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Jurassic Park's T-Rex - Sculpting a Full-Size Dinosaur

Jurassic Park's T-Rex - Sculpting a Full-Size Dinosaur

CREATING A FULL-SIZE T-REX

To watch the never-before-seen “Jurassic Park T-rex - Sculpting a Full-Size Dinosaur” video CLICK ON THE PLAYER above.

When Steven Spielberg enlisted Stan Winston to handle the full-size dinosaur duties for JURASSIC PARK, he based his faith in Winston — and, indeed, in the very idea of building full-size mechanical dinosaurs — on the alien queen in ALIENS. “Steven figured that if we could build a fourteen-foot-tall alien queen, we’d be able to build a twenty-foot-tall T-rex,” Winston explained.

Pictured above: The 1/5th scale Jurassic Park T-rex sculpting stand (aka armature) ready for clay.

Pictured above: Key sculptor Mike Trcic works on the 1/5th scale T-rex maquette at Stan Winston Studio.

A NAÏVE ASSUMPTION

“But that was a somewhat naïve assumption on Steven's part. There was a big difference between building that alien queen and building a full-size dinosaur,” continued Winston. “The queen was exoskeletal, so all of its surfaces were hard. There were no muscles, no flesh, and there was no real weight to it. The alien queen also didn’t have to look like a real, organic animal because it was a fictional character — so there was nothing in real life to compare it to. There was just no comparison in the difficulty level of building that alien queen and building a full-size dinosaur.” Even so, when Spielberg asked Winston if he could build a full-size dinosaur, Winston didn’t hesitate. “I told him, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ He said, ‘How are you going to do it?’ And I said: ‘I haven’t got a clue. But we’ll figure it out.’”

Pictured above: SWS dinosaur mechanic Alan Scott numbers a segmented casting of the 1/5th scale T-rex maquette, in preparation for the scaling up process.

Pictured above: The SWS team scaled up the 1/5th T-rex segments by projecting their silhouettes five times larger onto a sheet of plywood and then tracing the outline.

STAN’S LEAP OF FAITH

In preparation for the construction of a twenty-foot-tall T-rex, Winston expanded his studio space, acquiring an adjacent building and hiring contractors to raise the ceiling of that second structure. “We not only needed the room to build these big dinosaurs, we were at a point where big shows were overlapping on a regular basis; and so I needed a dedicated mechanical department, a hair department, a mold-making area, a painting area, et cetera. I committed to buying this second building and doing all of that contracting, just on faith that we would be getting Jurassic Park.”

Pictured above: The full-size plywood T-rex bulkhead segments. Cut, numbered and ready for assembly.

Pictured above: The 1/5th scale maquette (foreground) was used as reference throughout the full-size T-rex sculpting process.

STEVEN’S LEAP OF FAITH

In entrusting Winston with building characters that would be, in many respects, the stars of his movie, Spielberg, too, was taking a leap of faith. For JAWS, he had managed to build a movie around the malfunctioning mechanical shark, using John Williams’ music, clever editing and any number of camera tricks to suggest a shark presence that was not there. Such cinematic hocus-pocus would not rescue Jurassic Park, should Winston’s dinosaurs fail. For the movie to succeed, those dinosaurs would have to be completely convincing as living, breathing, organic animals.

Pictured above: Richard Davison and Alan Scott fasten the plywood T-rex segments to the aluminum frame, similar to a ship's bulkheads.

Pictured above: Alan Scott, Stan Winston & Richard Landon check to make sure the bulkhead spacing will provide ample space for the mechanics that will articulate the T-rex head -- eye mechs, nostril mechs, etc.

“THEY HAD TO BE PERFECT.”

In creating these dinosaurs, art, as always, took precedence over technology. “Before we ever got to mechanizing the dinosaurs,” commented Paul Mejias, one of the artists on the show, “their look was tweaked and re-tweaked. I remember Stan and sculptor Mike Trcic spending tons of time on the T-rex head, for example. There were thirteen different permutations of that head in maquette form, because Stan wanted something very specific, and he wasn’t going to stop until he got it. He did that on all the dinosaurs. They had to be right, no matter what it took, no matter how much it cost, no matter how many people he had to hire. They had to be perfect.”

Pictured above: A layer of fiberglass is applied to the chicken wire to prevent clay from pushing through into the bulkheads.

Pictured above: David BenekeRob Hinderstein and Richard Davison rough out the first layer of Roma clay onto the T-rex armature.

FIGURING IT OUT

When all of the designs had been perfected and approved by Spielberg, Winston’s crew turned its attention to ‘figuring it out’, to the nuts and bolts of how to build organic, full-size dinosaurs. Of all the riddles that had to be solved, none was more perplexing than how to construct the full-size T-rex, which would measure nearly forty feet from nose to tail. The massive size of the character made even its sculpting a technical problem unlike any the studio had faced.

Pictured above: Rob Hinderstein adds heated Roma clay to the T-rex armature.

Pictured above: SWS key artists Christopher Swift & Greg Figiel attach the T-rex arm to the rest of the sculpture.

THE LARGEST SCULPTURE IN SWS HISTORY

The ultimate solution — for the T-rex and all the large dinosaurs — was to slice a small-scale maquette into cross-sections from head to tail, and then project those cross-sections onto plywood using an opaque projector, scaling them up to their full size. Each projected and scaled-up section was outlined, numbered and cut out. The cutout plywood pieces were assembled onto a supporting armature made of aluminum speedrail, and then covered in chicken wire and fiberglass, creating a full-scale form over which the artists could sculpt in clay.

Pictured above: SWS supervisor & co-founder of Legacy Effects, Shane Mahan, sculpts textures into the creases of the T-rex hips.

Pictured above: Key sculptor Mike Trcic adds fine detail to the T-rex head. After 16 weeks of sculpting, he began to dream in scale patterns.

AN ENGINEERING FEAT

The supporting armature was an engineering feat in itself, built to withstand the weight of three tons of Roma clay, an oil-based clay that would remain moist and pliable throughout the sixteen weeks it would take to sculpt the T-rex. A team of ten sculptors contributed to the T-rex sculpture, working on raised platforms and scaffolding to gain the necessary heights.

Pictured above: SWS artist Greg Figiel compares the 1/5th scale T-rex arm to the full size version.

Pictured above: The largest sculpture in the history of Stan Winston Studio stands alongside its 1/5th scale twin.

ART IS FIRST

“That ‘art is first’ philosophy is what made the work that came out of Stan Winston Studio stand apart,” SWS Supervisor and co-founder of Legacy Effects, Alan Scott, elaborated. “At some shops, there is a tendency to figure out the technology first, and then design the character around that. There, we designed the very best character first, and then we decided how we were going to make it move. Once Stan signed off on a design, we'd have to find a way to make that design work, no matter what. There were times we might be tempted to go to him, and say: ‘We can’t fit everything in this head. It’s got to be bigger.’ But his response would just be: ‘It won’t look right if it’s bigger. Figure it out.’”

-Jody Duncan

TO WATCH THE NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN "JURASSIC PARK'S T-REX: SCULPTING A FULL-SIZE DINOSAUR" VIDEO, CLICK ON THE VIDEO PLAYER AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE

Excerpted from THE WINSTON EFFECT: THE ART AND HISTORY OF STAN WINSTON STUDIO