Jurassic Park Effects Supervisor Explains His Groundbreaking Work

Dozens of times a year, and this is no exaggeration, I compare effects in current films to Jurassic Park, more often than not saying in a fit of rage, “If JP did this good a job 20 years ago, why don’t these effects look up to par?!” Look at the 1993 release of Jurassic Park and compare it to films like G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, which was made for almost $100 million more, and try not to be infuriated by the filmmakers’ laziness.

Well we have the film's visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren to thank for setting that standard, the reason the nigh 20-year-old effects still hold up today. Muren pushed the limits of what CG can do, and with the help of animatronics God, the late, great Stan Winston, created one of the best films of all-time. Muren recently sat down with the LA Times to talk about his work on Spielberg’s iconic film, and shed some light on what it was like bringing the creatures to life.

It was like almost every day, we were looking at something and saying, “Did we do this? Because this has never been done before. I’ve never seen anything like this.” And it was really a very, very exciting period. And it started out with us thinking, “Well, maybe we could do dinosaurs in the distance with computer graphics, and have ‘em running and all, but never get much closer than wide shots.” But as we were doing it, we just tried and got more bold, and got closer on ‘em and closer ’til we ended up doing a close-up on a T. rex with a performance that you’ve never seen before, because you could never get the acting of those animals with animatronics or with rod puppets or Muppets or anything. There was just no way to do it. It was really a real shocker for the audience and ourselves too, when we saw the film and we saw those shots.

Muren was no stranger to being on the frontier of special effects, having worked on Star Wars, The Abyss, Terminator 2 and many other amazing films, but JP was the first time computers could be used to take effects to the level they took it to. However, using CG wasn’t their first inclination as effects artists, but as the story evolved so did the ideas.

Phil Tippett was going to do the animation stop-motion, and we were going to add blurs to that to make it look a little more real, and Stan Winston’s guys were doing the dinosaurs and all, so actually, I had a small part in the show at the beginning. But then we started doing these tests, because it just seemed to me that if you’re doing a movie like that, a big film, and we’d done “Terminator 2″ just before that film, it seemed like maybe we could actually do a real animal with the technology we’ve got. It seemed like we should just try it. It’s an opportunity. You don’t get these opportunities very often. You got a big director, you’ve got an audience, so you’re going to be able to see what the people are going to think of it. So we pushed for doing it CG. And the results were much more startling than we ever thought.

The results were more than anyone expected, and that’s what makes the film great. That now 18 years later the film is still regarded as one of the best effects films to date, regardless of movies like The Matrix or Avatar stepping into the picture, is astounding to say the least. The Jurassic Park Bluray trilogy is in stores and is packed with bonus features, including some interviews with Muren and the rest of the cast and crew. Head out, pick it up, and marvel at the perfection that is Jurassic Park.