Watch: Why Does 'Jurassic Park' Still Hold Up as the Greatest CGI Film of All Time?

23 years later, Jurassic Park is still one of cinema's greatest CGI triumphs—but it used a surprisingly small amount of CGI.

When I saw Jurassic Park in the theater during its 1993 release, I thought the dinosaurs were real. Of course, this is partly due to the fact that I was 8 years old at the time and didn't have the cynical sophistication of today's iPhone generation, but I think an ever greater factor was that those dinos just looked so damned realistic.

So, what did Jurassic Park do with VFX that was so different from other films both before and after it was made? In this video essay, Kristian Williams explores how the collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and the legendary VFX company Industrial Light and Magic worked to bring those prehistoric beasts to life in a very real way.

Though CGI predates Jurassic Park by over a decade, Industrial Light and Magic's innovation in the film's CGI, like being able to generate more realistic movement and textures, not only earned them an Oscar, but it also ushered cinema into a new age of digital technology. 

But why are we still talking about the film today? It's clear we've grown in leaps and bounds when it comes to VFX—I mean, we've made pretty believable movies about space walks that go awry, Turing-tested humanoids, and humans colonizing a gas giant in Alpha Centauri by remotely controlling genetically modified avatars of blue tribal aliens. But very few films stand up to Jurassic Park's CGI in terms of realism. Counterintuitively, this might because, as the video points out, Spielberg used visual effects sparingly.

Less than half of the 14 minutes of footage containing dinosaurs in Jurassic Park used CGI, while the rest is attributed to the work of iconic make-up effects artist Stan Winston and his team, who were put in charge of constructing the animatronic dinosaurs. And unlike many CGI films today (including the latest in the series, Jurassic World), the sets and environments that the characters interact with are real, which only further adds to the feeling that what we're watching is more fact than fiction.

Visual effects have come a long, long way and we can do so many amazing things with them, but we're not yet to the point of complete believability. To put it simply, we still know CGI when we see it. So, maybe the reason why Jurassic Park is such a beacon in visual effects is because Spielberg understood its limitations and was sure to include real-life models and puppets in tandem—kind of like hiding your dog's medicine in a dog treat.  Although the technology is incredibly sophisticated, it still has a few rough edges that our brains can't ignore so, for the time being, CGI still shines the brightest when its presence is subtle.     

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6 Comments

Cause most of it was real effects covered up with CGI, not vise versa.

August 23, 2016 at 3:50PM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1343

not when you watch it on blu-ray. the cgi quality isn't great. it looks best on dvd or vhs.
In some scenes you can see the matting around the actors when dinosaurs pass behind them.

August 24, 2016 at 2:27AM, Edited August 24, 2:27AM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1332

I think the reason Jurassic Park is still considered the ultimate CGI movie is that most people who say that it is haven't actually watched it since they were a kid.

The CGI is certainly amazing for 1993, but people who say that it still looks BETTER than 2016 CGI are looking through some very rose-tinted glasses. The effects that really hold up and beat out modern CGI are the practicals.

August 24, 2016 at 10:19AM

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Umm, what happened to Avatar?! Best CGI still to this day.

August 25, 2016 at 10:38AM

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Justin McLaughlin
Director/Writer
147

When you say, "To put it simply, we still know CGI when we see it," I suspect we don't. CGI is so pervasive, even in dramas like Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or TV's Boardwalk Empire, that the only way you know it's there is by watching the extra features that come with the blu rays.

August 25, 2016 at 12:46PM

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Dan Horne
360

Hum... It doesn't...?

August 25, 2016 at 2:13PM

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Ricardo
Film Student
220