IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and John Rosengrant Talk 'Jurassic Park'

Monday, 24 October 2011 11:37 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and John Rosengrant Talk 'Jurassic Park'

The entire Jurassic Park trilogy arrives on Blu-ray tomorrow, October 25th.  In 1993, Jurassic Park was the first movie I ever saw in surround sound, and as a direct result of the sequence in which two hungry velociraptors pursue Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards through a kitchen, my youthful nightmares contained many a raptor sound effect.  More importantly, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Michael Chrichton novel became the biggest box office success up until that point, and was an epochal moment in the development of believable computer generated visual effects.

The dinosaurs in the film, from the velicoraptors to the Tyrannosaurus Rex, represent a seamless combination of animatronics and CGI, attempted at a time whenthere was simply no precedent for such an extensive use of now ubiquitous digital effects. Originally, Spielberg thought full-body shots of dinosaurs in motion would be executed by Phil Tippett, using the Go-Motion stop motion-animation technique he created.  The team at Industrial Light and Magic, led by Dennis Muren, created the CG dinosaurs, with Tippett acting as "Dinosaur Supervisor," overseeing the animation, motions for which were created on a stop-motion rig rather than purely through key frame animation.  John Rosengrant, a puppeteer for Stan Winston Studios, had a hand in every step of the animatronic creatures' creation, and even wore a velociraptor suit onscreen during the kitchen sequence.

Muren, Tippett, and Rosengrant are three of the biggest names in contemporary movie magic.  Both Muren and Tippett worked on Star Wars, with Muren going on to serve as visual effects supervisor on films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Abyss, and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.  Tippett founded Tippett Studios and created the creature effects for Starship Troopers and supervising visual effects on New Moon and Eclipse.  After the death of Stan Winston, Rosengrant became a partner in Legacy Effects and has continued the Winston tradition through films including Iron Man, Avatar, The Avengers, John Carter, and Real Steel.

All three visual effects veterans sat down for an exclusive, though brief chat with IAR at the press day for the Jurassic Park Blu-ray release.  The conversation that ensued focused on Jurassic Park and how the process of creating its landmark effects contrasts with contemporary post-production practices, which tend to put strain on visual effects crews right up until the last minute.


After nearly two decades, are you tired of talking about this particular movie yet?

Muren: It's still fun talking about it.  With me, I don't usually see the movies after I've worked on them.  Maybe once and that's it.  Coming back again, it's neat.  Phil just saw it in a movie theater recently and had a great response.

What was that like, seeing it again in a theater?

Tippett: I hadn't seen it since it's release, you know.  It was a halfway decent print and the audience ate it up and the movie holds up really well.

Rosengrant: It does hold up.  I mean, I've watched it with my kids as they were growing up and to see it back through someone else's eyes, it's amazing.  It's cool.

Watching it now, obviously it was an epochal moment for digital effects, but what people always say when they watch it now is, "It holds up."  Visually, it still works perfectly.  What is it about your work here that creates that kind of effect?

Tippett: In some ways, it was a holdover for how they used to make movies, and now they don't really make movies like that anymore. 

How do you mean, exactly?

Tippett: Planning.

Rosengrant: Very carefully planned, storyboarded; collaboration between everybody on how a shot was going to be achieved.  And a commitment to it.

Tippett:  There's so much now, "We'll fix it in post."

Rosengrant: "Shoot a plate.  I don't know what we're doing.  We don't even know how the blocking's gonna be." So...

Muren: And we all were experienced, so we had, historically, we'd worked on films and kind of knew how this worked.  And nowadays, there's many people who maybe haven't done that many films before and are being asked to make these decisions.  So the thing now is to punt.  And if you go CG, then you don't have to make a decision, you just sort of say, "Oh, the creature will be over there" and the actor reacts to it and you'll figure it out later on.

Tippett: But in the days of photographic effects, you had to commit, you know.  And when there's a great deal of crossover and a lot of engineering problems that have to be solved, you have to commit here so that all of us can figure out how it's all going to fit together.

Rosengrant: When we did Aliens, when I was working on the team with Stan [Winston], we had a queen alien, which was a pretty large puppet.  Not as big as a Rex what we ended up with on Jurassic, the series, but you had to figure out how this thing was going to move.  And it was all in-camera and there was no cheats.  There's wires and you're up there painting 'em it's being lit so you don't see that kind of stuff.  So that's the school we all came from.  Even the Star Wars movies and everything.  You planned, organized how you were going to do it and you stuck to it.


It's interesting that you say that because going into this summer there was a lot of attention paid to the fact that, increasingly, post-production schedules are frantic and it comes down to visual effects crews to bust their asses in order to get movies done.  Where do you see that going?  Is there a breaking point for that?

Tippett: It's already been broken.

Rosengrant: You need to fix it in pre [laughs all around].

Muren: It's not only that, but the shot-count is going up too.  Whereas we had 55 CG shots in Jurassic, you know, now there will be 2,000 in a show.

Rosengrant:  And it's dumb stuff too, sometimes. It's like, something's left in a shot.  We could've, someone could have run in and pulled it out  [pantomimes frustration].  "Let's go, we'll paint it out!"  My god.

Muren: But it is interesting.  When is it going to break?  I think what's going to happen is that all of us are going to have to begin to find ways to work even faster than we do now, but at the cost.  And there's a cost to that and it's quality and art, and it's integrity.  You know, you split the show over ten different companies or something, all around the world, and how is that ever going to be cohesive?

Tippett: You look at any art form, you know, how much work you put into the thing is how much you get.  How long does it take to write a symphony?  How long does it take to write a book?  How long does it take to paint a painting?  If you ask any artist to do it, "Well, I'll do it in half the time!"  It's going to be half as good.  Or worse.

Rosengrant: For now, it's always three or four months is all you get to build whatever the creature or whatever it's going to be.  That's it.  That's the magic number now.  And with Jurassic, it was two years in the making.


The complete Jurassic Park trilogy on high definition Blu-ray arrives in stores on Tuesday, October 25th.


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