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Jurassic Park III's T-rex killer: Spinosaurus

Jurassic Park III's T-rex killer: Spinosaurus

FASTER. BIGGER. BADDER.

Just as he had for Jurassic Park & The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2, Steven Spielberg called upon the Stan Winston Studio team to design and build new dinosaurs for Jurassic Park III, as well as revamp some of those that had been featured in the previous installments. “We had achieved quite a lot on those earlier films,” 25-year SWS supervisor & co-founder of Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant said, “so there was a lot to live up to. We wanted to make the animatronics faster and better. At the same time, we wanted to come up with new designs and pump some energy into the old ones.”

Pictured above: SWS concept designer Mark "Crash" McCreery's final Spinosaur rendering.

Pictured above: Joey Orosco and Scott Stoddard sculpt the 1/16 scale Spinosaur maquette.

THE SPINOSAUR - ART IMITATES LIFE

Among the new dinosaurs was the massive Spinosaur, which was sculpted by key artist Joey Orosco in one-sixteenth-scale, from sketches by SWS concept designer Mark "Crash" McCreery. Once again, real-life scientific discovery informed the movie’s fictional world. “Scientists had found a Spinosaur skull just as Jurassic Park III was going into preproduction,” said Orosco, “and that’s why the filmmakers had wanted a Spinosaur in the movie. It was another one of those weird things that happened. Just as they’d found the bigger Utah Raptor when we were making Jurassic Park, they found this Spinosaur skull when they were getting ready to make Jurassic Park III.”

Pictured above: SWS artist Jim Charmatz paints the 1/16th scale Spinosaur maquette.

Pictured above: The final 1/16th scale Spinosaur maquette for JURASSIC PARK III.

BALANCING SCIENCE AND CREATIVITY

As before, paleontologist Jack Horner authenticated the studio’s final Spinosaur design — although Winston’s artists freely extrapolated from scientific reference, particularly in regard to the creature’s coloring. “Paleontologists have a lot of disagreements about the coloration of dinosaurs,” noted Orosco. “Some of them think that they might have been brightly colored. Birds can be brightly colored, and some paleontologists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs. In our world, very large animals are usually dull in color; and yet, there are also large animals that have crazy color schemes. Look at giraffes! So, who’s to say what color they were?”

Pictured above: Joey Orosco adds detail to the 1/5th scale Spinosaurus maquette.

GOING WILD ON JPIII's DINOSAURS

Drawing over Mark "Crash" McCreery’s sketches with colored pencils, Orosco devised the Spinosaur’s bright red coloring, going for a bold look that would be exhibited in the movie’s other dinosaurs, as well. “Everybody went a little wild on Jurassic Park III’s dinosaurs. We wound up putting quills on the Raptors — all kinds of things. We knew it was probably going to be the last Jurassic Park movie, so we just went for it.” Once design issues had been settled, Orosco, John Rosengrant, Trevor Hensley, Rob Ramsdell and Paul Mejias produced an eight-foot-long, one-fifth-scale Spinosaur maquette. As before, full-scale computer-milled foam pieces, created from a cyberscan of the maquette, formed the basis for the full-size animatronic.

Pictured above.: Joey Orosco & Paul Mejias sculpt fine detail into the computer-milled foam Spinosaur.

Pictured above: Jurassic Park III's full-size Spinosaur undergoes the mold-making process at Stan Winston Studio.

HUNDREDS OF SPINOSAUR TEETH

Among Rob Ramsdell’s tasks for the Spinosaur build was painting and arranging teeth in the creature’s palate. “I had to paint hundreds of teeth for this thing,” Ramsdell recalled. “The original palate had something like seventy-six teeth; but we had to make six or seven copies of them all, because the Spino was going to take a lot of abuse, and they would break.” It was around this time that Ramsdell’s first child was born. “John Rosengrant knew I had a new baby; and so he suggested that I take all of these dinosaur teeth home for a few days, and paint them there. That was such a nice thing for him to do; I really appreciated getting to spend some time with my new daughter.”

THE BIGGEST, HEAVIEST, FASTEST DINOSAUR ROBOT EVER BUILT

By the time it was completed, the studio’s full-size Spinosaur measured nearly forty-five feet long and weighed 25,000 pounds. Revisiting the approach that had worked so well with the T-rex rigs for The Lost World, the crew built the Spinosaur from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail, from the ‘knees’ up, and mounted it to a motorized cart that ran on tracks.

Pictured above: SWS hydraulics expert Lloyd Ball makes adjustments to the Spinosaur animatronic puppet.

Pictured above: Tim Nordella & Lloyd Ball work on the largest animatronic character to ever come out of Stan Winston Studio, Jurassic Park III's Spinosaur.

The Spinosaur was not only the biggest and heaviest animatronic ever built by the studio, it was the fastest, featuring state-of-the-art, ‘hot-rod’ hydraulics — designed by Tim Nordella and Lloyd Ball — controlled by an eighteen-inch-tall telemetry device. “The Spino had to be faster, splashier and better than the T-rex,” stated Nordella. “The producers wanted something that was going to actually kill the T-rex, in fact; so it had to be a more formidable character than the T-rex was.” Whereas the T-rex had boasted 200 horsepower, 1000 horsepower drove the Spinosaur. Its solid-state construction also made it far sturdier than the T- rex, which had been quite delicate, despite its appearance. The Spinosaur, in contrast, could take a beating.

Pictured above: The finished Spinosaur makes its way out of Stan Winston Studio in preparation for the middle-of-the-night trip to Universal Studios.

PUPPETEERING - LIFE AND DEATH

In the Spinosaur’s first scene, the creature’s jaws snap at people inside an airplane fuselage that has crash-landed into a treetop. Rob Ramsdell puppeteered the Spinosaur jaws in the shot. “They wanted it to be snapping just as it broke through the fuselage,” Ramsdell said. “There was quite a bit of pressure in puppeteering that, because the timing had to be just right. They had built only four breakaway fuselages; and so that’s how many chances we had to get the shot.” On take one, Ramsdell missed his mark. On take two, he missed the mark again. “By this time, the pressure was insane. It was a do-or-die thing, because we only had two more shots at it. Just before we did the next take, I looked across to where Stan and the director were standing. Stan just looked at me, nodded, and gave me a look of approval that said, ‘You can do this.’ And we got the shot on that take.” “It is a great help to have Stan there to pat us on the back,” SWS/Legacy Effects key artist Trevor Hensley commented, “especially when we are dealing with something dangerous, like the Spinosaur. You know that one wrong move with your controller, and you could knock somebody twenty feet in the air. It’s no joke — this thing could kill somebody; and, as one of the operators, that makes you very nervous. It always means a lot to have Stan’s reassurance that every thing is going to be okay.”

Pictured above: The Spinosaurus animatronic puppet on set, ready for its close-up.

Pictured above: Stan Winston regards his biggest, heaviest, fastest animatronic creation, JP III's Spinosaurus.

Pictured above: Two animatronic titans prepare to fight -- Spinosaurus vs. T-rex.

Pictured above: Jurassic Park III director, Joe Johnston lines up a shot of the Spino/T-rex fight on set.

Pictured above: Jurassic Park III's Spino and T-rex square off in the largest puppet battle ever captured on film.

Pictured above: JP III's Spino lords over the defeated T-rex. Jurassic Park fans around the world mourn.

SPINO DESTROYS T-REX. FOR REAL.

In one of the last scenes to be shot for Jurassic Park III — though not its last scene in the film — the Spinosaur does battle with a T-rex. The crew took one of the T-rexes from The Lost World out of storage and refurbished it for the fight scene, which was as violent on stage as it appeared in the film. “That was a true fight,” Ramsdell said. “They were just going to scrap the dinosaurs after the show anyway, so they had us really ram those two robots together to get as much great footage as we could. We had two puppeteering teams with their little telemetry devices, swinging them around; meanwhile, these huge robots were slamming into each other across the way. Everybody on our crew was a little bit on edge about it, because we’d put a lot of time and work into these things. But the producers and studio execs were having a great time watching this, rooting for either the T-rex or the Spinosaur to win. We ended up knocking the head off of the T-rex — so I guess the Spinosaur won!” 

“That was a really sad ending to a long night of shooting,” added John Rosengrant. “The Spino threw one final blow and broke the T-rex’s neck. The head collapsed, the neck tore open in the back, and hydraulic fluid shot out of it, almost like blood spurting.”

-Jody Duncan

Excerpted from "The Winston Effect: The Art & History of Stan Winston Studio"