When the stop-motion specialist
was working on 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” he saw a dinosaur created entirely through computer-generated imagery, technology that was in its infancy at the time.
Asked how he felt, he recalls saying: “I feel extinct.” The quip was so memorable that a variation of it wound up in the movie.
Mr. Tippett wasn’t the only special-effects pro with that assessment. When
who worked on the mechanical characters of “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” first saw “Jurassic Park,” it was as if the all-too-real T. Rex was stomping over his livelihood.
“The moment I saw it, I felt it was the beginning of the end,” Mr. Scanlan says. “I did literally re-evaluate my career at that point.”
Some 25 CGI-glutted years later, physical special-effects techniques, also called practical effects, are making a comeback in, of all things, the latest “Jurassic Park” installment. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” whose budget Box Office Mojo estimates at $170 million, is scheduled to open in the U.S. on June 22.
After an extended career hiatus, Mr. Scanlan is also back, thanks to filmmakers with a rekindled interest in making creatures they can touch. In addition, practical effects have become more sophisticated since 1993, with advances in techniques such as rod-operated puppetry that allow for more fluid movement.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” featured a monstrous, partly motor-controlled worm puppet, augmented with CGI. In September,
reboot “The Predator” features work by creature-effects company Amalgamated Dynamics.
For “Fallen Kingdom,” writer-producer
purposefully created more scenes that would lend themselves to practical techniques.
“Not for sentimental reasons,” he says, “but because it looks better, it feels better, it connects the audience with the creatures in a way that CG doesn’t in certain scenarios.”
As the new movie’s creature supervisor, Mr. Scanlan spent more than eight months on the production in England’s Pinewood Studios. With a crew of about 35, he brought the creatures to life using animated mechanical creatures, or animatronics, as well as puppetry.
In key scenes, the velociraptor Blue is essentially an elaborate puppet. There are mechanics beneath the creature’s foam-latex skin, controlling the eyes, eyelids, jaw and tongue, and air bladders to simulate vascular activity. Its bodily movements are made, in a kind of choreographed dance, by a dozen rod-wielding puppeteers.
According to director
allowing the actors to perform opposite tangible and reactive creatures was invaluable. “It was important to make sure that in those close-ups, where the actors touched the dinosaurs, that the interaction between them actually worked,” he says. “The performance is better when you act before something real.”
Mr. Scanlan described one scene in which actor
mingled with several puppeteer-wielded baby raptors, each about the size of a small dog. “When Chris knelt down, one puppeteer brought this raptor up to him and started to nuzzle his hand,” says Mr. Scanlan. “He immediately engaged with it like it was a real little dinosaur. They were able to play. And at one point, the puppeteer snapped at his finger, and Chris reacted to that in a completely real way.”
He adds: “It becomes a very sort of organic process and a very real piece of theater.”
Mr. Scanlan believes that moviegoers respond to such practical effects differently than they do computer-generated ones, even if they aren’t aware which is which.
“Digital effects today are so incredible that they in some ways ask too much of you as an audience. They present to you things which you know are not real in a realistic way,” he says. “With a practical effect, all your senses are telling you this is real.”
Some scenes exceed the possibilities of even the most advanced practical effects, however, such as when a full-bodied dinosaur breaks into a run. In these moments, a creature introduced to the audience as a practical effect will transition to CGI.
In 1993, the use of CGI in “Jurassic Park” overshadowed some of the practical effects. The scene of the first T. Rex attack, for example, in which it terrorizes children in a stalled Jeep, cuts between a CGI-rendered creature and one of two life-size, hydraulic-based robots, a triumph of engineering as well as molding and skin techniques.
“It was a 10,000-plus-pound creature that could stop on a dime,” says
who worked as a puppeteer and effects supervisor on the original trilogy as well as in the 2015 movie “Jurassic World.” He estimates that, of the 17 minutes or so of creatures in the two-hour “Jurassic Park,” about 10 minutes relied on practical effects.
That marriage of techniques was maintained over its sequels, “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III,” which at times featured a single creature with a practical front half and a CGI back.
Mr. Trevorrow says that he didn’t use as many animatronics as he would have liked in “Jurassic World,” which he co-wrote and directed. “There were some nerves about going down into the jungle with a giant animatronic dinosaur.”
That film featured a single animatronic of a dying Apatosaurus. Elsewhere, motion-capture technology was used, with the help of four men in gray skintight suits making dinosaur-like movements.
“Fallen Kingdom” is a darker movie, centering on animal trafficking and abuse. In Mr. Trevorrow’s view, the tactile nature of the creatures themselves is the heart of the movie.
“Ultimately these movies are about our relationship to animals on the planet, and what our responsibilities are to them,” he says. “Using these puppets, which feel completely real in the moment, became a vital component in what we’re trying to do emotionally.”