Movie Magic: How they built the ‘Jurassic Park’ T-rex

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
December 19, 2012

The folks from the Stan Winston School have posted another fantastic behind-the-scenes video from the making of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster “Jurassic Park.” The educational offshoot of the legendary Stan Winston effects studio previously shared a video detailing the creation of the incredible velociraptor dino-suits. This, time, though,they’re sharing the construction of the gigantic, life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex sculpture.

According to the accompanying blog post, Spielberg approached the late, great FX wizard Stan Winston after seeing the work that his studio had done for director James Cameron on the film “Aliens” -- specifically, Winston's construction of the huge animatronic alien queen.

“Steven figured that if we could build a 14-foot-tall alien queen, we’d be able to build a 20-foot-tall T-rex,” explained Winston, winner of multiple Academy Awards.

See also: The 'Jurassic Park IV' that could have been: Dino-human hybrids?!

The Tyrannosaurus was an even bigger undertaking than the bug-like alien seen in Cameron’s film, mostly because of how solid it had to be in comparison. Made up of a steel and wood skeleton, a chicken wire under-skin, three tonnes of muscle, skin, and scales made out of Roma clay, the T-rex sculpture would eventually eventually weigh over 9,000 lbs. in all. In fact, the sculpture was so large that the roof of Winston’s Van Nuys, California studio had to be raised in order to accommodate it.

Constructing the terrible lizard was extremely labour intensive, taking months of painstaking work. Starting with a 1/5 scale model of the extinct beast, the studio had to figure out a way to blow it up to full size. Their unorthodox method of enlargement entailed cutting the smaller model into multiple segments, projecting the silhouettes of those segments at full scale onto a bigger piece of wood, tracing the outline of the model, and then cutting it out. Once Winston and company had all the full-sized segments, they adapted a centuries-old technique used by bronze sculptors: they assembled the dinosaur like the hull of a ship, one bulkhead at a time. From there, it was just a matter of sculpting the 20-foot-tall dino to match her 4-foot tall double, a process that took more than 16 weeks.

See also: Steven Spielberg understands that you need more 'Jurassic Park' movies

What’s amazing about the T-Rex sculpture seen in the video is that it was actually just the first step in the process. The dino sculpture was essentially just a mockup that would be later used to mold the skin and structure of the full-sized animatronic version that appeared in the film. Today, this process likely could be achieved using the 3D computer models and cutting edge 3D printing, but in the early 1990s, the creature effects designers actually had to physically build the massive dinosaur from the ground up and then cut it into pieces to create a mold.

“I can only wonder what were we thinking,” quipped one of the designers who worked on the T-rex. To heck with modern computer generated imagery! Nothing beats good old fashioned movie magic.

You can see the final animatronic dinosaur in action in "Jurassic Park" and in this behind-the-scenes rehearsal video also posted online.

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