For a movie that only featured dinosaurs for 15 minutes, Jurassic Park had an outsized impact on the way CGI was used in film. On This Week in Tech History, Abbey and Regis talk about the graphics, the puppetry, and how movies today are almost too real to be real.
(THE FRONTIER THEME PLAYS)
Hey. Hello, Abbey.
I just got up to get water, and my dog had stepped in her bowl and spilled the entire bowl all over the floor <laugh>. (Regis: Ah.) Are those paintings from your daughter?
Yeah, oh yeah. Thanks. Some are from my daughter. Only [this one] was me <laugh>. (Abbey: Nice.)
John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough (00:37):
(JURASSIC PARK THEME AND AUDIO FROM FILM TRAILER PLAYS) There it is. Welcome to Jurassic Park.
John Hammond (00:40):
We’ve made a living biological attraction so astounding that they’ll capture the imagination of the entire planet.
Trailer narrator (00:47):
The most phenomenal discovery of our time…
Dr. Ian Malcom, played by Jeff Goldbloom (00:51):
How’d you do this?
Trailer narrator (00:53):
…becomes the greatest adventure of all time.
Lex, played by Ariana Richards (00:58):
Can I touch it?
Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neil (00:59):
Sure. (TRAILER AUDIO FADES OUT)
(RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC PLAYS) Well, Regis, we are here today to talk about Jurassic Park. Landmark film. It was released on June 9th, 1993, and it pioneered CGI. So it did that in visual effects in blockbuster movies. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and brought dinosaurs to life for the first time on the big screen. It made 914 million dollars at the box office and kind of like, spearheaded the use of CGI and visual effects in like, big budget movies. To create the dinosaurs, Spielberg worked with Industrial Light and Magic, which was George Lucas’s visual effects team. The CGI team, which was led by a guy named Dennis Muren, created dinosaurs that looked incredibly life-like, moved naturally, and blended almost seamlessly into live action scenes with human actors. The impressive Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus, in particular, left audiences in awe.
Interviewer, via 1993 interview (02:01):
(AUDIO FOR INTERVIEW CLIP PLAYS) Ariana, even though you knew that all of those dinosaurs were just kind of models and everything, were there any times when they’re a bit scary, close up?
Ariana Richards, via 1993 interview (02:08):
Yeah. There were a few times when I was shooting on the set. They were just so real, and really the dinosaurs, they’re actually there with us almost the whole time. And they’re really like, alive creatures right there with you, living and breathing creatures. And some of them are so scary. Like, they’re not even hard to be scared of, like the T-Rex. And there’s this one scene with the T-Rex I always remember so vividly, is being even frightening to film, because it was just so real, was when I’m in the car with Joe Mazzello, and we have that plastic bubble over us, which is the top of the Jeep, and the T-Rex is over us, and it’s crashing down on top of us, and we’re screaming, and it’s biting this plastic thing, and it was so scary. It was actually biting it there, and it left teeth marks on it.
Oh no! So those were real screams.
Ariana Richards (02:54):
Yeah. It wasn’t too hard <laugh>. (INTERVIEW AUDIO FADES OUT)
(RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC RESUMES) Beyond the visuals, Jurassic Park delivered a sense of wonder and scientific possibility. The story explores the ethics of genetic engineering and tampering with nature. Some great Jeff Goldblum quotes in that movie about it. The all-star cast included him, Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, and kind of brought a lot of humanity to the science-focused film. Twenty-five years later, it’s considered a science fiction classic and a milestone in computer-generated imagery. The visual effects paved the way for CGI to become standard and blockbusters, allowing films to transport audiences to different times and worlds. The influence of Jurassic Park lives on in the ever-improving CGI and visual effects we see today. I just wanna say, I watched the movie last night, thinking it was gonna look like CGI from 1993. It doesn’t.
It’s the best dinosaur movie ever made. And the visual effects from the original movie, it’s better than the new ones. It is better than new ones.
I mean, admittedly, I haven’t seen the new ones, (Regis: <Laugh>.) which is probably…I probably shouldn’t have admitted that, right? I only watched the one. I did read all three of the books, so I feel like that counts for something.
Oh yeah. We’re tied, ‘cause I saw the new movies, but I didn’t read the books <laugh>.
<Laugh>. That’s alright. I think it was one of those nerdy things. I used to work for a company, where like, we sent out boxes of stuff, boxes of like, geek-related like, pop culture stuff. And one year, or one month, we did an entire Jurassic Park box and had all three of the books. So I got to take all three of them home and read ’em. So what is it about the imagery and the first one you think that was better than the ones that came after it?
First of all, Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies ever. (Abbey: Yes <whispered>.) It’s on my top three list.
Yes <whispered>. Great <laugh>. I picked right. I love having you along for this.
<Laugh>. Yeah. The first one, just the first one. The others, the two, It’s more less. Three, cool. Then you, yeah, cool. But nothing beats the first. It’s hard to beat the original idea anyway, but in terms of visual effects, I think it was a peak of the visual effects [of] those times, because we were coming from the ‘80s, where it was…how do you pronounce…
Yes. (Abbey: Yeah.) It was like, if you need to make a dinosaur movie, you would use toys, and miniatures, and, (Abbey: Yeah.) made of clay, so you can move them, and stop-motion things. And when they started filming Jurassic Park, they would use those techniques. They hired the best guy in stop-motion, ever, to do stop-motion. But someone told Steven Spielberg, “You should look at CGI,” and he was like, “I’m not sure.”
When he started the film, he wasn’t planning on using CGI?
Yeah, he was not planning that.
Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.
Yeah. But they presented those CGI guys to Steven Spielberg, and he was very impressed by what they could do. But the real trick was that they merged these two techniques of CGI and real things, real replicas of the dinosaurs. So they did have the giant robot that was the T-rex. So they mixed these two techniques together, and the result is the best thing that they ever did with dinosaurs.
I’m thinking of the scene where Sam Neil is laying on the Triceratops, and it just looks so life-like that it’s, you know, it’s breathing, and he’s moving with it.
That was not CGI.
Was it robot and CGI?
I guess that one was just a robot. No CGI.
Well, it looked real. Whatever they did, it was a very convincing robot <laugh>.
Yes, it is. If I recall correctly, people were underground using (Abbey: Oh wow.) something to go up down, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) up and down, (Abbey: Like a giant puppet.) just to do the breathing. Yeah, yeah <laugh>. But there are other things that make this movie great. They filmed it in a different screen ratio, (Abbey: Okay, yeah.) more vertical than wide. It was not the normal widescreen of the time. It was more vertical, because they want to get the sense of the height of the dinosaurs. (Abbey: Oh wow.) So that adds a lot to the movie. The new moves don’t have that touch, that finesse to do something like that.
Are the new ones shot in widescreen (Regis: Yes, yes.) instead of full screen? Interesting. Interesting. (Regis: Yeah.) Especially, I mean, if you wanna make somebody feel really like, engulfed in what they’re viewing, make it bigger. (Regis: Yes.) That’s a really cool tidbit of information about that. Yeah.
Yeah. But yeah, what I think they did to make it real was playing with the screen format, so it would give you a sense of height, and that’s a nice trick. The other thing is that they didn’t do it all in CGI. It was a mix of things. And a real robot still looks more real than CGI, to this day, right? (Abbey: Yeah.) I guess that the last movie that I really appreciated the visual effects, it was The Matrix 1.
I was gonna say, I was gonna bring up The Matrix. Yeah.
Yeah, yeah. (Abbey: Yeah.) The second movie introduced more CGI and doesn’t look real at all. (Abbey:Yeah.) There are some movies that I really like the visual effects, but they are done not with CGI. There are practical effects. Inception, for example, (Abbey: Yeah.) that scene where their room is spinning. (Abbey: Yeah.) They really built a room and made it to spin, and the actors were actually spinning inside that. (Abbey: Yeah.) That’s crazy. They are doing all with CGI, and I don’t think the latest movies seem real. They feel like, surreal.
Yes. Yes. So like, when I think of things that are like, I guess I’m specifically thinking of like, a lot of like, the Marvel and DC movies, (Regis: Yes.) or things that are like, really big, explosive, actiony, where it’s almost like, it feels overdone, because of the amount of CGI that’s in there, versus the amount of like, real action that’s happening. But you’re right. It’s like, it’s almost, it’s too crisp. It’s too perfect. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for the imagination. It’s kind of like, throwing it in your face.
Yeah. Something that’s funny, sometimes I see some TV in my store or something, and they get that perfect image there, and I say, “What? Reality’s not so crispy.” (Abbey: Yeah <laugh>.) So this doesn’t look so real, because I don’t see that sharp. I mean, (Abbey: Right?) when you see a forest from the distance like we see in Jurassic Park, it’s like a mess up, a little bit blur, (Abbey: Yeah.) and all that green. But if you look [at] the new movies you see like, too crispy; it doesn’t feel real to me.
I mean, if you look at a forest with the breeze blowing through it, the trees kind of like, blend and move back and forth. It doesn’t…yeah. I totally agree with you. It doesn’t, it looks…I don’t know if saying too real to be real?
Yeah <laugh>. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) I guess that could be said. Yeah, yeah.
That’s kinda how it feels, where it’s almost, it’s overdone.
And there’s another thing, yet, that makes the first movie great, which is the way they tell the history. (Abbey: Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.) It’s beyond the dinosaurs, because I guess the movie is two and something hours.
Yeah. Two hours and 10 minutes or something. (Regis: Yeah.) Which I didn’t realize it when I started at 8:30 last night.
<Laugh>. Yeah, and of that time, you have 15 minutes of dinosaurs, where you can see dinosaurs. Fifteen minutes, because…(Abbey: That’s it?) Yes. (Abbey: Wow.) How they tell the history, it’s important. It’s more important than showing the actual dinosaur. For example, I think the main antagonists in that movie are the Velociraptors, because, (Abbey: Yes.) yeah, the first scene, where there’s a caged dinosaur, (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) it seems to be a Velociraptor, and then when they get to Sam Neil doing the excavation, and he’s talking about Velociraptors, the kids say, “Oh, that’s not scary. It looks like a big turkey,” and he goes, (Abbey: Yup.) “No, look. That claw.” (Abbey: Yeah, the claw.) “Here’s how they hunt you. You think you are looking for the main predator, then <whoosh vocalization> [here] comes [the] other two, and you are not seeing them.” So they started to prepare things for Velociraptors. And then the second sentence is when they get to the park, and they will feed a Velociraptor that’s too aggressive, downing a cow to the cage and that mess <Velociraptor vocalizations>. Okay, there’s something dangerous in there.
That’s not a turkey. That’s not a six foot turkey.
Yeah, yeah. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) And when you finally get that scene, where the guy that is like, a hunter in the movie, who was like, going to shoot down a Velociraptor, and you already know, because the film prepared you for that. (Abbey: Yeah.) That is not that easy. Where is the other Velociraptors? (Abbey: There’s not just one. Yeah.) Yeah, so, you remember the <whoosh vocalization> <Velociraptor vocalizations> <laugh>.
<Laugh>. I also like the scene where, what is it? It’s not…the ones that have the <Dilophosaurus vocalization>.
Dilophosaurus, I guess.
Yes. Where it sprays…I’ll never remember the actor’s name. He’s the guy who played Newman in Seinfeld.
Yeah <laugh>. I don’t recall. I recall the name of the character. It was Dennis Nedry. (Abbey: Yup.) And the guy who was the boss in CGI was Dennis…Murray? Okay, show Dennis…
Dennis…yeah, Dennis Muren.
Yeah. And I thought there is a joke he did here, because Hamon says to Dennis, “Our lives are in our hands, and you are letting it drop.” (Abbey: Yeah.) And it was more or less the situation of the movie with this other Dennis, that the movie was in his hands to be successful <laugh>.
Because I don’t, you know, yeah. I mean, I don’t think that there’s a way that this movie would’ve been what it was, if it hadn’t been for the CGI. (Regis: Yeah.) Like, it would’ve been a really good, interesting story, but it was like, the realism that that CGI brought to it (Regis: Yeah.) that really made it.
That was something. (Abbey: Yeah.) Yeah, it was really something. I was like, I liked a dinosaurs when I was a kid, and I have watched some movies that have dinosaurs. There was a TV show, The Missing Link? I’m not sure it’s called like that in the U.S., but there were dinosaurs, and they were moving like tick, tick, tick, tick, that kinda movement. And I was not that excited to see Jurassic Park. I was like, “I see how it goes. The dinosaur appears and it’s tick, tick, tick.” (Abbey: Yeah <laugh>.) <Laugh>. But it was not, it was not, I was really impressed that they did it.
Yeah. Put the the smoothness of it, the natural look to it, yeah. And especially to make them feel and act as big as they were. Like, have you ever seen a dinosaur like, a full put together dinosaur?
Like in a museum?
I cannot remember. I can’t think of the word. Like in a museum or something, you know?
Yes, yes. (Abbey: Yeah.) Yeah, sure.
There’s a museum in Chicago that has a full scale Tyrannosaurus rex, and it is, I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine having something that size running towards you, (Regis: Yeah, yeah.) and they made it feel real in this movie. Like, you can imagine yourself being chased by something that big and that terrifying.
Yeah. Yeah. That first scene where the T-rex appears is just amazing, and the jaw when it’s crushing the goat. Rawr, that big jaw. That’s amazing. By the way, that was not CGI either. It was the robot.
Yes, and when it goes to grab the car with the kids, (Abbey: Yeah.) it was not supposed to break the window, but the dinosaur, the robot goes too down in that scene, and they break the window. The kids are really scared <laugh>. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) They did not expect that. Well, if you’re not afraid of something that looks like a dinosaur, you are afraid of a set accident, a movie set accident, so you’re afraid anyway. And in that scene, if you watch that slow motion, you’ll see that one tooth of the dinosaur flies away <laugh> with the impact.
Whoa. I might have to rewatch that.
That whole sequence, it’s sometime, I guess that when they film the foot of the dinosaur from the back, and it’s like on the mud, (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) the mud spreads, that was CGI. That was CGI. So it’s a mix, a perfect mix of CGI and reality.
That’s really cool.
Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that. We just were in a meeting, (Abbey: Yeah.) right? And we were talking about using AI, and growing fast, and losing the human touch that’s needed, (Abbey: Yeah.) ‘cause we are real people, real clients, real freelancers. (Abbey: Yeah.) So I thought of that like, I think we are using too much CGI and it doesn’t feel real. Back then, they got two techniques at it, and got the best results. And I was thinking of that like, I’m a programmer. We have a lot of AI tools to help us. I use GitHub Copilot, but I’m concerned about that. I’m concerned, ‘cause we need to keep the finesse, the human touch.
There needs to be balanced. I think that…
We need to mix techniques. We need to mix artificial intelligence with natural intelligence, right <laugh>?
Yeah. I feel the same way when I, you know, when I use, you know, ChatGPT and Claude for helping with writing. Nobody wants to hear what a robot has to say. You know, it doesn’t, you can tell when a robot has written something, and for me, it’s like, how do you find that balance between, you know, like, using the tools that are available and mixing that human element with it, which I think, you know, is along the lines of what you’re saying and along the lines of why this movie was so great, is because it found that good balance. And maybe that’s because there was no precedent before it, you know, there were no other movies doing this. So, you know, whether it was, you know, I didn’t realize that the dinosaurs were only in there for 15 minutes, so maybe that was like, a cost thing. Like, how much did CGI cost in the early ‘90s? Probably a lot more than it does today. (Regis: Yeah.) So maybe that balance was more based on, (Regis: The limitations.) I guess construction around everything else, yeah.
Yeah, yeah. (Abbey: Yeah. Well…) You know, earlier today, I was coming back home, because I took my kids to school and my wife to a course she is doing, and when I was going back, because of the traffic, I opened up Waze (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and checked for the best for route, but I look at that, and I thought to myself, all that you don’t use, it atrophies, right? (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) I’m concerned with that we keep using technology and AI thing too much, and where it goes, our brain capacity to have critical thinking, to exercise our memory and our capability to find solutions outside the box. So I don’t really like to use Waze too much, because then I’m not even looking where I am. I’m just looking at the screen, and where is my capability to develop my spatial vision, (Abbey: Yeah, yeah.) So what I usually do, I open the Waze, I see the route. I double check, see [if] there’s anything better, and then I’ll close it, and okay, I have enough information, let me drive. Let me drive and be aware of people around me. Things like that.
That’s been a challenge for me. Having like, I moved to a new city, new state. I moved 1,500 miles away from where I was living, and I still don’t know how to get places. (Regis: Yeah <laugh>.) You know, I’ve been living here, it’ll be a year this weekend, and I am still like, “Oh, I took a wrong turn. I guess I’m learning a new way to get there today,” but it’s because I’m so reliant on pulling up Google Maps, and just setting it, and having it tell me where to go. (Regis: Yeah, yeah.) You know, 20 years ago, we didn’t have Google Maps, and we still made it places without a problem. So it’s being too reliant on that technology and not enough of the human element that I need.
Yeah. Well, not that 20 years ago, we got to reach any place without a problem. There was a lot of problems <laugh>. (Abbey: True <laugh>.) We would lost, we wouldn’t find the address. It’s not so easy. Remember how we drove back in the day <laugh>?
Yeah. Well I think there’s always gonna be a balance. It’s probably up to, it’s up to us. I don’t know if it’s up to us. It’s up to, I don’t know, maybe it is up to all of us to kind of like, keep that balance in mind. As you know, computers become more of a part of everyday life, and (Regis: Yeah.) especially AI, and how much that’s going…
This kind of thing is a good exercise, because it’s not about technique and skills. (Abbey: Yeah.) It’s about art. You have, you got to exercise art and the art of living, and the art of thinking. (Abbey: Yeah.) And I guess that’s what Jurassic Park has more than the new moves, better art, more handcrafted things.
Yes. Like, there’s more thought put into it on a lot of different levels that aren’t just the graphics. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) I think that’s a perfect note to end on.
<Laugh>. I think it is.
Thank you for joining me today. I’m so glad, I didn’t even know that Jurassic Park was one of your top three movies. You’ve opened my eyes about a lot of things. This is awesome. Thanks for coming on today <laugh>.
<Laugh>. My pleasure. My pleasure.
Faith, via previous recording (28:30):
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