as a 20-foot Tyrannosaurus-rex.
Meanwhile, a fifth-scale version of the T-rex, resembling an elaborate erector set, had been built so that the identical motion of the scaled down armature could be generated manually by four puppeteers. Once a small T-rex (called a Waldo) had rehearsed the moves and actions required in a specific scene, a computer recorded the movement and programmed the big T-rex to repeat the action exactly. While the Waldo's puppeteers operated the animal's head, torso, tail and arms, additional puppeteers crouched nearby to simultaneously operate the T-rex's eyes, mouth, jaw and claws.
The Stan Winston Studio, which employed more than 60 artists, engineers and puppeteers in the making of Jurassic Park, also created life-sized, articulated versions of a 20 foot Tyrannosaurus rex, a 6 foot tall Velociraptor, the long-necked Brachiosaurus, a sick Triceratops, a Gallimimus, the unusual Dilophosaurus (a.k.a. "the Spitter") and a baby Raptor hatchling
The unprecedented feats of artistry and technology performed by Winston and his team were an important first step in bringing Spielberg's vision of living, breathing dinosaurs to the screen. "If they didn't look real if you didn't believe their skin, their flesh, their eyes, their teeth, everything about them no matter how good their performances were, they wouldn't be real," explains Winston.
With the challenge of creating "live" dinosaurs solved, Spielberg turned his attention to the necessity of miniature photography for the wide angle or full length shots. He took his thoughts to Phil Tippett, an Academy Award® winning animator and effects wizard who devised the Go-Motion System (a much refined version of stop-motion) while working on the film Dragonslayer. Tippett, who formerly worked for ILM, is based in Berkeley, California and eagerly began recruiting a team that would supply more than 50 Go-Motion shots.
In addition to choreographing the movements of the dinosaurs on film, Tippett was also relied on to provide a series of three-dimensional storyboards, or "animatics," as a means of helping the filmmakers to prepare and rehearse the highly complex scenes with T-rex and the Velociraptors.
The computer graphics work in Jurassic Park is the culmination of experimentation and progress that began at Industrial Light and Magic 14 years ago, when George Lucas set up the computer graphics department. It is now their most potent creative tool. Yet, the work in Jurassic Park is more than that: it is a quantum leap forward, forever changing the way films will be made in the future.
Spielberg consulted with ILM early in the process, having collaborated with this effects house on several of his previous films. ILM's effects supervisor Dennis Muren, a seven-time Academy Award® winner, was anxious to participate in Jurassic Park, but since Spielberg hoped to use full scale dinosaurs and Go-Motion, he was unclear about ILM's role in the project.
The initial approach for Jurassic's dinosaurs relied on traditional technology, combining movable miniatures created by Phil Tippett, with a few full-size robotic creatures designed by Stan Winston. Michael Lantieri would supervise the interaction of these elements with actors on the set. And Dennis Muren would lead the team at Industrial Light and Magic in bringing together the elements on film in post-production.
But visual effects experimentation and technology was moving faster than anyone could have imagined; and by 1991, Dennis Muren and ILM were working on Terminator 2: Judgment Day with director James Cameron, pushing the boundaries of computer-generated images, referred to as CGI.
By the time ILM finished Terminator 2, they were able to concentrate on building a herd of Gallimimus dinosaurs and a walking T-rex among the shots they would be called upon to deliver.
Impressed with ILM's test results, Amblin Entertainment soon gave ILM the green light to take on several additional test shots, including a stampede and several wide-angle scenes that illustrate a herd of dinosaurs against a sweeping vista. When Muren next returned to Amblin, he astounded the filmmakers with a computer-generated sequence of the T-rex walking in daylight. It appeared that with the advent of computer-generated images, Go-Motion might soon be extinct.
Although Tippett's work was ultimately reassigned to ILM, he became a valuable member of the Design Team and set up training sessions with ILM's graphic designers to teach them as much as possible about character movement throughout the production.
One of the most critical tasks the ILM team faced was making sure these dinosaurs moved naturally. They wanted them to come across as real animals, not movie monster stereotypes. They were real characters with heart and souls and a distinctive attitude. To accomplish this, the ILM team, under the guidance of Dinosaur Supervisor Phil Tippett, studied animal behavior, including the movements and body language of elephants, alligators, ostriches and lions. ILM's graphic designers received special training, including movement lessons, so their movements would capture these behavioral nuances.
( To ensure the portrayal of scientifically accurate behavior, the filmmakers also enlisted the help of paleontologist Jack Horner, one of the worlds leading dinosaur experts. Horner's research has been instrumental in changing our view of dinosaurs. He contends that birds, not reptiles, represent their closest living link. For Jurassic Park's design team, maintaining realism would mean breaking the reptilian stereotypes associated with dinosaurs.)
Over the next 18 months, a team of over 100 ILM creative and technical artists brought computer graphics to new heights, ultimately contributing over six minutes of computer graphic 3D dinosaur images to Jurassic Park, including 52 wide, medium and unexpectedly realistic shots of the principal dinosaurs.
Muren and ILM's work showed that computer graphics could offer a new level of performance, mobility and realism. It became necessary for the ILM team to continually create new software to achieve these effects. This kind of attention to detail was enormously time consuming, but the end result was thoroughly believable.
Michael Lantieri, who headed the fourth effects unit, had a long association with Amblin projects; he had worked with Robert Zemeckis on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Back to the Future Part II and III and had collaborated with Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Hook. His team would be responsible for a myriad of mechanical challenges including the construction of exterior cranes and large scale hydraulics that would move the enormous dinosaurs around. Lantieri's group was also responsible for a number of imaginative camera riggings that were customized to move fluidly with Stan Winston's creations.
As shooting began on Kauai, the filmmakers were anxious to see how their dinosaurs would perform. First on the schedule was Stan Winston's full-sized Triceratops.
"It was important that we either got bloodied on our first day of shooting, or we succeeded," Spielberg recalls. "Thank goodness for Stan Winston and his team. The Triceratops worked wonderfully; it looked so pathetic lying there."
The next sequence would star the enormous Brocchiasaur, which would be missing until post-production. Before Jurassic's computer animation breakthroughs, this type of effects shooting went slowly, requiring cumbersome specialized cameras.
Now, though, the filmmakers had the freedom to come up with new ideas on the fly&emdash;and the results were astounding. According to Dennis Muren, "The shot of Sam and Laura walking up from a very low angle, and looking up the neck of the Bracchasaurs where you see its head way up in the treetop, looking almost straight up in the air at him, was one of the shots that really added to the sequence. Previously we never would have gotten it."
By mid-September 1992, shooting in Hawaii was completed and the production moved to California. After two days work in the Mojave Desert, the crew moved indoors to film the rest of the movie on soundstages. Sets included the genetics lab, the inside of the Visitors Center, and largest of all, a complete recreation of the main road and T-rex paddock from Kauai.
Stan Winston says filming the T-rex main road sequence was "one of the most amazing shoots of my entire career. Well ahead of time, in pre-production, we talked about how difficult this particular sequence was going to be. But it was wonderful to see this 9,000 pound wonder, 40 feet long, getting in there and acting."
To ensure a consistent look between the CGI and mechanical dinosaurs, Stan Winston's miniatures, known as maquettes, were sent to the ILM computer artists. This provided a irrefutable frame of reference so that the digital dinosaurs were identical to the ones created by hand.
Computer technology also made it possible to add important details to effects shots. The splashing water made by the Tyrannosaurus' footsteps is one such detail. The water was filmed as a separate element, and the computer was then able to place the splashing precisely around the dinosaur's foot.
Jurassic's animators were creating dinosaurs that looked absolutely real; the only element that was needed to bring them fully back to life was sound.
As raw material for the dinosaur sounds, sound designer Gary Rydstrom and his team collected audio recordings of various living animals&emdash;from swans and hawks to rattlesnakes and monkeys&emdash;and began to piece them together in interesting ways.
"We'd go out in the field and wed record what ends up to be a lot of garbage," Rydstrom explains. "And then we'd come across something we liked, sample it, put it into the computer and manipulate it."
The fierce scream of the Raptors, for instance, was actually a mix of two rather harmless marine animals, a dolphin and a walrus.
The final challenge of the post-production team was completing Spielberg's new ending, which would push the capabilities of computer animation to its limits.