It’s basically psychotic. It doesn’t have a mother. It has no sense of right or wrong and it’s a bit unhinged. – Alex Wuttke, visual effects supervisor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The genetically engineered Indoraptor is a new kind of dinosaur introduced in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. For the film’s effects teams, it was the opportunity to explore different creature behaviours, motion and emotion, particularly because ‘Indo’ was, as a result of his creation, somewhat of a neurotic dinosaur.
For on set, Neal Scanlan’s team built and puppeteered practical Indo pieces, while in CG, ILM worked on introducing twitches to the mentally unstable dino, which also had to have the ability to go from a biped to a quadruped. vfxblog sat down with ILM visual effects supervisors David Vickery and Alex Wuttke and animation supervisor Jance Rubinchik to talk through how they ‘found’ their Indoraptor character.
From practical to digital
David Vickery: Neal Scanlan and I kind of sat down right at the beginning and I said, ‘Look, I need you. We can’t do this right without creature effects. The actors need to have something to perform with. The camera needs to have something to react to.’
Jance Rubinchik: You always get a more believable performance on the day when you have something real that the actors can play against. For us, and for J.A., it was really important for him that there was a sense of realism in the film. It was really important for him to try to shoot things practical whenever he could.
David Vickery: As soon as you introduce somebody puppeteering something physical, everything becomes so much more organic and natural. But at the same time, Neal was very open to the limitations of his craft. And you can’t often get the speed of movement that you need or perhaps you can’t get the subtleties of lip curls or eye blinks that you need. And sometimes it just slows down shooting to a point where it’s not practical. So we very carefully tried to divide up, divide and conquer, and also just realise that in some instances we’re going to replace little bits or enhance little bits of the animatronics and not be too precious about that.
Alex Wuttke: It’s a huge bonus to be able to have Neal and team puppeteering on set. Firstly, it cuts down on the time that you spend in post just trying to find the animation when you can get a performance right in front of camera that J.A.’s looking at. The DP’s lighting it. The cameraman’s tracking it. It’s a huge bonus and it saves a huge amount of time as well.
David Vickery: So what we had was a practical Indoraptor head down to the shoulders. We had an Indoraptor arm and leg as well. We built non animatronic, full scale versions of dinosaurs that were very straightforward foam sculpts that we would leave in in cells and cages in the backgrounds just to try and fill things in.
Jance Rubinchik: When they did have shots where they used the practical Indo head and it was puppeteered on the day, we matched that motion in the layout department when got that in anim, we preserved that motion as sort of a base line. That added a little sense of realism to some of the shots, where, when you’re watching it, I don’t think you can quite tell whether it’s real or not. I think that definitely comes from that foundation in sort of, those practical things they shot on the day.
David Vickery: The Indoraptor arm rig could be puppeteered by somebody or mounted onto a pole if we needed further reach. And we had a flexing claw for the moment when Claire gets it snapped through her leg and then they had a rig which we could put on a dolly or we could lie down on the floor.
Alex Wuttke: Sometimes we’re using the performance that was found on the day as the basis and then really matching our animation to that. Then, just adding subtleties like tendons and muscle firing, which Neal’s team didn’t have the time to engineer into their animatronics.
David Vickery: When the Indoraptor is attacking Wheatley in the cell, just before he escapes, we have replaced the Indoraptor in all but one of the shots in the movie. And that’s mostly down to creative changes in his design – subtle creative upgrades and changes in his design. But we found that when we animated him, we had to pare that animation back and actually sometimes deliberately leaving almost slightly mechanical movements.
Jance Rubinchik: When you have something and you have a person holding and it’s got that happening weight and there’s a big head there. They’re sort of puppeteering it around. It gives us at least something from reality that we can sort of draw from. And whenever you’ve got that thread of realism, that you can connect to the CG. I think that gives you something just a bit more believable in the end, than if you were just sort of imagining it from nothing.
David Vickery: Neal also had two puppeteers who we came up with this idea for a one to one scale inflatable dinosaur. Which when you say it, if you just write inflatable dinosaur, it sounds silly. But this gave us great eyeline reference. We knew that with Blue we could put a hat on and a tail on one performer, which they did in Jurassic World and it worked really well, but the Indoraptor is so much bigger. He’s like almost 10 feet when he’s standing in that kind of classic raptor pose. 10 feet to the top of his head and so he’s so much longer that we needed more than one person to puppeteer him.
What we were able to do is have one guy puppeteering the tail, another one puppeteering the head and they knew roughly the distance apart from each other that they needed to be in order to fit this sort of invisible volume of the Indoraptor in between. It just allowed us to actually give the actors something to perform with and the cameraman. And it gave J.A. the ability to direct a performance of his dinosaur on set. What we tried to do was rehearse with the Indoraptor puppet, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and then make sure we’re happy and then take it out and shoot the same camera move. And the cameraman knows what he needs to do and the actors know what they need to do.
There’s nothing clever about it, but it’s just allowing the people on set to be as engaged with the visual effects process as they can be. The reality of what happens of course is J.A. gets a take, he likes it and goes, ‘Did we shoot that?’ And we go, ‘No, because it’s got the performer in it.’ He went, ‘Well, shoot it next time.’ So then they do it with the performer again and they shoot it and you’re stuck with a massive inflatable dinosaur in the middle of your shot.
And then we’ll do say three clean passes and none of them have the same energy. None of them, because the actors are not performing with anything and the cameraman is not looking at anything. So more often than not, you end up with a puppet in frame. But still, you’ve got the best shot, that was the goal. Get the best shot that you can and then we clean him out.
Often the puppet would give us the sort of subtleties of the interactions with foliage on the floor or with branches, for example. It would give you a subtle sense of interaction of your digital dinosaur for free. We still have to do a lot of work to integrate and have the set interact with Indo.
‘Mentally unstable’ – getting under Indo’s skin
Jance Rubinchik: As far as J.A. was concerned, this was a dinosaur that was built to be a weapon, more so than any of the other dinosaurs we’ve seen in the other movies where their primary purpose for existing was entertainment in the zoo-like setting. Indo was really built to be a weapon used by governments or militaries. It’s a result of that. He was raised in a cage.
J.A.’s vision was that it created some flaws in the DNA. We took that idea of there being these errors in the DNA and how that would present itself in Indo. Indo has some missing scales and just some weird misshaped scales and with some scale patterns with a lot of different scale patterns bleeding into one another.
Then we took that a step further to think about maybe this affected Indo mentally. There’s genetic manipulation or over-manipulation present itself with Indo. I had this idea of him being twitchy. His hands were constantly trembling or twitching and he had these uncontrollable head ticks.
Alex Wuttke: The idea was that the Indoraptor had a nervous system that was almost not quite ready for prime time. So it has these nervous ticks. And it has all these little shakes and shivers through its muscles. And it’s basically psychotic. It doesn’t have a mother. It has no sense of right or wrong and it’s a bit unhinged. That was sort of a very early concept that we played with. All the way from concept art, all the way into the animation as it appears on the screen.
Jance Rubinchik: The first thing I did was just jump in and started doing some animation tests with Indo. I looked at some animal reference and even looked at some reference of people with Tourette syndrome to just see some of the uncontrollable ticks that they have, to reference something that felt sort of unnatural in the way that Indo moved.
We built some specialized controls to be able to drive those muscles and animation. That would get passed down to the creatures department and they could use that to drive the muscles sims so we could do some really specific muscle performance with Indo. The more aggressive he gets, the angrier he gets, the twitchier he’ll become. And that was something fun and unique to Indo.
There was moments when we would take it too far – where maybe he had one too many cups of coffee that morning. So, we’d have to try to dial it back down. We’d have to keep going back and forth between what we would see in our animation playblast movies, versus what the TDs were rendering. Sometimes the muscle twitches would read very well in animation. They would go through the creatures department, get sim’d, we’d see them rendered and we just wouldn’t read the twitching at all. So we’d go back and we would ramp it up.
Then we would have shots where we thought the twitching was reading well in animation. We would get to the render stage and then would see that it felt way too much – where the skin was sliding too much. The twitches were too big. So there’s definitely a fine balance in there.
Alex Wuttke: There’s one shot in particular of the Indoraptor in the middle of the chase through the Lockwood mansion. I think our heroes have snuck down, behind the little doorway, heading down into one of the Diorama rooms. The Indoraptor is looking for them. It gets down on all fours and starts to sniff the floors and at one point it kind of drags its face along the floor and picks it up again. That was something that the animator just felt was the right thing to do at the time – to try the unexpected. It just really helped to embellish the mannerisms and characteristics of Indo.
Biped to quadruped
Jance Rubinchik: A key component of Indo is that he can move in between biped and quadruped seamlessly. Part of that is the ability to use his hands so much better than the other dinos. Unlike with Indominus Rex in the other film, Indo’s arms are much longer, which definitely helps with that. In the design process of Indo, that was definitely something that we had to keep in mind is, that when he would need to go between biped and quadruped, sort of locking modes, that, the arms were long enough that he didn’t feel awkward when we get down on all fours.
We ended up having to lengthen them just a bit so that Indo still looked creepy and cool and scary when he was on all fours. That extra length in the arms just gave us the ability to do more with Indo. That was definitely something we sort of keyed into. It was a fine balance with that, because sometimes, Indo would start to feel a bit too anthropomorphic. Too human like. And we would have that back a bit. J.A. was sort of adamant that it still felt like an animal.
The hardest stuff in the film really was whenever Indo needed to move between biped and quadruped. That sort of transition was always tricky. The two biggest sequences where you see that happening is in the Diorama room where Indo’s smashing through the glass and trying to get towards Owen, Claire and Maisie. And that was particularly challenging just to get some scary posing on Indo, so he felt threatening when we wasn’t in his biped raptor mode.
Stay tuned to vfxblog.com for more Fallen Kingdom articles during #jurassicweek Mark II.