The best of both Jurassic worlds: practical and digital


“We gave Neal a 200 million polygon file from the T. rex at one-to-one scale. He started printing it but two days later he rang me panicking, going, ‘David, David. I can see poly faces! I can see the polygons in my 3D print! We need more resolution!’” – David Vickery, visual effects supervisor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

At one point in J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the characters Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) find themselves in a shipping container with a groggy T. rex…which then wakes up.

It’s a thrilling scene, thanks to the close-quarters action, and one that involved a close collaboration between Neal Scanlan’s practical creatures and ILM’s digital visual effects, overseen by supervisors David Vickery and Alex Wuttke. That collaboration included the provision of digital models early on from ILM to Scanlan so that the practical and CG dinos would match as tightly as possible.

vfxblog sat down with David Vickery at ILM in London where the VFX supe outlined how the T. rex container sequence was handled.

David Vickery: What we were able to do with the T. rex in the container and Blue on the operating table was to help Neal get an authentic match of the creature effects build to ILM’s digital model. We took our digital models and, based on the previs, we were able to pose the T. rex, that digital T. rex, in the same way as the previs, and then take our high resolution model and actually then bake all of the displacement from the textures back into the model.

Actually, we did it a couple of times because we gave Neal like a 200 million polygon file from the T. rex at one-to-one scale. And he started printing it and two days later he rang me panicking, going, ‘David, David. I can see poly faces. I can see the polygons in my 3D print. We need more resolution.’

We worked out that for the 3D print not to show the facets of the polys, we had to go down to one millimeter square for every single polygon, which was kind of fine on Blue because she’s not that big. So at one to one scale we had a file that ended up being about three gigabytes, which the 3D printing software could actually just about deal with, but when you upscale that to a full size T. rex, you ended up with like a 40 gig file that nobody could actually open outside of ILM. So we had to carve her down into separate sections and then hand them over to Neal.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt with the T. rex.

The level of detail that was in the 3D print and all of these tiny individual scales were literally exactly the same as the 3D model. So from that, both with the T. rex and Blue, he would then create a silicon mould which he could cast back into and start to create his silicon animatronic version and the skeletons that sit underneath it. It was very satisfying to to get the scans of the main unit photography back with the T. rex and Blue in, and line our digital model up and go, ‘Holy shit. It lines up. It matches!’ There’s a degree of movement, especially in the T. rex where it’s just such a large object that it physically deformed itself very slightly, but they line up and it just made the job of either extending or enhancing and replacing parts of the T. rex.

Then we divided the T. rex in the container up into a couple of different beats, the first being all of this stuff where Claire and Owen get in and are moving around it and it’s practical all the way through that beat, until it really starts waking up. It’s not entirely practical because we added in the T. rex’s front arms moving underneath the tarpaulin. And so even from the very beginning you are seeing the claws in the back of the container moving. Those are digital.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director J. A. Bayona on set with a Neal Scanlan practical Indoraptor, a build made possible thanks to close collaboration with ILM.

The other reason why we needed an animatronic is because Claire rides it. So all the time Claire’s on it and until she climbs out the top of the container, we had the practical animatronic there, but we actually started replacing it from around when Claire gets on top in the wider shots.

And then as we begin to get more, more and more movement in the T. rex, we started to take over with bits of CG. Probably a bit earlier than you may realise when you’re watching the movie. And that was really just to get more, initially just a slightly more natural movement to the way the head is swinging, but also because we realized we were going to need to do vibrations and defamations to the size of the container, so we needed to do the digital T. rex for those purposes anyway. And then just to get the subtle kind of nose bellowing and cheek movements and jowl wobble to start to add that in and enhance the animatronic in those ways.

Once Claire’s gone, we had a second shoot where we took the T. rex out altogether because we knew that Owen was going to have to jump through the mouth and that’s not something we wanted to do with the practical animatronic because we didn’t want to hide Owen’s performance. We didn’t want to have an animatronic blocking Owen and have to rebuild his performance because we masked it with a dinosaur that was in slightly the wrong place.

We did that with a very simple lightweight foam cardboard version that was covered in a grey cloth. And that just gave us the additional flexibility to have the T. rex moving fast enough and be able to do it safely with Chris Pratt. And in those instances, the T. rex is fully CG. For me, that’s the only part where, in the scene, it’s just those last couple of shots where you start to realise you’re looking at a CG T. rex and that’s because of the movement is just over-cranked a little bit. But it needed to be for the sort of attention and the sort of emotion of the moment.

Stay tuned to for more Fallen Kingdom articles during #jurassicweek Mark II.