Tuesday, December 9, 2014



Creating the Spinosaurus from the 2001 film Jurassic Park III...

The Spinosaurus is a dinosaur which lived in what is now North Africa from about 112 to 97 million years ago. It was first discovered in Egypt in 1912, but the original remains were destroyed in World War II when the Berlin museum holding them was bombed.

Spinosaurus is the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs. It was 41 to 59 feet in length and weighed from 8 to 23 tons. Its skull was long and narrow like a crocodile's, and it primarily ate fish. Evidence suggests it lived on land and water like a modern crocodile. Spinosaurus gets its name from the distinctive spines along its back and tail, which grew up to 5.5 feet long. These were connected by skin and muscle, although it is unclear if they formed a sail-like structure or had fat around them to form a hump.

Spinosaurus was chosen as the main villain of Jurassic Park III because director Joe Johnston felt that T. Rex looked too similar to every other carnivorous dinosaur. Oddly, the T. Rex-like Baryonyx was originally considered before Spinosaurus, but was rejected because it was smaller than T. Rex. However, Dr. Jack Horner, the chief paleontological expert advisor on the film, says that he convinced Johnston to adopt Spinosaurus because Horner believed T. Rex was a scavenger (not a predator). Sculptor Joey Orosco, who worked for the studio that did the animatronics on the film, has yet another reason for using the Spinosaur. A nearly-intact Spinosaur skull was found just as production work on Jurassic Park III was getting under way. Not only was Jurassic Park III incorporating new scientific discoveries into its dinosaurs (by adding features to velociraptors, for example), and not only did the movie series have a tradition of using new dinosaur discoveries (velociraptors were scaled up for the first film after much larger raptors were discovered in Montana just prior to the first film's start-date), but there was a sense that the new discovery might excite audiences -- who wanted to see the brand-new dinosaur discovery on the big screen.

Early on, the writers wanted to have Spinosaurus kill off a T. Rex as a metaphorical means of differentiating the third movie from the previous two. They believed a Spinosaurus could do it: It easily outweighed a T. Rex (23 tons to 7 tons), and was much bigger (almost 60 feet, compared to just 40 feet). Spinosaurus clearly walked on all fours at times, and its 15-foot-long, muscular forearms were no match for the tiny, useless limbs of a T. Rex. Its teeth were also much longer and sharper, just right for slicing into armored fishes of the era. (Subsequent research has indicated that the movie is dead wrong. A Spinosaurus jaw was rigged for snapping shut swiftly, not biting down with terrific force. The Spinosaurus jaw cannot handle torque, and thus is not equipped for twisting flesh from live prey. There is also clear evidence now that if a Spinosaur was thrown to the ground, its sail spines would snap -- causing considerable damage to the animal. The backbone itself might even break.)

The Stan Winston Studio (SWS; now known as Legacy Effects) was hired to do live-action work on the film. They'd been hired for Jurassic Park based on their work on James Cameron's 1986 film Aliens, where the company constructed a 14-foot-tall Alien Queen animatronic.

The Spinosaurus was designed by concept artist Mark McCreery. Sculptor Joey Orosco then created a one-sixteenth-scale maquette from McCreery's sketches. Orosco experimented with a wide range of color schemes on this maquette, with the final color scheme seen in the film based on director Joe Johnston's desire to see far more colorful dinosaurs. A one-fifth scale maquette was then constructed.


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When the T. Rex in the first two films was made, a very complex animatronic molding process was used. An armature in the general shape of the maquette was fashioned from aluminum and wood. The neck and tail were constructed using a single spiral rather than separate circular rings attached to a central spine. The spiral meant that the "skin" of the animatronic did not slide or bunch up in places -- making the animatronic look more real, and making it much more stable. Chicken wire was then laid over the T. Rex frame. Fiberglass sheets and cloth were laid over the chicken wire in order to give the armature shape. Three tons of clay were then laid on top of these fiberglass/cloth layers. Sculptors needed 16 weeks to actually carve the surface. The clay then proved so heavy that the aluminum armature began to fail, and a steel armature had to be quickly built and substituted. Finally, a mold was made of the clay-covered armature. From this, a two-inch-thick foam rubber skin was made. The skin was so huge, it had to be cast in sections. Extra sections had to be cast just to cover the joints where the skin sections came together. The clay was removed, and the foam rubber skin fitted over the armature.

The T. Rex animatronic had two control systems. They were based on designs for flight simulators, and custom-built by McFadden Systems. One system provided gross motions for the animatronic. The second system was a smaller version of the gross one, and controlled the more detailed movements of the animatronic. Named "Wally", the smaller system required four people to operate it. The animatronic was also fitted with accelerometers. This device measured how fast the animatronic was moving. The 200-horsepower hydraulics inside the animatronic could move the T. Rex up to 7.5 feet per second. At this speed, a puppeteer could move the skull (or neck or limb or jaws) so fast that the weight of the animatronic would rip the skull from the neck before it could be slowed down and stopped. The accelerometers also added a measure of safety, so that the animatronic would not move so fast as to crush an actor or stunt person.

When finished, the T. Rex for the first film weighed 9 tons, was 40 feet long, and could lift itself 24 feet into the air.

A second T. Rex animatronic was created for close-ups in the first film. The skin on the second animatronic was more detailed, and had a far more realistic paint scheme. Because this animatronic was used with actors and stunt people, its motions were recorded and replicated by computer. Movement could be rehearsed very slowly to ensure that the actor was not touched or harmed. It would then be performed by the computer swiftly in exactly the same movement (something a human operator could never do).

One of the major problems with the T. Rex animatronics, however, was that the foam rubber skin absorbed water. The animatronic was so heavy that even a few pounds of water in the skin would cause the T. Rex to quiver and shake like a thing with Parkinson's disease. It needed to be toweled off repeatedly to soak up the water, and fans ran on the soundstage at night to dry it out.


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Construction of the Spinosaurus, however, was much different due to sudden and rapid advances in computers. Orosco first created a one-sixteenth size maquette. Orosco, John Rosengrant, Trevor Hensley, Rob Ramsdell, and Paul Mejias then produced the one-fifth-scale maquette.

The full-scale armature was again made of steel. Because the skull had to move swiftly and yet provide incredible bite-strength, the Spinosaur skull was made of graphite. The armature was put under such stress that all welders had to pass a special test. The welds were a highly technical kind usually only used on high-performance engines, military aircraft, and in the space program.

The one-fifth-scale Spinosaurus maquette was not physically scaled up, but rather scanned with a laser. A computer then scaled up the maquette to full size and a machine milled the foam skin. Because the skin could be damaged, a mold was then made of the Spinosaurus. A fiberglass cloth (rather than layers of cloth and fiberglass) was mounted on the armature to provide a more supple look, and then the foam rubber skin mounted over it. The skin was then coated with silicone to give it a waterproof surface, and painted. The skin on the head was made of hard urethane rubber, not foam rubber, to withstand the massive impacts the hydraulics could deliver. The Spinosaur animatronic was designed to bite into and through things, which worried the production staff. So extra teeth were made for it. Rob Ramsdell sculpted and painted the 76 teeth needed for the Spinosaurus mouth. Several sets of teeth -- more than six hundred in total -- were sculpted and painted just in case one of the originals broke during filming.

Because of the size and weight of the Spinosaurus, and because it was supposed to be so much more powerful than the T. Rex, special high-performance hydraulics were used. These delivered 1,000 horsepower, and greatly magnified the speed of the animatronic. A hit from the Spinosaurus' snout at full speed could knock a person 20 feet into the air.

The Spinosaurus measured 45 feet in length and weighed 12.5 tons. Spinosaurus ran on nearly 1,000 horsepower compared to the Tyrannosaurus, which only ran on 200 horsepower.



To get the massive Spinosaurus animatronic out of the Winston manufacturing shop, the doors of the studio had to be cut taller and wider. The animatronic was too large to pass under bridges, so it made a circuitous route through Los Angeles. Worried that the site of a full-size dinosaur would cause traffic to stall in the city, Los Angeles police allowed the studio to move it only after dark.

Only the largest soundstage at Universal Studios could accommodate the Spinosaurus animatronic, and even then the soundstage floor had to be reinforced with steel beams to carry the weight. As in previous films, the Spinosaurus was built only from the knees up, as that was all that would appear on film. To allow it to move, the animatronic was placed atop a portion of a railroad car, and tracks laid down according to the route it would take to "walk" across the set. Final paint details were added on the set the day filming began.

In one scene, the Spinosaur tries to snap its jaws shut on people inside the fuselage of a downed airplane lying on the forest floor. Puppeteer Rob Ramsdell had only four breakaway fuselages to get it right. Director Joe Johnston wanted the jaws be open as they burst through the fuselage, and to then snap shut. It was a tricky shot, and they got it right on the third try.

The Spinosaurus animatronic was extensively used in the attack in the rain at night. This sequence, which lasts five minutes and 15 seconds from the moment the first shot of night-time rain begins until the Spinosaurus exits in flames, is almost all animatronic. There are only four shots in which a CGI Spinosaurus is used, and you can identify these because you can see the animal's legs.

One of the last scenes to be shot for Jurassic Park III was one of the first to appear in the film -- the fight between the Spinosaurus and T. Rex. The crew refurbished a T. Rex from The Lost World for the fight scene. Because Universal planned to scrap the animatronics after production on Jurassic Park III ended, Johnston and effects supervisor Stan Winston agreed that the two robots should really slam together as hard as possible to get as much great footage as possible.



Here's concept designer Mark "Crash" McCreery's final Spinosaur rendering.



The fight itself isn't much: The Spinosaurus bellows, the Rex bellows. There's a shot of the Rex's foot almost crushing Alan Grant (who lies in a log buried in the forest floor). The Rex lunges at the Spinosaurus, and grabs him by the side of the neck. The Spinosaurus falls to the ground, half on his side, but lurches upright. The Rex backs up, dragging the Spinosaurus with him, lets go for an instant, and bites down again. The Spinosaurus writhes free and snaps at the Rex -- who backs up and stays free. The Spinosaurus goes down on all fours, while the Rex bellows. The Rex turns to his left, and the Spinosaurus lurches up and forward. The two animals' jaws snap shut repeatedly, their bodies delivering side-slams to one another. The Rex backs up, and head-butts the Spinosaurus in its left side, heaving it slightly into the air and pushing it away. The Spinosaur lunges toward the Rex, and grabs him by the neck. There's a cut to Grant crawling away on his belly. The jump cut takes us back to the Spinosaurus, forcing the Rex's head to the ground and then twisting the Rex's neck to break the Rex's neck and kill it. There's a shot of Grant and others running away as the T. Rex's body falls to the ground near them. (As it was already on the ground, it's hard to see how that happened.) A 180-degree shot shows the gang running toward the camera as the Spinosaurus stands over his prey. A slight match-on-action edit shows the Spinosaurus, snout lowered, now raising its jaw and bellowing.

From the moment until Our Heroes rush into view again until the final roar of the Spinosaur, it's just 51 seconds. (It's 41 seconds from the point where they rush in and the T. Rex plops dead on the ground.)

Filming of this animatronic battle began at about 8 P.M., and concluded about dawn. As originally choreographed, the battle ended with the Spinosaurus lashing out with an arm and breaking the T. Rex's neck. On the stage, the Spinosaurus animatronic literally decapitated the T. Rex animatronic, and red hydraulic fluid spurted out the back like blood. Sadly, almost none of the animatronic footage was used. Johnston decided it looked more realistic to shoot the scene from the forest floor, looking up at these titans battled it out. That required seeing the dino's legs, and that meant CGI. Only the initial bellows and the shot of the Spinosaurus lifting its snout and roaring at the used the animatronics.

The film's conclusion was also supposed to involve the Spinosaurus. The shooting script had the Spinosaurus attacking the U.S. Marines on the beach. The unprepared military is scattered. Suddenly, the velociraptors rush in and kill the Spinosaurus. This long finale was cut from the shooting schedule, however, for reasons that are unclear.

Christopher Boyes designed the Spinosaurus roars, grunts, bellows and such. Some of the sounds were lifted without change from Suchomimus sounds from the 1999 video game Warpath: Jurassic Park and from the sounds made by the Carnosaurus from the 2000 Disney film Dinosaurs. The Spinosaurus bellow, however, is a combination of alligator, baby black bear squall, bird call, lion, and tiger.

Jurassic Park III was NOT nominated for a Best Visual Effects Oscar. The nominees included A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Pearl Harbor, and the winner, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Here's artist Joey Orosco sculpting the Spinosaur in one-sixteenth-scale.




Here's Joey Orosco again, working on the head.




And, at last, the full-size animatronic Spinosaurus!

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