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Since its very inception, the Jurassic film franchise has made a consistent effort to utilize practical dinosaur effects wherever possible. While the 1993 original represented a watershed moment for CGI, the digital tools spearheaded by Industrial Light & Magic were used sparingly in an effort to subtly enhance the jaw-dropping creature designs cooked up by the late great Stan Winston. After three decades — when computers have evolved to the point where any Hollywood filmmaker can realize their wildest visions — Universal Pictures' prehistoric property still takes advantage of old-school animatronics for an underlying note of realism you just can't achieve with a chain of ones and zeroes.
This commitment to preserving the visual effects of a bygone era takes center stage in an exclusive, behind-the-scenes clip from the impending home release of Jurassic World Dominion. "We love to create as much in-camera [as possible]. The eye corners could move left and right and the eyelids can track up and down," explains Live-Action Dinosaur Supervisor, John Nolan, in reference to the character of Blue's daughter, Beta. "Every time the eyes blink, they pull into the skull ... it just makes it look even more organic."
The clip — appropriately titled "Passing the Torch" — also features three generations of Jurassic cast members: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Sam Neill (Alan Grant), and Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood).
Chatting with SYFY WIRE over Zoom, the movie's VFX supervisor, Oscar-nominated David Vickery, describes Dominion as "an exercise in restraint," while recounting an early production meeting with director, co-writer, and executive producer, Colin Trevorrow.
"My producer and I … had broken down the script and we estimated how many visual effects shots we thought [would be required for the movie]," he says. "[We were like], ‘There’s going to be 1,500 visual effects shots in this film.’ And Colin went, ‘What?! No! Jurassic films only have 1,000 shots,’ which, by modern standards, is a pretty low shot count. But it was really just Colin saying, ‘Rein it in, we don't need to be bigger and bigger every time. We're just going to be better.’"
Even for scenes that required fully CGI dinos, practical puppets were still constructed in order for the digital VFX artists to have a frame of reference. A prime example of this can be found in the scene where Owen and Kayla (DeWanda Wise) square off with the Pyroraptor shortly after crashing on the frozen lake just outside of the Biosyn Valley.
"We created a beautiful animatronic feathered dinosaur to use as reference for how the wind ruffled his feathers, but we removed it entirely in post-production," Vickery reveals. "There were creatures like Beta or some of the Dimorphodons, which were entirely practical, and they were rod puppeteered, so we could have puppeteers standing out of frame. It’s a really honest and direct connection to the creature, they could animate it, and we could paint that out. The challenge for us in that respect for visual effects was we would have to then create digital versions of those physical puppets and put them side-by-side and not be able to tell the difference."
That philosophy "was multiplied tenfold" when it came time to shoot the climactic sequence with the largest predator to ever walk the face of the Earth: the Giganotosaurus.
"We had a practical head and neck and a digital extension to the rest of the creature in one shot; and then the next shot, it would be just a practical head of the dinosaur (you couldn't see anything else); and then the next shot, [we had] a fully digital dinosaur," Vickery continues. "We were cutting from one shot to the next using all of these different techniques. It had to be so convincing, that the audience would watch the scene and just go along for the ride and not be able to tell the tools that we used to make those pictures."
Currently available to rent or purchase on digital platforms and VOD, Jurassic World Dominion arrives on Blu-Ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD tomorrow — Tuesday, Aug. 16 — with a slew of bonus features, including an extended cut of the film that contains 14 minutes of never-before-seen footage. "There's loads of additional content," Vickery promises. "There are a number of additional visual effects shots. There’s a battle between a digital Oviraptor and a practical Lystrosaurus, which is really good fun and a bit scary."
See below for a breakdown of special features:
EXTENDED VERSION — An extended cut of the film with 14 minutes of additional footage featuring more dinosaurs, action, iconic character moments and an alternate opening
BATTLE AT BIG ROCK** — Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the short film takes place one year after the events of JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM in Big Rock National Park.
A NEW BREED OF VFX — VFX supervisor David Vickery and the magicians at ILM discuss the incredible visual effects work featured in JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION.
TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME — Cast and filmmakers discuss the evolution of the franchise and the special union of characters from JURASSIC PARK and JURASSIC WORLD.
UNDERGROUND DINO MARKET — Join filmmakers for a tour of the amazing dino market set and discover how they brought it to life.
MAYHEM IN MALTA — A behind-the-scenes look at the Atrociraptor rooftop chase and Owen’s harrowing motorcycle ride through the narrow streets and alleyways of Malta.
SPIT TAKE: THE RETURN OF THE DILOPHOSAURUS — Live-action dinosaurs supervisor John Nolan and his team reveal how they created the impressive Dilophosaurus animatronic.
INSIDE THE DIMETRODON — Learn how the filmmaking team operated the terrifying Dimetrodon animatronic and hear from Laura Dern and Sam Neill on what it was like working with it.
CREATING A PLAGUE — Laura Dern and Bryce Dallas Howard discuss the enormous locusts featured in JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION and the creature effects team reveals how they were created and deployed.
PASSING THE BATON — Discover the craftsmanship behind the realistic-looking Beta animatronic and hear from Chris Pratt and Isabella Sermon on why they enjoyed working with it.
GIGA-BITE — Go behind the scenes with the cast of JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION as they are introduced to the biggest star of the film, the Giganotosaurus, for the very first time.
FINAL NIGHT — Witness the emotional final night of filming with the cast and crew of JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION.
* At participating Digital retailers
** Included on all formats including DVD
If you have yet to catch Dominion on the big screen, don't sweat it — the film is still playing in a number of select theaters. To date, the trilogy capper has brought in a little over $960 million worldwide and if box office sales continue to climb, it may very well join the billion-dollar club along with its two predecessors.