June 10, 2014

How the CGI Dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park' Changed the Cinematic World

Director Steven Spielberg is responsible for more than his fair share of cinematic innovations; Jaws proved that a movie could completely dominate at the box office, ushering in the era of the blockbuster. And though that animatronic, man-eating shark was a sight to behold back in 1975, it was nothing compared to what audiences would see coming from the Spielberg effects camp 18 years later with Jurassic Parkthe film whose CGI dinosaurs managed to breathe life into an art form that wasn't quite catching on. This short Academy Originals video explains how Spielberg's digital dinos changed the way we make films.

It's kind of perfect that a film that tells the story about how beautiful life-giving technology can be until it falls into ill-prepared hands was made in part by using a life-giving technology. Spielberg wasn't the first to use CGI in a film; Steven Lisberger's Tron was the first to use it extensively in 1982, and even before that, shorts and features we making use of it in small, manageable doses. The AbyssIndiana Jones and the Last CrusadeRoboCop 2, Terminator 2: Judgement Day -- all of these films used CGI to different effect, which means that, yes, the technology was there, but many filmmakers were still wary about using it on such a large-scale (as well as on something that needed to look real).

Spielberg was already working with puppeteering master Stan Winston, with plans to hire stop-motion guru Phil Tippett, to create the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Industrial Light and Magic was hired on to create motion blur for the stop-motion, but at the time, the ILM team, including Steve "Spaz" Williams, Stefen Fangmeier, Mark Dippé, and Dennis Muren, was experimenting with CGI. In fact, they'd already created effects for The Abyss and T2. However, Tippett was already hard at work running stop-motion tests for Spielberg's film, even going as far as putting together one of the most iconic scenes -- the first real introduction to the T-Rex:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL27GZxXL1g

In the early 90s, filmmakers and audiences may have not been "ready" for a CGI film, perhaps mainly because the effects at that time simply didn't sell the illusion of reality. When a film is made using CGI, a filmmaker generally doesn't want the audience to go, "Whoa! How did they do that!?" What they want is complete immersion to where the audience's mind doesn't even go into the realm of how what they're consuming was made. The only thing they're thinking about is the story and the beauty of the spectacle.

The rebellion and initiative of the ILM team as you'll see in the video below, changed the way we make and approach films, not just during production, but while we're tinkering inside our brains, wondering at the possibilities of our creativity. ILM broke down the cinematic doors technologically, but they also freed up the imaginations of generations of artists without truly intending to do so. CGI was the dinosaur DNA in the amber-preserved mosquito, and they were a group of John Hammonds -- the only difference was that they were prepared.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWsbcBvYqN8

[via Academy Originals & Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

31 Comments

Jurassic Park and Toy Story changed my life. Both were brand new experiences that just transported me so completely. I can't imagine another film coming along & having that kind of effect ever again. Avatar certainly didn't have that power over me.

The greatest achievement with JP though was the blend of CGI & practical effects. I really do hope we see a return to that style of filmmaking and the recent on set video (from J.J Abrams) for the new Star Wars makes me very happy & hopeful that we're finally circling back around to where it all started!

June 10, 2014 at 6:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Nolan does that all the time on his movies, right combination of practical and cgi.

June 10, 2014 at 9:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marcus

Good call Marcus ;) It shows too!! It'll be very interesting to see his FX shots on Interstellar later this year.

I'd like to see this combination utilised on 'bigger' visual spectacles though from the likes of Marvel. Sony's new Spiderman films are the worst offender right now, it's literally video game territory.

June 11, 2014 at 2:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah even directors that have visual effects backgrounds (like Neill Blomkamp and Gareth Edwards) tend to have large amounts of practicals in conjunction with the vfx.

I think most filmmakers are just vfx illeterate to a certain extent and view digital effects as a magic fix of sorts.

June 11, 2014 at 8:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert

*illiterate (the irony, I know)

June 11, 2014 at 8:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert

Also very interesting Robert as Gareth Edwards and Neill Blomkamp are another two high on my list! Monsters is fantastic in my opinion and that is less to do with practical fx being involved (I don't think there were any) and more to do with filmmaking mastery... stripping the CG FX back, placing the action on the edge (or out) of frame & leaving more to the imagination.

June 16, 2014 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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THIS

June 10, 2014 at 9:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

Thanks for this post! This was the film that really captured my imagination and got me interested in film-making. I still have the illustrated "behind the scenes" book they released after the film, including a set of storyboards for that same T-Rex reveal, and lots of other fascinating information. I should try and find it ...

(A couple of minor notes ... Stan Winston is not a puppeteer, he is a creature and make-up FX artist. Also, " shorts and features we making use" ... should read "were". )

June 10, 2014 at 7:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stuart MacQuarrie

I kind of thought the movie sucked ... CGI was great though.

June 10, 2014 at 7:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Jurassic Park is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater. I'll never forget how out of my mind with excitement I was when I left.

June 10, 2014 at 8:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

Same here.

June 11, 2014 at 5:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

What really bugs me is that Spielberg gets the credit. Those dudes who stayed late after hours to tinker on their own dime, they were the magicians.

June 10, 2014 at 8:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jonesy

Part of the reason the dinos look so good was because Spielberg knew best how to craft the scenes, he wasn't throwing dinos on your face all the time, instead he used sound and the right amount of exposition, theres 15 min of dinos in a 2 hrs movie and I still think I see them all the time. He knew the limitations and worked around them without handcaping the movie.

June 10, 2014 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marcus

This!

June 10, 2014 at 10:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex mand

+1

June 11, 2014 at 2:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Steve "Spaz" Williams actually didn't like how far Spielberg went with showing the dinosaurs. He said it was to much. I think it was quite the right balance but the story sucked.

June 11, 2014 at 3:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mariano

Also, it should be noted here that Spielberg actually didn't do much to lead ILM during post on this movie. He was off making Schindler's List during that time, and he left the nitty-gritty details of the editing, visuals, and sound mix to George Lucas. Sure, Spielberg had final say, but by most anecdotal accounts, he was so emotionally and physically drained at the time, he pretty much allowed Lucas to complete the picture on his own.

June 11, 2014 at 4:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Just don't buy it on blu ray. Looks better on DVD. lol.

June 11, 2014 at 12:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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VinceGortho

I wouldn't expect less. It would be idiotic to expect perfect visuals from a 23 year old movie that was one of the first full-on forays into CG creatures. I'm sure Blu Ray exposes all it's flaws, but I'm perfectly OK with that.

June 11, 2014 at 11:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dave N.

Some of the flaws are the matting around the characters to insert cgi dinosaurs behind them is ot perfect. So you see the cutouts waving back and fourth. No reason to use words like idiot.

June 11, 2014 at 12:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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VinceGortho

Except when one mistakenly swaps "fourth" and "forth" =]

June 14, 2014 at 11:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Raph Dae

That stop motion sequence was awesome, although I wish Spielberg had kept both the tongue trying to lick the kid and the T-rex scratching his face.

June 11, 2014 at 4:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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After I read the post, I came to the comments section to post about how this was one of the first movies I saw in a theater (and about how great of an experience it was), how I got the books about the production and behind the scenes and consumed every last bit of "making of" material available, which eventually led me to decide that filmmaking was and is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Happy to see other people feel the same way about this film. It may not be perfect, as some have stated, but it marked a couple of generations and represents an evolution in cinema (be it for better or worse).

Also, the stop motion sequence seems to bust the old myth about the glass rooftop falling not being intentional, and that the actors' reaction was genuine.

June 11, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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MiguelFranco

JP also ushered in era of lazy character development and plots.

June 12, 2014 at 10:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jake

Abso-freakin'-lutely!

June 13, 2014 at 1:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan H

Even though I had been working NY in the newly exploding field of tv graphics (Quantel Paintbox) for over 6 years, I had also been sculpting for over 10 years in '91, and just moved to San Fran to be close to where Stan & Phil were doing their magic. I wanted to build dinosaur models. I got an interview at ILM and when I showed them my portfolio they told me that something big was going on and physical (practical) models were soon going to be phased out. My heart was broken. "CGI would NEVER beat physical models - ever", I thought.

I slinked back to NY and returned to broadcast graphics. No regrets, but man was I wrong about CGI.

June 12, 2014 at 8:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Peter S.

The problem with CGI is that it really hasn't improved much since 1993. That's because the attitude of filmmakers has become MORE MORE MORE !!!!!!!!

You have almost an entire movie's run time spent on visual effects and so the quality of each shot gets diluted.

I was hoping that when Annapurna Pictures bought the Terminator rights, there was some hope they'd return to the gritty, practical world of the original film since Annapurna was all about top notch, Award winning stories, etc. But when they dropped out and had their sister production company that was behind G.I. Joe Retaliation and other forgettable, throw away summer films take over... I lost all hope.

June 13, 2014 at 1:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan H

"New Star Wars"? Really? I have an idea. How about come up with a new concept and story and leave the classics alone! Jeez. Where's the originality anymore?

June 13, 2014 at 2:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Fair point Eric!! Haha :) (I 'think' there's room for both though)

June 16, 2014 at 12:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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'Jurassic Park' is an iconic movie from the 1990's just like 'Jaws' was to the 1970's (and by the same director Steven Spielberg). Although CGI was used in Jurassic Park (compared to the rubber hand made shark in Jaws); the Dinosaurs still came off as perfect, flawless special effects creatures. A perfect example of how incredible CGI can be when done right. I hope when Jurassic Park 4 lands it is as great as the others. I look forward to it!

June 14, 2014 at 6:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The two things that set JP apart from contemporary (awful) CGI pictures are:

1. The combination of Computer Generated and Practical Effects.

2. Phil Tippett, who got canned as stop motion animator on JP- animated the dinosaurs on JP! I can't believe this gets omitted from the JP story so often, but after ILM realized that they had created the technology to do this, they realized that none of their computer guys knew anything about animation or animal/dinosaur movement. Motion-capture stop motion models were animated by Tippett to give the creatures movement. He was given the credit of "Dinosaur Supervisor" in JP for his contributions and he designed all of the stop motion animatics that were used for the final film. And he doesn't get enough respect for being a total genius. Anyone interested should check out MAD GOD, the stop motion scifi film he's been making when he's not busy paying the bills. Oh, and CGI sucks...

July 14, 2014 at 12:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Practical Magic