Magazine article American Cinematographer

Effects Team Brings Dinosaurs Back from Extinction

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Effects Team Brings Dinosaurs Back from Extinction

Article excerpt

The jeep heads right for us, the driver so terrified he smashes into a log, shearing the windows and the seat backs clean off as the jeep skids under, spinning almost out of control. A roar echoes from the dense grove behind the jeep; trees shudder, toppling down, crushed by some monstrous weight. Then it appears, its vast body supported by two powerful legs, its voracious jaws filled with teeth the size of daggers - a living tyrannosaurus rex. The huge reptile comes after the jeep, careening through the mud. The T-rex smashes through the log, reducing it to kindling, then crashes into the jeep, denting its side and upending it into the mud. The driver and his companion stumble from the wreckage as the fearsome beast, more terrifying than any dragon of legend, chases them deep into the dense jungle of Jurassic Park.

This startling sequence, filmed in a single breathless shot, is one of dozens of collaborations between full-scale dinosaur creator Stan Winston and mechanical effects supervisor Michael Lantieri on Steven Spielberg's long-awaited adventure epic. Along with stop-motion animator Phil Tippett and ILM visual-effects supervisor Dennis Muren (whose contributions to this and other sequences will be detailed in the next issue of AC), Lantieri and Winston round out Jurassic Park's revolutionary dinosaur-design team. Using every known effects technique, and some they created out of necessity specifically for Jurassic Park, these men may well have done the impossible: given convincing life to an unholy menagerie of creatures who haven't walked the earth in millions of years. It is an achievement that may well change forever the way we look at effects films.

Lantieri and Winston's work was used almost exclusively for the live-action dinosaur effects during principal photography. Together, they helped one another solve problems that have plagued effects men like Willis O'Brien from the prehistoric era of cinematic illusion (the silent The Lost Continent, the legendary King Kong) to the present day. "We really worked as one crew," Lantieri marvels. "Early on, our four-man design team took this pie, which represented all of the special effects in Jurassic Park, and cut it up. We figured who could best do each effect, and then one or the other would say, 'We can go so far with this; can you pick up from here and run with it?'"

In the beginning there was Stan Winston. As the multi-Academy Award-winning makeup effects artist will tell you, every dinosaur created for Jurassic Park began on the drawing boards at his Stan Winston Studio in Van Nuys. The bearded makeup impresario is a cagey fox, dazzling his audience with reams of techno-jargon, but the man has undeniably produced some of the most remarkable creations in screen history: the alien queen of Aliens, the Pumpkinhead demon (from the film he also directed), the robotic cyborg of The Terminator and the shape-shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2.

What gives Winston's mechanical marvels their edge seems to be a philosophy stemming from his own humble beginnings as a struggling actor who fell into the field he now dominates almost by accident. "I got involved in a makeup apprenticeship program while I was waiting to be a star," he admits. "I was a big Lon Chaney fan and I was inspired by him to create wonderful, bizarre and incredible fantasy and real characters for film. When I realized a prosthetic makeup on an actor's face wouldn't allow me to fully realize the characters I was asked to create, I began using special effects technology to create fantasy characters that were completely animatronic puppets. I haven't gone from makeup to special effects; I have increased my palette with more colors that allow me to create characters using all the technology available, be it a makeup, a prosthetic, or dinosaurs for Jurassic Park." Unlike others in Winston's field, he sees his creations as characters who have to perform, on cue, like any other actor. This makes his task more demanding, and more rewarding. …

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