The Evolution of Computer Generated Images and Special Effects Design in the Jurassic Park Trilogy
Date of Award
Based on Michael Crichton’s unpublished novel, The Andromeda Strain, the awe-inspiring Jurassic Park trilogy (1993-2001) emerged from Steven Spielburg’s determination to make extinct characters come to life again. Early on in their careers, Crichton and Spielburg met at Universal Studios while working on Duel (1971) with ambitions to direct a film that would completely immerse their audience into a dinosaur-encompassing world. About five years later, Spielberg attempted to form a digital rendering for his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but later concluded that “‘The technology wasn’t there yet'” (Mottram 20).
Fast-forward to 1990, Spielburg was fixated on seeing real-looking dinosaurs on screen; prompting him to contact Phil Tippett, “the stop-motion animator famed for bringing to life numerous creatures from George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy” (Mottram 21) and special makeup effects expert, Stan Winston, “Hollywood’s leading expert in prosthetics, makeup, and creature effects. . .” (Mottram 22). Eager to win this position to work with Spielburg, Winston called in Mark “Crash” McCreely to create concept art for Jurassic Park (1993). Despite the work of the Tippett and Winston Studios, Steve “Spaz” Williams and Mark Dippé at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) “had been refusing to take no for an answer. . . [and] were convinced that they had the capabilities to build a realistic digital dinosaur, and they set out to do just that” (Mottram 48). Among this race to create the most realistic dinosaurs from scratch, Tippett’s stop-motion production was dropped for ILM’s photorealistic digital rendering.
Throughout the eight years of filming the Jurassic Park trilogy, both the special effects designs and computer-generated imagery became exponentially more convincing by the end of each film. The gradual transition from using mostly animatronics in Jurassic Park (1993) to intermixing scenes with CGI by the end of Jurassic Park III (2001), allowed time for the software to upgrade and become malleable to the needs of the directors and producers. Production designer, Rick Carter, also had an influence on the utilization of foreground and background film plates to recreate more difficult long shot (LS) scenes with CGI dinosaurs and real actors in the frame.
To answer the question: “How has the evolution of Computer Generated Images (CGI) and Special Effects (SPFX) shaped the immersive reality of production design in the Jurassic Park trilogy? A historical analysis of the evolution of CGI and SPFX are provided alongside a ¼” model rendition of the scene in the first film, where a Brachiosaurus is grazing on exceedingly tall trees in front of the characters, Dr. Alan Grant, Dr, Ellie Sattler, and John Hammond. This scene reveals the early stages of combining SPFX and CGI when the software was still brand new. In comparison to its later films, ILM’s technology set forth techniques that would impact the future of special effects in film.
Pearson, S. R. (2023). The Evolution of Computer Generated Images and Special Effects Design in the Jurassic Park Trilogy. Retrieved from https://poetcommons.whittier.edu/scholars/28
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