by Michael S. Palmer
With the 'Jurassic Park Trilogy' coming to Blu-ray next month, Universal Studios Home Entertainment graciously invited High-Def Digest to sit down four members of the blockbuster film's cast and crew. On the crew side, we met Dennis Murren (the Godfather of CGI who cut his teeth on 'Star Wars' and 'Close Encounters'), Phil Tippet (a stop motion animator who also worked on 'Star Wars' and 'Temple of Doom'. He was original hired to do the dinosaurs for 'Jurassic Park' until the decision was made to go digital; he later designed the creatures for 'Starship Troopers' and runs a VFX studio), and John Rosengrant (who worked with Stan Winston until he passed away in 2008; his credits include everything from 'The Terminator' through 'Iron Man' and the last two 'Twilight' films). After talking to these guys, we then sat down with Ariana Richards, who played Lex in 'Jurassic Park' and 'The Lost World.'
Dennis Murren, Phil Tippet, and John Rosengrant are effects wizards any film geek could follow around for days (or weeks), picking their brains and finding out how they did this or that. Sadly, we were only given a few minutes to speak with all three. It definitely wasn't enough time to get anything in depth, so for that I apologize in advance. Here's what they had to say:
IT'S REALLY AN HONOR TO MEET ALL OF YOU. THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME. DO YOU GUYS HAVE HOME CINEMAS?
[Phil and John shake their heads, no.]
Dennis: No, but I have a 65-inch big screen TV.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE DEMO DISCS?
John: I just watched 'Bullit' the other day and thought it was fantastic.
'JURASSIC PARK' IS ONE OF THE FIRST INSTANCES OF A PHOTO-REALISTIC CGI CHARACTER OR CREATURE, YET WHY DOES IT LOOK BETTER THAN MANY, MORE MODERN USES OF CGI?
Dennis: Well, we had been working on the technology for that for at least a year or two, just to see if it was ready. And Phil had been studying animals for decades. And Stan's group had been studying animal sculpting for decades. So the basis of the look and the motion is in reality. I think what's going on now, and it's been going on for the last ten years, is that people are copying movies instead of copying reality. So if you see a dinosaur film that was made ten years ago, they were probably looking at 'Jurassic Park,' but those of us who made 'Jurassic Park' were looking at wild animals like rhinos and giraffes. We were looking at the real thing. I think that's so important to be able to make this stuff look real.
Phil: You use your observational skills.
John: There's this video game mentality too. You know, there's no gravity and it should be flying at 150mph. And with these animals, it was 'Oh, what could these animals really run at? How would he really move?'
Phil: There's also an economic aspect to it too, which is off-shoring stuff. Sending it taxed based places where the studios get back millions of dollars, but the talent pool isn't there. So they save a bunch of money, but they get crap work.
John: And if it does well at the box office that enables them to keep doing it. Because they're not looking at it from an artistic point of view. It's a bean counter's point of view.
WHAT WAS EACH OF YOUR LOWEST POINTS DURING THE PRODUCTION, AND WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Phil: I did fail! I thought I was going to get fired, but they kept me on.
[editor's note: Phil was originally hired to use his go-motion stop animation to create the dinosaur effects before the decision was made to have digital dinosaurs. Spielberg kept him on the crew to help supervise Dinosaur movements and animation. One way he did this was by creating a stop-motion puppet with digital sensors; imagine an early version of motion-capture.]
John: You switched tools; you got a new wrench.
Dennis: I think every day could have been a failure, and I'm serious about that, but the dailies the next day were so exciting you just kept on moving and saying this is amazing stuff. But every day there were serious problems.
John: It's hard work, but a labor of love. We were really excited about doing this so long hours or whatever it was taking to create a 9,000 pound T-Rex, we waded through it because it was so exciting to see that thing move.
ARE THE T-REXS AND SPINOSAURUS THE BIGGEST CHARACTERS YOU'VE EVER CREATED?
John: Yes. Absolutely, the Spinosaurus was enormous. It was 24,000 pounds, a thousand horsepower with the accumulators all moving. That thing was like a small plane.
PHIL, DID YOU EVER IMAGINE YOU'D BE WORKING WITH DIGITAL EFFECTS IN YOUR CAREER?
Phil: There were no digital effects when I started my career, so how could I possibly imagine it! It snuck up and bit me on the thigh. [he turns to John] What did you guys do with the T-Rexs.
John: I think they were all dismantled.
THEY'RE KICKING ME OUT. THANKS, GUYS.
[THE STERN-LOOKING FOLKS OFF TO THE SIDE KICK ME OUT. I THEN RUSHED OVER TO ANOTHER ROOM TO MEET ARIANA, WHERE WE HAD A FULL FIVE MINTUES.]
HI, ARIANA. I CHECKED OUT YOUR ART, AND IT'S FANTASTIC. REALLY IMPRESSIVE.
Ariana: You did? Thank you so much.
FIRST, HDD PRIMARILY REVIEWS BLU-RAY. DO YOU HAVE A HOME CINEMA OR ANY FAVORITE BLU-RAYS?
Ariana: Of course, and how could I not care about seeing Jurassic on Blu-ray. I'm excited to see what they do with the HD for sure.
HAVE YOU SEEN IT YET?
Ariana: No, I actually haven't gotten to see it on Blu-ray yet, but it is coming very soon.
IS THERE A QUESTION NO ONE EVER ASKS IN THESE PRESS JUNKETS THAT YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO ANSWER (OR A SUBJECT YOU'VE WANTED TO TALK ABOUT)?
Ariana: That's a very good question. Do you have something in mind?
NO, I FIGURE YOU'RE HEARING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN, SO I WAS TRYING TO SPARE YOU THAT.
Ariana: That's really nice of you, but I don't know. I'd like you to surprise me.
OKAY, IN YOUR ART/PAINTINGS. HAS WORKING WITH A VISUAL MAESTRO LIKE STEVEN SPIELBERG, BEING ON SET AND WORKING WITH HIM, HAS THAT INSPIRED OR INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
Ariana: That is actually a really good question and thank you so much for that. Absolutely, working with Steven was so impactful for me. Watching the way he would work and visually compose scenes. He would walk around and do this [Ariana makes the universal director hand-framing a shot gesture] and frame up an image. That was very common for me to see, and I did. I embraced that and brought it into my work along with wanting to express the essence. When you play a character, you want the emotion to come through. So I'm doing that when I paint these portraits of people and express that magic of bringing them to life. Really, in a sense, becoming my own director.
WHAT WAS THE CASTING PROCESS LIKE? I IMAGINE IT WAS MONTHS AND MONTHS.
Ariana: The casting process was not months and months, actually. It was very fast. Steven had seen me in some other projects I had done prior to Jurassic and liked my work. And he wanted me to come in and audition screaming and be put on tape just screaming. I didn't even really know anything about the project at that time; I hadn't read the script for anything. So I screamed and then he, apparently, watched the tape of all the girls screaming that day. He was sitting at home on the couch next to his wife, Kate, who was sleeping. He went through a couple screamers, and there I was. As soon I started screaming, she leapt up off the couch and started running into the hallway to see if her kids were okay. So, shortly after that, Steven invited me to come into his office and meet him. This was on my way to Disneyland, so I decided it was okay to take a detour --
Ariana: And after a few minutes, Steven asked me 'So, Ariana, are you busy this summer?' Of course I said no, and that was the beginning. And I have to say, maybe he did this on purpose, but when I first walked into his office, he got up and bumped his head on the chandelier, which put me at ease right away. So I think maybe he did that on purpose.
WHAT'S IT LIKE ACTING AGAINST NOTHING (FOR THE CGI) VS. ACTING AGAINST ANIMATRONIC DINOSAURS?
Ariana: Acting with the dinosaurs was so remarkable because they were so incredibly realistic, the level of detail that Stan Winston and Phil Tippet and Dennis Muren put into these dinosaurs. There was so much for me to draw from. I stepped into that world and really felt like I was in Jurassic Park. There were only very few times when there wasn't a dinosaur there, and in that case I would remember what it was like to work with them.
AT THE TIME YOU'D BEEN ACTING SINCE A YOUNG AGE, BUT WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BECOME WORLD FAMOUS AS A TEENAGER?
Ariana: That's an interesting question too. I went through Jurassic and it was so exciting. I had no idea it was going to be so huge afterwards. Then it hit and everybody was so excited about it. As an example, I couldn't eat lunch without a line of people wanting to talk to me and ask for my autograph. It was really intense, but at the same time, a lot of people were so positive about it, so excited. I never had anyone be difficult; they were always really appreciative of it, and excited to meet me. I have to say there were times when it got a little overwhelming.
LAST QUESTION. YOU MENTIONED IN ONE OF THE BLU-RAY'S NEW DOCUMENTARIES THAT ONE OF THE REASONS YOU LOVED YOUR CHARACTER WAS THAT SHE WAS AN INSPIRATION TO YOUNG GIRLS IN TERMS OF COMPUTERS AND SCIENCE [editor's note: remember, this is 1993 folks and home computers were not quite as ubiquitous], DID YOU EVER GET A CHANCE TO MEET ANY OF THOSE FANS?
Ariana: I did. Actually, I was really happy when I got a chance to talk to people who said, 'You know what, Ariana, after all these years, I wanted to let you know how much your work in Jurassic affected me, how much the story affected me and inspired me to take this direction in my life and learn these skills. And I want you to know how much you meant to me. And that is really been rewarding to me.
EXCELLENT, THANKS VERY MUCH.
AND THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE AT UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT. I WISH WE COULD HAVE SPENT MORE TIME WITH THE VFX WIZARDS, BUT IF YOUI CHECK OUT THE BLU-RAY ON OCTOBER 25TH, IT HAS A NEW SIX-PART DOCUMENTARY WHERE YOU GET TO KNOW THEM PRETTY WELL.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SCENE OR EFFECT IN 'JURASSIC PARK'? AND HOW WOULD YOU RANK THE TRIOLOGY IN TERMS OF QUALITY? HIT UP THE FORUM LINK BELOW. CHEERS!