Jurassic Park's CG dinosaurs were the greatest thing to happen to movies

Jurassic Park's CG dinosaurs were the greatest thing to happen to movies
Jurassic Park's CG dinosaurs were the greatest thing to happen to movies

Everyone has a favourite movie moment. Mine was in 1993 in a tiny cinema in Somerset, when I first saw Jurassic Park...

Actually, that's a little white lie. It was a year before, when Batman Returns came out. I was allowed to go and watch the film, as I was 'nearly' 12 while my younger brother wasn't. That moment was, for me, the great one-upmanship of sibling rivalry.

I still remember his tears before I went, hear the stomping of his feet. And I remember the tears after, too, when I told him it was the greatest movie ever made. He was playing with his Batman toys at the time. Batman toys that were wet from his tears.

But, looking back, that was a horrible thing to do - so, for the benefit of techradar's fantastic movie week, it was Jurassic Park.

There's a lot to love about the movie. The sweeping score, the phenomenal script - "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs." - but it was the special effects that really got me.

Special, effect

The film has that perfect meld of practical effects and CG, surpassing what Stan Winston and his crew managed to do two years earlier with Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

For what it's worth, I was also blown away by the effects in James Cameron's brilliant movie but I never saw it in the cinema. Instead, I watched it on VHS on my gran's tiny TV - so I never felt the impact of the effects like I did when I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen.

That, and the movie is slightly sullied by the fear I still get from thinking back to the first time I watched it. Fear that has nothing to do with robots taking over the world, more to do with the fact that my gran's VHS player chewed up the rental copy of Terminator 2. I'll never forget my gran painstakingly sticking the tape back together with, well, sticking tape and sending it back to the local Ritz. She ignored nasty letters from them for years.

She also thought some time later in my life that I was going to go to the cinema to watch a movie called 'I'm going to get them', when I was actually going to watch Armageddon. Legend.

Digital dinosaurs

It was the Stan Winston and his studio who also brought dinosaurs back to life in Jurassic Park. Initially they thought the whole movie was going to be stop-motion and practical effects but director Steven Spielberg had other ideas. He had asked the bods at ILM to look at adding digital motion blur to the stop-motion effects for the movie, just to see if the technology at the time could handle it.

Jurassic Park

This was the studio that had cut its digital teeth on The Young Sherlock Holmes and broke new CG ground with The Abyss and T2 - all under the supervision of Dennis Muren. Motion blur wasn't going to be difficult. So, Muren and his crew decided to try and create completely digital dinosaurs.

Steve Williams at ILM started the process of creating a digital T-Rex skeleton, after hours without the consent of Spielberg. One day producer Kathleen Kennedy came over and he 'happened' to have it on his screen and that was when everything changed for the movie.

Practical effects weren't shunned but CGI was used for a lot of the movie. According to the superb Moments That Changed The Movies short on YouTube, there were 15 minutes of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park - even though to my 13-year-old self it felt like a whole lifetime of dinos were packed into the film - nine minutes were practical effects, while the rest was CG.

And the results still hold up today. The photorealism of the dinosaurs is still strong 21 years later - it's only really the scenes that are set in stark daylight that suffer. But this was CGI added to real sets, not the CGI of today where EVERYTHING has been made in a computer. For CGI to really work, you need more reality than imagination.

At the time, though, I was never looking for the cracks between what was real and unreal. There weren't any. This was the purest form of cinema that just happened to use groundbreaking effects that had never been seen before. The first look at the Brachiosaurus eating leaves is something I will never forget - it makes my heart skip now while I'm writing this.

Forget John Hammond, the team behind Jurassic Park were the real ones that brought dinosaurs to life. And cinema has never been the same since.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.