[Interview] Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett And John Rosengrant Talk ‘Jurassic Park’ Special Effects & Blu-Ray!!

In the days before I could track every film’s progress on the internet, only two movies stand out in my memory as having built a real sense of anticipation in my youth. Not just the awareness that the the film would be in theaters, but a yearning that stretched out over months and months (the kind that, healthily or not, many of us are now able to sustain year-round with dozens and dozens of films).

The two movies, in my memory at least, that stand out in that regard are T2: Judgement Day and Jurassic Park. When Jurassic Park came out on June 11th 1993, it already felt like a watershed moment. Sure, a lot of that had to do with print and television handling the hyping duties that are now left largely to the online world – but I still trusted that I was getting something special. The sense that there was some alchemy that had happened on Spielberg’s film that allowed for the truly magical had been imprinted on me. Unlike today where you often have to dial out hype completely to gain an enjoyable perspective on a film, I did not leave that theater disappointed. At all. The hype led me into the theater, but the film supported it.

A few weeks back I was able to speak with three of the principal members of the creative team that brought the wonderful creatures of Jurassic Park (back to) life. Dennis Muren of ILM (Star Wars, T2, Super 8), Phil Tippett (Robocop, Starship Troopers) and John Rosengrant of Legacy Effects (a veteran of Stan Winston Studios, Rosengrant worked alongside Winston on the Jurassic Park films and many others). In anticipation of the October 25th Blu-ray release of the Jurassic Park Trilogy, the three sat together to discuss how they worked together to create the effects for the iconic film.

As a bonus – I also sat down with Ariana Richards, who portrayed young computer hacker Lex Murphy in the first film (and briefly in the second), to get a sense of what it was like to be a child onset amidst the chaos of the shoot.

Check out the interviews after the jump!
DENNIS MUREN, PHIL TIPPETT AND JOHN ROSENGRANT

Bloody-Disgusting: So this project was a pretty pivotal moment in the world of special effects with stop-motion, practical and CGI kind of converging on each other. At what order were you guys brought on to the project?

Phil Tippett: Before the [Crichton] book was published.

Dennis Muren: In the galleys stage. I mean at that time we had no idea how it was going to turn out. At that time it was just going to be conventional full size dinosaurs and stop motion.

PT: I mean we hadn’t been hired, but Steven was picking out the crew.

John Rosengrant: I was working for Stan Winston and he came down and told us all about it and we were all excited. And I think out of his own pocket he started designs and we were all thrilled, “we hope this happens. This is a dream come true to create dinosaurs”. That’s how we first kind of got onboard.

BD: About how long was the post-production process on this in terms of integrating all of these elements?

DM: From the time shooting was done I think it was only about four months.

BD: Oh really?

DM: We finished in November.

JR: Well we opened in June and sort of were done right before Christmas vacation, [that] was the last of filming.

DM: And we had to have it done by April. But you know we didn’t have a lot of tools to render quickly. So rendering took a while and storage of the digital data took a while. So we had to make a specific number of shots every week and month or otherwise it wouldn’t get done. We knew that.

PT: Yeah.

DM: So that was our goal, whatever it was. Three finals a week or whatever it was to get out fifty-five shots.

PT: But we had a lot of time in pre-production.

DM:Yeah, a lot of time in pre.

JR: It felt like it was two years honestly from when we were doing sketches. And really probably a year and a few months of solid building and getting ready for it.

PT: That’s on your side. We do a certain amount of building and prep but our real day job starts once the film is shot.

JR: I thought you were asking post-production, were you asking about pre-production?

BD: I asked about post but pre seems just as pivotal.

PT: I mean I’m being a little bit glib but you have more time in pre-production. It’s like Hitchcock. That’s where you make your movie. And then the rest is just work, and work is hard. It’s not as fun as when you’re making stuff up and imagining it.

BD: At what point did you guys realize that this was sort of the watershed film of the digital era? Even though there’s only something like sixty-three digital shots in the film –

DM: 50-something.

BD: Oh wow.

DM: You know I don’t think those of us working on it could see it. But George Lucas came by one time, he’d come by every couple of months and look at what we were doing and we were looking at the shots and trying to figure out what was wrong with it. And I said, “you know I would have loved to have worked on not so much a dinosaur film for this technology but like a 2001. To introduce the technology in a film that’s going to mean something”. And he said, “You don’t even know what you’re working on. This is it”. And apparently it was. Even though it didn’t have the shots that 2001 had, it had enough impact.

JR: It felt like from the get-go that it was a really special movie and opportunity. I remember a day on set when we were doing demonstrations for people with the T-rex when it was first moved over to the Warner Brother stage and Rick Baker, who was always friendly competition to Stan Winston and all of us, he came over and and saw it and he was blown away. And I started to think, “when you’re so close to something, you don’t see it”. He came in, and I respect him and what he’s done in his movies, and he gave us some accolades.

PT: It was always problem solving all the time and you’re always making adjustments all the time until the plug is pulled.

DM: So you never have time to step back and really think about what you’re doing.

PT: And when we look at the stuff afterwards all we generally see are all the pimples and ingrown hairs.

ARIANA RICHARDS

BD: What was the audition process like for Jurassic Park? It must have been kind of daunting.

Ariana Richards: Actually it wasn’t that daunting. I suppose I was just an actress who did my job. And I heard that I had an audition to go do some screaming for Jurassic Park and I didn’t really know anything about the project at that point. And so I was put on tape screaming. And later on I heard Steven was going through tapes of girls screaming and his wife Kate was asleep on the couch next to him and as soon as he got to me she leapt off the couch and started running into the area where their kids were sleeping to make sure they were okay. So shortly after that Steven invited me, just before I was headed to Disneyland that day for a fun day out he invited me to his office so of course I had to put Disneyland on hold, and I was wearing my L.A. Dodgers baseball cap and my baseball top and I went in to talk to him. And during that conversation he said, “So Ariana, are you busy this summer?” That was the beginning. Sometimes I wonder if he put me in that cap as Lex because I wore that baseball cap when I went into meet him.

BD: You mention screaming a lot. It seems that Fay Wray was on set one of the days you were screaming?

AR: Fay Wray did come to set to visit and that is an absolute high point I will never forget. Steven walked over with her and introduced her to me and said, “From one great screamer to another”. Wow. What a moment.

BD: What scene in the film was it easiest to get into that terrified place for? The kitchen scene or the T-Rex scene?

AR: I would say the kitchen scene was always the most eerie to me but they were all quite easy to get into that mood. Because the dinosaurs were there. The beauty of these models they created, how incredibly realistic they were and I easy really able to respond to them.

BD: And you actually kind of play one of the first computer hackers on film? How was that?

AR: It was absolutely great to get to play a role as a young girl who was really smart ad knew a lot about computers and was actually able to become the heroine and save the day. And I remember to this day when we were filming this scene with the Unix system, there was actually a Unix system on that screen. The operating system that day. And they let me operate it.

BD: And you got a call back for the sequel.

AR: I did, I did. It was neat. And I’m glad that the kids got to show up for that piece as well.

BD: What’s your fondest memory on set?

AR: That’s a tough one. I have so many great memories. I’d have to say the excitement and surprise of being able to walk on the set everyday and not know what was going to be there. And sometimes there’d be a new dinosaur. I didn’t know what would show up.

BD: I saw in the supplements that there was a portrait of you eating Jello –

AR: Yes, that was my painting!

BD: Have you been doing a lot of painting?

AR: I’ve been doing a ton of painting. I’ve become a portrait artist actually and I really enjoy it. It’s totally all consuming for me. And that was a piece I painted after Jurassic Park inspired by the Jello scene. In that moment they actually had a crew guy next to me shaking my hand and I remember it not quite feeling right and so I asked if it would be alright if I just shook the Jello. And they used that take.

The Jurassic Park Trilogy is available on Blu-Ray October 25th and contains a truly astounding amount of special features that are actually worth a damn.