Even though there’s pretty much no information about the upcoming Jurassic Park 4 film that was announced earlier this week, you’ll find plenty of speculation and discussion about it on the interwebs. So why not jump on that bandwagon and dissect the famous dinosaur movies?
Yeah, we’d all like to go back to the original Jurassic Park for this Commentary Commentary, but sadly, Spielberg hasn’t sat down to record his thoughts on that or the sequel. That means we’re left with Jurassic Park 3.
The plus side is that we get Stan Winston’s take on the whole thing as he is joined by other members of the film’s special effects team.
And on to the commentary…
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Commentators: Stan Winston, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor, Michael Lantieri (special effects team)
1. The strongest focus throughout the commentary is the mixture of live-action and practical elements with CGI elements in the same shot. These are most often pointed out for dinosaur shots, but they also include less titillating shots, such as backgrounds, digital matte paintings and environments.
2. The opening shot of the film was a composite between the mountains of the Hawaiian island of Molokai and Palos Verdes in southern California. For the parasailing sequence, the actors were shot against a bluescreen with a digital parachute that featured the then-new cloth simulation.
3. When the boat crashes into the rocks during the parasailing sequence, digital damage had to be added to the hull. Additionally, the parasail moves in front of a mountain, but the shot was digitally altered so the parasail appears to fall behind it.
4. The technology utilized in this film stems from technology used in previous movies some of the special effects team worked on in the past. These include the blending of live-action and CG elements in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the large hydraulic model of the alien queen in Aliens, the integration of real-life actors with rendered characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the digital animation used in Casper, and of course the previous Jurassic Park films.
5. The raptors in the first Jurassic Park were controlled by cables and radio signals. The raptors from The Lost World used radio-controlled components and hydraulics. In this film, the effects team were able to fit an entire hydraulic package inside the raptors themselves to achieve a self-contained hydraulic character.
6. Jack Horner was the dinosaur consultant on all the films, and he was on hand to make sure the performances of the dinosaurs were real. However, the effects team was able to push the performances to make them slightly less real for dramatic effect.
7. The fossil that Billy (Alessandro Nivola) is excavating in his first scene was a sculpture that was delivered from the art department to the studio within two days because weather issues forced this scene to be shot much earlier than it was scheduled.
8. The velociraptor resonating chamber that Billy generates at the excavation site was actually originally cast from a dog’s skull and then increased in size to fit a raptor’s head.
9. Winston calls the creatures in the film the most “paleontologically correct dinosaurs” that anyone has ever created, saying, “Artistically, we have created with scientific research what now science bases what the science is. Science pushed the art, and now art pushes the science.”
10. The velociraptor that appears in Grant’s dream sequence on the plane was intentionally designed and lit to look like the raptors from the first film, considering that’s what the character would remember. Winston called the moment, “A great Muppet shot.”
11. ILM finished approximately 400 effects shots for the film.
12. Many of the shots with multiple dinosaurs – especially in wide-angle shots and scenes with large herds – employed custom animation rather than using automated computer programming. This was done so the interactions and movements of the animals looked real and imprecise, like nature.
13. The bushes the dinosaurs brush by when they run or walk were often computer generated, which was different from the previous films which required physical bushes for the animatronic animals to brush past.
14. The animatronic spinosaurus was 24 feet long, weighed 24,000 pounds and was packed with 1,000 horsepower. It ended just behind the hip, so any shot that shows more than this had to be computer generated.
15. Cooper getting eaten on the landing strip was the first effects shot that was completed for the film.
16. Winston mistakes computer generated effects for his own practical effects several times in the commentary. He attributes this to the good job the visual effects team did.
17. The T-Rex that battles the spinosaurus is the refurbished male T-Rex from The Lost World.
18. Winston likes to say, “We don’t do special effects; we create characters for film,” to describe his work.
19. The design team was initially disappointed they would be building raptors again because they had been used in the previous two films. To change things up, they made them evolve a little, adding pre-feather quills on their heads. This allowed the raptors to emote more than a relatively static lizard-like face allowed in previous films. Winston said this made the raptors his favorite new dinosaur for the movie, even though the use of raptors wasn’t new.
20. Winston explains why the integration of live-action and CG helps actor performances. An animatronic dinosaur gives the actors something to react to rather than just a tennis ball on a stick. Then any CG effects that are added enhances the level of reality of the scene itself.
21. In addition to the use of CG and animatronics, the special effects team also brought back the traditional man-in-a-suit effect. The most notable instances of this include a few shots of a pteranodon in the aviary and the raptor attacking the characters in the cages at the InGen base. John Rosengrant wore the raptor suit in this sequence.
22. Although the previous films talked about how fast velociraptors could run in the open, but it had never been shown until the herd chase scene outside the InGen base. The shot of this features the raptors running at approximately 40 miles per hour.
23. When the baby pteranodons are attacking Eric (Trevor Morgan) in the aviary, the animatronic models really did bite him. And it hurt.
24. The reveal of the spinosaurus standing still at the fence is one of Stan Winston’s favorite shots. Director Joe Johnston had to keep telling the effects team to dial back the animal’s movement because he wanted it to be as still as possible before bursting into a run, which is how real predators hunt.
25. The river location in the film was shot on the Universal back lot, and it’s the same location used for The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954.
26. The ceratosaurus that approaches the characters as they search for the satellite phone in dino dung was a revised computer model of the T-rex from the previous films.
27. Winston says his proudest moment in the picture was when the spinosaurus attacks the boat in the lake. Normally, water can be a nightmare for hydraulic rigs, and he was stressed out by Spielberg staging the T-Rex attack in the rain in Jurassic Park and then attack through a waterfall in The Lost World. He figured Johnston wouldn’t do that because he has a background in effects, but Johnston wanted the sequence in the river. Fortunately, the full-sized animatronic spinosaurus handled it fine.
28. A special rig of the spinosaurus’ sail was built to show it rise out of the water like a shark’s fin. This did not hold up as well as the full-sized animatronic rig, and the sail fell apart. Consequently, this shot was computer generated.
29. It was not uncommon on this film to shoot a clean plate of the animatronic shots just in case they had to use computer generated effects to redo or complete a shot.
30. When the army storms the beach, the practical elements were relatively small. Helicopters, boat extensions and computer generated soldiers were added in post production.
Best in Commentary
- Winston: “The dinosaurs do look so real in this movie because the dinosaurs are real. It was the actors that we couldn’t get to go to the island where we found the dinosaurs, and we had to replicate them.”
- Winston: “Each movie was R&D for the next.”
- Winston: “I just love it when dinos eat people, don’t you?”
- Lantieri: “John, yours aren’t real. They’re animatronic.” Rosengrant: “They’re real to me! They’re real foam rubber.”
- Rosengrant: “Imagine a crocodile running as fast as a cheetah.”
- Rosengrant: “The compys were always like sparrows on acid.”
I’ll admit that this isn’t the most scintillating commentary out there, and I do wish there were director commentaries on the other two films (as well as this one, I suppose). However, for anyone who is interested in the nuts and bolts of special effects, it has some pretty good insight into the process.
The commentary does slow down considerably in the middle as the special effects team gets overly self-congratulatory to the film, gushing over director Joe Johnston and the cast. Sure, Téa Leoni looks scared when she’s being chased like a dinosaur, but this isn’t exactly an Oscar-caliber performance.
Finally, at the end credits (which features all of the commentators’ teams but no one ever ends up reading), they give a long-winded thanks to various people in their departments. Ironically, as no one ends up reading the end credits, I doubt anyone will pay attention to these credits.
Though there is one point before the credits roll that is very relevant to today. As the pteranodons fly away into the clouds, the special effects team suggests that in a few years they’ll be doing another movie. They didn’t quite realize it will be 13 years between this film and the next one. Still, John Rosengrant ends his commentary prophetically saying, “Then we’ll have the ghost of the first three, haunting you to do a better job.”