The Dinosaurs Move Out
Barbara Robetson
September 6, 2018

The Dinosaurs Move Out

The first  Jurassic Park  marked a turning point for computer graphics and a near career-ending wake-up call for puppet masters who had, until that film, provided and performed animatronics for creatures in most feature films.

But in Jurassic Park , audiences saw a dinosaur move freely within a natural landscape for the first time. It was a gentle Brachiosaurus, the first dinosaur that Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) saw when they arrived to check out the park. The characters in the film were awestruck when the Brachiosaurus reached a tall tree and stretched her long neck up to munch the leaves. Dinosaur fans must have been, too.

Artists at Industrial Light & Magic had created CG dinosaurs for that film after proving to Director Steven Spielberg that the digital beasts were believable. Twenty-five years later, they’re still creating Jurassic dinosaurs – more CG dinosaurs than before. ILM has been the lead visual effects vendor for all the Jurassic films in the franchise, including the latest – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Directed by J.A. Bayona, Universal Pictures’ fifth film in the franchise stars Bryce Dallas Howard as the Dinosaur Protection Group’s leader Claire Dearing, Chris Pratt as animal trainer Owen Grady, and James Cromwell as Benjamin Lockwood, the former partner of John Hammond in InGen, the company that had originally cloned the dinosaurs. 

When Fallen Kingdom begins, the dinosaurs have been left to their own devices for two years after the theme park on Isla Nublar was destroyed in the fourth film, Jurassic World. Now, a volcano is about to erupt on the island. So, Lockwood sends Claire and Owen on a rescue mission. 

After arriving on the island, in a scene reminiscent of that first dinosaur spotting in Jurassic Park, Claire and Owen see a Brachiosaurus, one of many dinosaurs that did just fine without human intervention. 

But not for long.

If a volcano erupting on their idyllic island weren’t enough, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Claire, and Owen, the rescue crew has ulterior motives. They transport the dinosaurs to cages inside Lockwood’s mansion in Northern California to be sold to the highest bidder. All the dinosaurs except Blue, the Velociraptor Owen had trained in Jurassic World.

The profiteers have other plans for Blue. 

ILM’s David Vickery was the overall visual effects supervisor on Fallen Kingdom. Artists at ILM’s studios in London, Vancouver, and San Francisco did the bulk of the work on the film, with subcontractors ILP, El Ranchito, Scanline, and Image Engine pitching in. NVisible handled on-set graphics and helped in post, as well. The filmmakers shot Fallen Kingdom in Hawaii, at Pinewood Studios in the UK, and in other UK locations. Creature effects artist Neal Scanlan’s team created and performed animatronics for the film. We’ve come full circle.

“It was really important for J.A. to have lots of animatronics,” Vickery says. “There’s a lot of nostalgia around animatronics and the way you remember films that feature animatronics. Jurassic Park was a huge part of J.A.’s life as a teenager and as a filmmaker. So, Colin and J.A. wrote scenes into Fallen Kingdom to feature animatronics and show them at their best.”

Animatronic Hybrids

Scanlan’s team built full-size animatronics for the T. rex, Blue, and baby Blue, animatronic parts of a new hybrid dinosaur called an Indoraptor, and busts for several other dinosaurs. 

“Neal and I sat down early on to figure out how to work together and bring our strengths to the table,” Vickery says. “He was aware of the limitations of his craft, and I was aware of the limitations of digital. Certainly, when you have a physical dinosaur, everybody reacts differently than if you have a tennis ball on a stick. And, there are places where the actors have to touch dinosaurs.”

Often, the full-body animatronic dinosaurs are lying down. When they fight, run, and otherwise move much, they’re CG. In addition, the visual effects team would touch up the animatronics to give them life. 

“We never went into the process expecting every animatronic we shot to stay animatronic,” Vickery says, noting that the visual effects artists might replace a claw, a tail, an eye, or otherwise enhance the performance with some movement. “With actors, a director might do 15 takes to get the right one for the edit. “[With CG] J.A. could do the same thing with the animatronic dinosaurs. If he wanted a blink or a slightly different movement in the claws, we could enhance the animatronic.”

To make the digital makeup, replacements, and transitions seamless, Scanlan’s team built their animatronics from digital files created by ILM modelers. The modelers started with Blue, a dino that’s roughly human-size, working in Autodesk’s Maya and Pixologic’s ZBrush. Blue would be CG, performed by animators in many scenes, but in one dramatic sequence, she’s strapped down for an operation.

“We had extensive previs for the sequences with the animatronics, so we knew what pose she’d be in,” Vickery says. “We took our digital files of Blue, posed her in the correct lying-down position, and then baked all the displacement textures back into the model. We worked out that the limit of the resolution for the 3D printer Neal [Scanlan] would use was around 1 millimeter, so we made our polygons 1 millimeter square.”

Blue’s digital model would end up having hundreds of millions of polygons and a scene file of around 4GB.  

“Neal printed it in resin, and we could literally see the facets of the polygons, all that detail, all the little triangles that made up the polygons,” Vickery says. “The detail was fantastic. Every scale, every wrinkle was accurate to the digital model, so we knew if we needed to enhance or replace the animatronic, the files would match.”

Then, the ILM crew transferred the process they used for Blue to the Tyrannosaurus rex, again using the same one-to-one ratio of 1 millimeter polygons.

“Suddenly, we had a 23GB file,” Vickery says. “The art department said, ‘It doesn’t open. How did you ever save it?’ So, we had to chop the T. rex into pieces using a file-size limit of 4GB to 5GB. That was the largest they could open.”

Scanlan’s team also built scaled busts for three dinosaurs new to this film: the Stegosaurus, the Baryonyx, and the new hybrid Indoraptor. The scaled busts were helpful on set for lighting reference and for the actors and filmmakers to see in different lighting conditions. In addition to the scaled bust, the Indoraptor also had a full-size animatronic head, foot, and arm. Although the Indoraptor animatronics were used on set, ILM artists often replaced them later with digital counterparts. 

“The creature’s design evolved in postproduction,” Vickery says. “So, in the movie it’s 99 percent CG.”

Work on the Indoraptor design started 12 weeks before principal photography with simple concepts. Once the filmmakers signed off on the design, Scanlan’s team created the scaled bust, and model makers added wear and tear to give the creature a sense of history. The design for the hybrid creature continued later in postproduction, with texture artists adding digital wear and tear.

“We wanted to give it an interesting backstory,” Vickery says. “It’s a prototype; its genetics are evolving. So, we gave it flaking skin, irregular teeth. It isn’t a beautiful dinosaur like the T. rex or the Velociraptors. It’s imperfect. So, because our final model differed slightly, we replaced the animatronic.”


Texture artist Sally Wilson led ILM’s team of 10 artists in London that gave all the dinosaurs their surface texture and colors – that backstory Vickery mentions. These artists tend to be unheralded, but without their skills and talent, the creatures would not look real. 

For Fallen Kingdom, the director wanted more distinctive and colorful dinosaurs than in the previous films.

“We have much more interesting designs and color palettes than we had previously,” Wilson says.  

For example, the Carnotaurus are a burnt red. The Allosaurus are blue. The Indoraptor is black with yellow on its sides. 

“When he comes out of the shadows, we can’t see him until we see the stripe,” Wilson says.

To create the textures, the artists use Foundry’s Mari for painting on the 3D models and Foundry’s Nuke for procedural work on unwrapped 2D maps.  Sometimes they start with Mari and then refine with Nuke.

“Quite a lot of our work involves intricate details in scales, so it’s easier to work flat,” Wilson says. “It can take hours to paint all the maps. So, if we want to change the size, the rippling on the edges, or add a color across scales, we can step through and make changes in a procedural manner with Nuke. It’s so easy to edit without destroying any of our work; it saves us a lot of time.”

Every area of a dinosaur could have as many as 40 painted maps – sometimes more because the maps do more than give the animals color and patterns. Layers of displacement and bump maps create texture, and layers of diffuse and specular maps define how the skin reacts to light. 

“The specular color maps define the anisotropic angle as light passes across a scale,” Wilson says. “We researched the way lizard skins react to light, the oily reflections you can see. And, through experience, we know certain textures need to be shinier than others.”

The artists generally start by building complexity with a basic set of specular and roughness maps, and move to additional levels. As they work, they run test renders in Foundry’s Katana to see the dinosaurs in context in the lighting environment.

“It was fun working out the approach we needed to take to make the scales on the dinosaurs work well,” Wilson says. “We had concept art for the initial stages, but it isn’t specific. We also had the animatronics on set and needed to be sympathetic with those designs. It was a bit of back and forth. Sometimes we’d match theirs. Sometimes they liked what we had done.”

When the dinosaurs suffered damage, the texture maps had to change. Animators would block out the action and give the artists a guide that told them where wounds would appear.  

“We always have the undamaged versions,” Wilson says, “and then sequence-specific damaged versions with texture maps for bruising, gashes, scars, blood, and so forth, depending on how wounded they become on top of the originals. When the lava hits a dinosaur, we had to produce complex textures because we can see through the scales to the bloody flesh.”

The artists also worked on texture maps for the creatures’ eyes, even surfacing pooled water in the eyes with a wet material. These dinosaur assets traveled to artists in London and San Francisco who used the creatures in their shots. The texture data in the package could easily total 14GB. 

Texture artists also worked on vehicles, buildings, and a gyroscope, matching, in many cases, elements shot on location or on stage. 

“Obviously, the materials are different,” Wilson says. “For creatures, we do a lot of work getting subsurface scattering right. For hardscapes, we match physical properties. Creatures are slightly fantastical, so we can get away with not having them completely accurate, but we can’t make things up with the hardscape materials. Information is available online for how much certain materials reflect and absorb light, all values that we need to give our physically-based renderer, [Pixar’s] RenderMan. Once you understand the physics, it isn’t hard to get accurate materials. The challenge is to match props on set that aren’t metal but are made to look like metal. You have to use your eye.”

The artists use Mari and Nuke to work on hardscape models, as well, which is a change from the past in which texture artists painted maps in Adobe’s Photoshop. 

“We used to paint something pretty in 2D,” Wilson says. “Now that most rendering is physically based, there is a higher expectation. We have to understand what we’re painting and how that’s affected by lighting. So, we have to know more about the subject and the environment, and why something looks the way it does. It’s much more interesting. I’d be bored if I were just coloring all day.”


Jance Rubinchik and Glen McIntosh supervised approximately 52 animators who brought the dinosaurs to life for the film. McIntosh oversaw animators in Vancouver who worked on a sequence in which Owen meets Blue in the jungle, a stampede sequence following the volcano explosion, and two resulting dinosaur fights. Rubinchik oversaw the rest of the shots for the film, including the fight between the Indoraptor and Blue in Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie’s bedroom.

“There are a lot of dinosaurs fighting in this film,” Rubinchik says. “J.A. likes darker, scarier horror themes. We used a lot of animatronics – J.A. wanted to use practical dinosaurs where we could – but when we replaced them, they needed to feel like they were real. Because they had these real things on the set with the actors, as we worked through shots, we would always consider whether we were moving the things too fast or not fast enough.”

McIntosh, who had been animation supervisor for the previous film, worked on set with Scanlan and with the actors. For the sequence in which Owen (Pratt) meets Blue again, he took the role of Blue with Pratt.  

“I had a gray Styrofoam raptor head,” McIntosh says. “Blue has been away from Owen for two years. She’s become feral, and Owen didn’t know how she’d react. I didn’t tell Chris what I’d do. I might lunge, and he wouldn’t know in advance. He’d reach and then pull back. Raptors aren’t big compared to a T. rex, but it’s still a huge animal – about 14 feet, the size of a tiger. When you have that head next to actors, it makes them feel this is something really dangerous.”

Back at ILM, McIntosh asked motion--capture performer Rod Fransham to don a mocap suit and play Blue, as he had for Jurassic World. 

“He had undergone hundreds of hours of training, rehearsing, and exercising to get the muscle memory for Blue’s posture,” McIntosh says. “ILM can retarget the data, so Rob could be upright, not as bent over. We knew we were onto something when we looked at the takes and got that predatory feeling. But, motion capture is the sort of thing we use only when it makes sense.” 

Rubinchik sometimes used motion capture almost as previs to put ideas in front of the director, but otherwise, except for that sequence with Blue and Owen, the CG dinosaurs throughout the film were keyframed.

In that sequence, Blue circles Owen as she considers what to do, and the motion--capture data gave animators a starting point for the performance. For the final performance, they referenced lions about to attack. 

“She could leap on him and kill him,” McIntosh says. “We build up the tension with her body pose, her silhouette. When she’s still, she crouches. She squints her eyes, her nostrils flare. We have shapes in her throat undulate like a crocodile’s.”

Just as Owen is about to touch Blue’s nose, one of the mercenaries shoots Blue with a tranquilizer dart – and then Owen, too. Meanwhile, the volcano is erupting.

“We shot plates of Chris [Owen] in a practical clearing, then added lava creeping around the sides and overtop of the jeep,” says Alex Wuttke, ILM visual effects supervisor in London. “Then we had to add a bunch of vegetation that gets burned. We also added lava bombs. We did all the lava and lava bombs with [Side Effects’] Houdini.”


The volcano eruption causes a massive stampede by dinosaurs fleeing the smoke and lava bombs. The filmmakers shot most of the sequences on location in Hawaii, but the volcano wasn’t big enough for the director. 

“So we replaced much of the background, put our volcano in, and added effects,” Vickery says. “The special effects team had hundreds of feet of smoke tubes and pyro explosions on the ground that they could trigger as the actors ran in the valley. That gave us something to match to, but it’s much harder to do that in post than to create all-digital effects. It’s obvious when the digital doesn’t match the practical. I believe it’s the right thing to do – to get as much in-camera as you can – but it’s not the easiest way.”

The mandate for Jurassic World had been to ground the animation in the natural world, and animators on that film had referenced animals of equivalent shapes and relative sizes to build a library of movements. So, animators on this film drew on that library for the stampede. 

“We could take a run cycle based on the runs of rhinos and elephants, and plug it in to the plate to make sure the action was dynamic and fast enough for J.A.,” McIntosh says. “We built the action shot by shot.”

As they are running, the Carnotaurus attacks a Sinoceratops, two dinosaurs new to the franchise.

“Instead of what we’ve done before with dinosaurs chomping and going back and forth, we came up with the idea of levels,” McIntosh says. “We had one going low and one going high. Both dinosaurs have horns, so we looked at bullfights, at how they almost lift each other into the air. The animators would shake the dinosaurs’ ankles and knees to create impact tremors on footsteps, knowing that later simulations would cause dust to fall off.” 

The Sinoceratops wins the fight and runs away from the volcano. But now that its meal is gone, a limping Carnotaurus retargets onto Owen, who has joined with Claire and a lab tech named Franklin near a transparent gyrosphere. Claire and Franklin climb inside, and that’s when the T. rex swoops in. As the T. rex fights the Carnotaurus, it jostles the gyrosphere loose, sending it rolling downhill and over a cliff.

For this sequence, the special effects team built a roller-coaster track for the gyroscope that dropped the polycarbonate ball with the actors inside 45 or 50 feet.

“The mandate from J.A. day one was to match the animatronic dinosaurs as much as possible and to use the real gyrosphere when it makes sense,” McIntosh says. “Bryce’s reactions were so genuine. She said it was genuinely frightening to have that thing drop them almost 50 feet. And, the great thing about the dinosaur animatronics is that if they are working, if the puppeteers are in sync, you’ve got it. The lighting is correct. The animal is actually there. It’s invaluable reference for the CG. Then we can do CG eyes, pupils dilating, blinks, nostrils flaring, and the audience is not sure what effect is being used.”

The other main dinosaur fight takes place in Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie’s bedroom in the mansion. She has been running through the house to escape the Indoraptor, which had managed to escape its cage. Finally, Maisie runs to her bedroom and climbs under the covers. We see a claw reach toward her. And then Blue attacks the Indoraptor. 

In this shot, the actor saw an animatronic claw, but the fight is between two CG dinosaurs. Animators in London created this fight as well as earlier shots with the animals being auctioned, and one of Owen and Claire with a practical and CG T. rex in a container; practical when asleep, CG when she wakes up.

All the CG dinosaurs have layers of muscle simulations applied after animation. For the Indoraptor, the creature development team added particular types of muscle sims that helped define the hybrid dinosaur’s character. 

“He takes pleasure in killing,” Rubinchik says of the Indoraptor. “He’s a killing machine. He twitches violently.” 

Animators had specialized “twitch” controls that the creature dev team would use to drive the nervous energy simulations.

Lockwood Mansion

All this third-act action is taking place in the Lockwood Mansion supposedly located in Northern California. Production designer Andy Nicholson built large sets at Pinewood to fit the dinosaurs and still have enough room for the camera to move back far enough to see them.

“Because they’re dinosaurs, though, the camera often looks up,” Vickery says. “Usually, we’d have a one-story set with greenscreen above, but we didn’t have that luxury. So we had cantilevered ceilings. We could lift pieces up so Oscar [Faura, cinematographer] could bring lights in. Then we’d lift another part, and he could bring the camera around.”

For the exterior of the Gothic mansion, which was supposed to be surrounded by a redwood forest, the filmmakers considered shooting a miniature. But, they found Cragside, a mansion built in Northumberland, UK, in the early 1900s by an arms dealer. It was surrounded by tall conifers – firs, cypress, spruce, and sequoia. 

“Oscar and I went up there with an Alexa mini mounted on a drone, and shot approaches to the house at different times of day,” Vickery says. We also had Clear Angle Studios do shots with a Sony a7R mounted on an AscTec Falcon 8 drone. We had full photogrammetry in a 500-meter radius around the house. It meant we didn’t have to make up our CG shots in post from scratch. We could use practical photography shot by our director of photography.”

All told, the crew ended up with something like 40,000 images. 

“Clear Angle built a completely digital photogrammetry-based house so we could work into how that fit with photos we got with the Alexa mini,” Vickery says. Production designer Andy Nicholson’s team also built an entrance to the house and other partial sets that the ILM crew seamed together, fit with the aerial shots, and augmented.

“We had a huge glass roof on the set, 40, maybe 50, feet long and 20 feet wide because we needed to put the actors on top,” Vickery says. “In post, we had to replace it.”

Indo Stalks

The sequence puts young Maisie and Owen on top of the mansion’s glass-domed library roof. They’re trapped at one end. There’s a sheer drop below. The Indoraptor is stalking, coming toward them. But, he’s so heavy that as he steps out across the glass, it cracks, eventually breaks, and after some scary bits, the dino drops through.

“We rebuilt the practical set faithfully so we could have the interaction of the glass cracking and Indo falling through,” Wuttke says. “It was a mix of practical photography supplemented with CG extensions and CG cracking glass. There are also fully CG shots. They had rainmakers on the stage, but when we added the dinosaur, we had to add additional rain around him, and the rain falls on him, as well. So we needed rivulets of water and drops of rain falling off him and bouncing on his hide.” 

Wilson’s texture artists helped with that. When the dinosaurs are in the rain,
the artists provided drip maps that compositors synchronized with the water simulations to provide a final effect. 

“The process on this film was about trying to increase the quality of the dinosaurs beyond what we’d done previously,” Wuttke says. “A lot of that happened through detailed texture maps and displacement maps.”

And More

In addition to those two main locations enhanced with CG, the visual effects artists created some all-digital shots for the film. They replaced all but a small section of “main street” in the Jurassic World theme park, which had been shot in Hawaii. They created a CG lion, the CG environment, and a CG T. rex for a shot intended to be in a wildlife park in California. And, they created an all-digital sequence for the beginning of the film.

“That was work by ILP in Sweden, managed by ILM,” Vickery says. “J.A. again wanted to shoot a miniature, but even at one-third scale, which was the smallest I wanted to go, the submarine wouldn’t fit in any tanks. So, we had a full-scale submarine built, and shot it on a soundstage with a 50-foot technocrane doing camera moves around it. Then, we added the digital water.”

Vickery points to a shot toward the end of the first act, though, as his most difficult. The volcano is erupting, but our heroes Claire and Owen and the rescued dinosaurs have been loaded onto a boat just in time. The boat is leaving, and they’re looking over the stern at Isla Nublar. They see a lone Brachiosaurus working its way up the pier, consumed by smoke and steam, her long neck reaching out and above the smoky clouds.

“It’s an incredibly emotional moment in the movie,” Vickery says. “It’s a poetic shot, incredibly difficult technically. There’s light coming through pyroclastic clouds. The simulations took five days to run. The renderings another five days. The artists had to do multiple versions. It’s truly a beautiful shot.”

About halfway through production, a trailer was released with one shot from this sequence. 

“J.A. got a tweet from someone who had screen-grabbed the shot,” Vickery says. “The tweet said, ‘Be very careful, J.A.’

Vickery continues: “J.A. came to me and said, ‘I just got this tweet with a picture from Nublar. We’ve got to be very careful, Dave.’

“I said, ‘What does that even mean?’

“He said, ‘We’ve just got to be very careful.’

“So,” Vickery adds, “this shot was technically difficult, aesthetically difficult, and we needed to convey a subtle emotional message that J.A. wanted, plus someone on the Internet was telling us to be careful.”

Wuttke puts any fears to rest. 

“We don’t harm the Brachiosaurus,” he says. “We just see it disappear into a bunch of steam.” 

Difficult shots aside, for Vickery, the best part of working on this film was the collaboration between visual effects artists and those working with animatronics. That, and being part of film history.

“We breathe life into our CG characters, but being able to work with Neal [Scanlan], who is a master of his art, and see how he breathes life into the animatronics was great. I’ve worked at ILM only two years, and being able to work for ILM on a Jurassic Park film is a really wonderful thing.”

Few film franchises have had the staying power to last through 25 years, and stay exciting. But, the combination of a Spanish film director known for horror films, animatronics created by a master of that craft, and visual effects artists riding on the shoulders of 25 years of expertise and technological advances at ILM has resulted in a sensational film that can still stir the imagination of Jurassic fans.  

Barbara Robertson ( is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor forCGW.