Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Balancing a Dinosaur

It’s been three years since theme park and luxury resort Jurassic World was destroyed by dinosaurs. ILM was tasked with returning to the now abandoned Isla Nublar. In the overrun Jurassic Park, we find the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves as the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life.

The first appearance of the Brachiosaurus in the opening scenes of Fallen Kingdom.

The script called for Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) to mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.  Arriving on the unstable island as lava begins raining down, their expedition uncovers a conspiracy. The film takes our heroes to the mainland where the rescued dinosaurs are to be actioned off.

With all of the adventure and thrills synonymous with this most popular series, the new film sees the return of many favorite dinosaurs—along with a new terrifying Indoraptor.

‘Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was directed by J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls). It was filmed in the United Kingdom and on the Hawaiian islands. The Production Visual Effects Supervisor David Vickery, on loan from ILM.  The dedicated ILM VFX Supervisor was Alex Wuttke. They were joined by Chris Corbould as the Special Effects Supervisor. and Neal Scanlan as the Special Creature Effects Supervisor.

Director J.A. BAYONA with the Indoraptor on the set of «Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Balancing the Visual Effects

The visual effect were lead by ILM, but Vickery oversaw all the effects, including work from Important Looking Pirates (ILPvfx), ScanlineVFX, LolaVFX and others.  “While paying respect to the films that have come before, what we are trying to do is to create new cinematic moments that people remember; we want them to come away feeling like they’ve had a great time at the cinema.” comments Vickery.  The challenges of blending realistic dinosaurs alongside their SFX counterparts required balancing several key aspects.

ILM needed to balance

  • Balancing the original look of the dinosaurs with our newer understanding of how dinosaurs might actually have looked.
  • Balancing the look of the practical animatronic dinosaurs on set with the CGI dinosaurs.
  • And finally balancing the lighting and physics of the of the real world with the movie lighting and action beats of a major action film.

1. What would the dinosaurs have looked like?

“We consult with paleontologists and re-create anatomically correct models of the dinosaurs, from the skeleton up,”  Vickery commented.  “We need to see how the muscles connect at different points along the skeleton, and the way the ligaments and tendons are actually then fixed.  We then add skin to the dinosaurs with a living flesh and a layer of subcutaneous fat beneath…then run very complex effects simulations to figure out movement».  All of which produces very accurate rigged models, but the skin and coloring of the dinosaurs was a very different issue.

Since the first film came out, some 25 years ago, the world has grown to believe that the dinosaurs may have been actually much more colorful and possibly even had feathers.  Inside the plot of the film, this is solved by the notion that the generic engineers designed the animals to cater to the expectations of the film’s theme park visitors.

Sinoceratops, Note the new colors

In reality, over time, the ILM and production design teams have slowly added more color to the dinosaurs. The most obvious example is «blue», Owen’s Velociraptor, but that was not the only color added to the Jurassic animals. «With the new dinosaurs there was a slow evolution process where J.A (director) wanted to bring in a lot more color and a lot more individual character to the animals» commented Vickery. «The Sinoceratops now has the beautiful green and yellow markings, and the Baryonyx (which is a Spinosaur), has these dashes of blue and aqua down the side of its head». The director also slightly tweaked some of the older dinosaurs and generally had a more colorful look, especially on the Island.

The Dinosaurs in this film, also have individual battle scars from having been left alone to fend for themselves for the past few years. In this film, there were 21 different species of Dinosaurs, seven of which were new.

Owen (CHRIS PRATT) with a baby Velociraptor Blue
2.CGI had to match the Animatronic exactly, or not at all.

There are a number of animatronic dinosaurs in the film, and there was a strong collaboration between VFX and special creature effects (CFX). The second balancing act ILM faced was matching perfectly to these extensive animatronics. If a perfect match was not possible, or the design changed, it would need to be replaced in every shot with CGI. For shot to shot consistence, «either the CGI matched perfectly or not all all» explained Vickery. The supervisor admits the task is extremely hard and he honestly comments that in some instances he feels «we did not match it perfectly, in others we did, —  and in other places we did have to replace it completely». Vickery pushed hard to include the Animatronics and have them at final quality so they could be used in the edit.

There were some shots that they decided from the outset to always have as digital animals, but they still needed an accurate stand-in, such as for Blue. «We knew we were going to replace him wholesale. We knew this all the way through production. We shot with a puppet so Chris could have something to work off, and we’d get the right sort of bounce light, but we knew we would replace it».

Velociraptor Blue which was always planned to be replaced throughout the shoot with a digital ILM creature

Renowned Oscar-winning creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan was brought in with the unenviable task of ensuring that practical effects dovetailed seamlessly into the film.  He discusses the curious balance between physical and computer effects: “I’m going to surprise you and say that animatronics is not always the best way forward for every scene.  You have to weigh up the pros and cons of approaching it practically.  If there is a dinosaur on set, you can light it for real and the actors can interact…but you have to support that performance with the people behind the creature»,  he explained. “In some ways it will have an impact on your shooting schedule; you have to take time to film with an animatronic,” he continues.  “In balance, we asked ourselves if it is economically and artistically more valuable to do it that way, or do it as a post-production effect.  Once we have looked at each particular case, with the director and the VFX supervisor we decide whether—because of the environment or the circumstances—it is the right way to go practically.  It is interesting dicing up the different techniques.”

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) try not to wake the mighty (CFX) T. Rex

One of the first animatronics the team needed to build was a full-scale T. Rex head and shoulders.To help the physical models match the CGI, ILM took their high-resolution models of the T. Rex from Jurassic World and transferred the detailed texture maps to make them back into the three dimensional model.  «We sent that to Neal who then did a full-scale 3D print of the T. Rex in sections, so he had an incredibly detailed, faithful version of the T. rex from Jurassic World.  The results were fantastic, you can see every scale on her skin.”

The process for exporting a CGI model was to take ILM’s digital models, pose them in an average position for what was going to be needed. The ILM team then baked down all the displacement maps down into a mesh. The mesh was then cut in ILM’s ZENO with the scale of the mesh 1:1, «and we forced the polygon resolution so the every single polygon on the mesh is 1mm square in real world scale. We gave that to Neil and they then 3D printed it at 1:1 scale. That formed the basis of the dinosaur on set». While this provided a very accurate model, it was still down to the CFX team to paint and texture the skin, and then ILM to match that back in with their CGI shaders.

This approach meant that the designs and script points needed to be locked down well before principle photography, to give time for both Wuttke’s team and Scanlan’s teams to make the models and animatronics. For this reason, the only prop animal that this did not work well was the Indoraptor. It’s final design was not locked down and it continued to evolve and be refined during the production. The final animal one sees in the film, «had an extra 18 to 20 weeks design work done on it compared to the practical one we had on set, «explained Vickery.

Wuttke points out that there were two key places that ILM had to match to the CFX animatronics. First the T-Rex in the shipping container and then «the Indoraptor when he is in the cage, for the attack scene. I think Neil did a great job with the surfacing of the animatronics, but it doesn’t quite react in the same way. Form Latex has different properties to the hide of a dinosaur.» The team did not do BRDF scans and choose to match based on the skill of the TDs and the key ILM creative staff.

3. CGI had to look real but move to the fast beats of an action movie

The third balancing act for ILM was between realism and movie drama in the movement and look of the animals.

«We looked at elephants and rhinoceros to understand how animals with certain features move and behave,” commented Vickery. Unfortunately, while some of the dinosaurs are much larger than these animals, in the eruption escape scene, all the animals were required to outrun a very fast moving rolling destruction.

Brachiosaurus is the first Dinosaur seen in the original Jurassic Park film, and it is the last Dinosaur seen on the island, in this film’s tragic final death scene on the docks. Even the animation is a deliberate call back to the original movie’s first animation shot of eating the leaves.

Fallen Kingdom is an action film, and one of the hardest things to balance was the animation. If the animation had matched the actual full weight and size of some of the animals then the action may have been too slow. Conversely, it is hard to make creatures look large and heavy, if they are moving quickly.

Both Vickery and Wuttke believe that the hardest thing to get right, of all three balancing acts, was the animation of the animals. «In the stampede there was definitely a lot of backwards and forwards to find the right balance between pace in the shot vs. selling the natural weight and size of the dinosaurs. That was pretty tricky to get right» recalls Wuttke.

Not only was it hard to get the balance of size vs. speed, but the animatronics would often define a range of motion. The animators would need to be constrained to the physical limits seen with the CFX creatures. «Often times we are limiting the range of movement and the velocities of movement,.. and for the animators that can impose a conformity to the performances. That was pretty tough, as the natural instinct for an animator is to push the animation pretty hard and really showcase their skills, and we had to limit it to the animatronics» explained Wuttke.

Maisie (Isabella Sermon) wakes up to a nightmarish Indoraptor guest.

«Actually trying to create a single performance is hard, … you are trying to ask 6 or 7 different animators to produce one performance», explained Vickery. The animation team had to not only provide a consistent performance, but as in the case of Blue, they had to produce a character arc that slowly rolls out over the course of the film. «We had the amazing Jance Rubinchik as the Animation Director at ILM, and he and the team did an amazing job» explained Vickery. Rubinchik joined ILM’s Singapore studio in 2014 as an Animation Supervisor. He moved to the London studio in 2017 to work on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It fell to Rubinchik team to balance the story telling, performance, consistency with CFX and produce the film’s dramatic iconic shots.

Wuttke recounts that while ILM took the latest rigging and creature technology and incorporated it into the Fallen Kingdom pipeline. This lead to improvements in sculpt and texturing, but «we were very careful to make sure we were not making drastic changes, … it was just qualitative upgrades». ILM improved its shaders to take advantages of the new improvements to Sub Surface Scattering (SSS) in the new RenderMan RIS renderer, «and this allowed us to present the Dinosaurs in the naturalistic light as possible «, he adds.

Collaboration CFX and VFX

“In many ways, VFX has revolutionized practical effects», comments Neal Scanlan.  «If you go back 15 years ago, and I wanted to put a rod onto a puppet to bring that to life, there was no way of removing that rod, it would have been in shot or we would have had to work out how to hide it from the camera.  Nowadays, you can not only have a rod, you can have a whole person in shot and they can be removed digitally afterwards if the scene really demanded it.  This does spoil us terribly, and CG has opened up this opportunity.” Collaborating with the visual effects department for the dinosaurs is nothing new to the franchise.  Scanlan explains: “They got very clever at mixing practical with digital.  A sequence where you see four Velociraptors together, two are practical and two are digital and it is very difficult to tell which one’s which because they swap them around.  It was brilliantly done…the ability to mix two techniques and be clever about where and when to keep the audience guessing.”

The Island Escape: No Dinosaur Gets Lets Behind, Almost

As the Volcano erupts our heroes and the dinosaurs run toward the water to escape. On Hawaii this was filmed with smoke bombs and flame bars. Due to the interaction of the animals with the ground, their shadows and their dust, — much of the running sequence was fully CG (apart of the actors who were comped back into the CG plates). «In a way it was a shame we had to replace so much», commented Vickey. «We’d gone all the way to Hawaii to film this and we rigged as much of the pyro bombs as we could.  We had hundreds of feet of smoke tubes and flame bars, — and it diffused the light in a really interesting way». Vickey commented that one huge advantage that the team did gain was the real sunlight on the actors. «In the UK you don’t get many bright sunshine days to film outside, …and it is always almost impossible to recreate sunlight fully on a soundstage, as any DOP will tell you».

Ironically, after ILM had finished Hawaii’s eruption happened and there has been very fast Lava rivers filmed on the real island.

In the Island escape sequence which ends with the cliff fall. The film was originally scripted to have the heroes racing to escape a lava flow. The production soon felt that the lava would look unbelievable moving down the hill side at the required 15 to 25 miles an hour. The decision was made to have some sort of gas cloud, but even here, it was discovered that such volcanic plume are super hot. Such a plume would be so hot that Owen and the dinosaurs would immediately die. A pyroclastic blast is often times up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the end the team decided to have a dust, smoke cloud precede the actual gas and lava.

The chase effects sequence was very heavy to render. It was primarily done in Houdini and rendered in RenderMan as a Deep Composite pipeline. To add further drama, the team added Lava bombs. » That was something nice that we felt could travel fast and chase them», comments Vickery.  Having everything rendered with a deep pipeline at ILM gave «tremendous flexibility with the sims» commented Wuttke. «We used a variety of packages to do the smoke, the thin smoke was done in Plume and the heavy simulations were all done through Houdini». This meant that as the shots could be crafted in comp, and the team did not have to go back and redo the simulations to adjust the final look.

The gyro-car chase was done with a series of practical and VFX effects.

Initially, the Claire and Franklin sat in a motion arm, which is how the sphere first starts moving. The shots of Hawaii were filmed on location on the Alexa 65, but some of the Hawaiian island plate photography was footage filmed for the previous film, and shot on the Red Camera.

The actors moved from the motion arm to a gyro-car that was mounted as part of a special vehicle «We wanted to drag them in a gyro-car at 20 miles an hour over the real land» explains Vickery.

This special rig on a flatbed stunt vehicle was chosen as Vickery felt in the pervious film that the Gryo-car was gliding unrealistically over the rough grass. Unfortunately, this new solution produced too much shake and the footage of the actors was unusable. To solve this, track-mat was laid on the Hawaiian slopes to reduce the vibration.

Once the gryo-car got to the cliff edge the Director had a very dramatic idea as to how to film the actors during the gyro-car’s fall… to film it on a real RollerCoaster!


At the end of the escape sequence, the gyro-car flies off the cliff. The original idea the director had was to buy out an actual amusement park for a day and film the actors on a normal rollercoaster.  While this had some merit, the idea presented enormous problems. «Everyone looked at each other when it was suggested and said — yeah but this is never going to happen, Health and Safety will kick in, …and rigging a green screen? Chris Corbould, who was sat in the corner, just put his hand up and said ‘I can build you a rollercoaster if you want?’ and J.A. was like — yes please!» recalls Vickery. The physical effects team worked out how to get 2 seconds of zero gravity as the actors went over a 60 foot drop. «It was Bryce (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Justice (Justice Smith) first go that they used, and they looked genuinely terrified. It is amazing footage and really — really — fun to shoot» laughing recalls Vickery.

Note the blackout — all except a filming window behind Chris

As Owen chases just behind Claire and Franklin, the gyro-car is rocketing off Isla Nublar and into the ocean.  When Owen dives to rescue them, he must use every bit of his military training and survival instinct to come out alive.  Filmed in the underwater tank at Pinewood Studios, the sequence took almost nine days to capture.  Pratt explains: “I loved the whole underwater sequence.  The creative concept was to film it in one shot, keep the focus as though we are inside the gyro-car looking out.  We never cut from that point of view, and this thing is sinking.  Claire and Franklin are about to drown and Owen must swim down to break them out, but it doesn’t work.  Owen must swim back up to the surface, then come back down.  All this had to be done in elements, and it was like putting together a thousand-piece puzzle.  I loved the process of shooting piece by piece and watching this thing become stitched together.”

Originally there was pressure to shoot this sequence dry for wet, on green screen. «But we would have had to have them (the actors) without any glass, sitting in the shell of the gyro-car, and comp separate elements of Chris under the water, — it would have been horrible», explains Vickery. «We pushed really hard to shoot it in a real tank».

Chris Corbould, and the special effects team built an elaborate underwater gyro-car. The unit was a normal shaped sphere with a side box attached. Inside the side unit was the cameraman and the camera. The scale of the entire Sphere and housing is actually 10% bigger than the on land version. While it does not appear so, the special gyro-car was completely sealed. It had valves allowing it to pump in water and/or Air in and out. This setup was built in a tank at Pinewood, with the exterior of the tank blacked out. Off to the side of the camera were safety divers. Pratt swam down beside the sphere, when it was about 6 ft below the surface.

Interestingly, if the camera needed a different angle on the actors, the actors internal rig rotated inside their sphere providing the camera crew with any angle on the actors they needs. The outside shell and camera remained fixed and just the actors seats rotated to provide a new angle.


One of the really standout pipeline tools that helped with this film according to both David Vickery and Alex Wuttke was ILM’s use of the Foundry’s Katana. «For me Katana helps massively with both speed and consistence,» comments Vickery. «You have one artists who can light multiple shots at the same time».

ILM modeled the individual properties of the on set lights and lamps. They had each catalogued for wattage, IES profiles, etc to match what was done on set, «but invariably it comes down to balancing and the skill of the artists», explains Wuttke.  The lighting on many of the Dinosaur shots, especially any with animatronics was fairly static, «so we could build the one lighting rig across a range of shots. We had a base lighting setup in Katana for all the setups and scenes… and we allowed the dinosaurs to fall in and out of that lighting setup, which adds realism — the fact that they don’t always catch a perfect rim or back light».

«It is interesting the more you work with DOPs, the more you understand that they cheat. Oscar (DOP. Oscar Faura) back lit every single shot in the film, to the point — and I thought he was mad when I saw him do this» explained Vickery.  «He could not do a 180 degree pan in one take, so he did it in two takes. That way he could backlight the A side and then he’d do a whip pan and cut. He’d then do a backlit B-side and we’d stitch them together. He did that 5 or 6 times in the film, and it works!»

Once again the supervisors were keen to make sure the artists could balance between the correct lighting and the needs of movie lighting. They would tell the artists, «we cheat on set, and you can cheat too». It needs to start with being physically correct, and yet the lighting on the actors does not need to perfectly match the lighting on the dinosaurs» recalls Vickery.

The Indoraptor ‘Monster’

In this film there is a new Dinosaur, laser guided and more evil than anything nature ever created: The Indoraptor. This character, more than any other, was refined in post-production and provided complex animation challenges for ILM.

It’s DNA is an unholy mix of Velociraptor, Indominus rex and who knows what else Dr. Wu spliced into its genetic makeup, this creature is not deadly because of size—it’s due to his intelligence, speed and ability to follow orders…when it so chooses.  Indoraptor is the perfect weapon/challenge. This scientific abomination was a particular delight to Producer Steven Spielberg, “this is the first Jurassic movie that I could truthfully say where we have a monster.  The Indoraptor is a dinosaur, but it’s really a monster.  That makes Fallen Kingdom the first real hybrid between a dinosaur film and a monster movie.”

The Indoraptor scenes play out in the estate back on the mainland. One of the references «that came back over and over again was Dracula», comments Vickery. The film set the tone of being dark and almost gothic. «It came back as a reference in many ways, the Nosferatu, it’s claw — the way it reached out».

The T-Rex once again returned with classic poses that referenced back to the original film.

There will never be a Jurassic film without our star T. Rex, if the filmmakers have anything to say about it,  “The T.Rex is back,” joked writer Colin Trevorrow.  “We’ve been following this same character since the beginning; she’s the same T. Rex that was in Jurassic Park and in Jurassic World.  She is iconic—not just because she’s a T. Rex, …but because she’s this T. Rex.”

Shot counts

The film has some 1200 visual effects shots. ILM London was the main creative hub and did about 600 shots and ILM Vancouver did a further 200. ILPvfx did the next largest allocation, and Vickery was very impressed with their work, «ILPvfx are an amazing company, I know Niklas Jacobson, the vfx supervisor there very well, from my days at DNeg,.. they did the whole prologue, the T Rex chase + the dinosaur on main street, and I think is one of my favorite scenes in the whole film, it is a wonderful bit». ILPvfx did about 120 shots in total. Nvizible did all the monitors and comped all the graphics. ScanlineVFX did water shots, and Proof did the pre-viz for the film. «We also had a little in house team called the Post Office which did postviz, they postvized about 600 shots, which kept visual continuity from previz to postviz, …it really helped» commented Vickery.


One very impressive sequence that was captured in camera was Owen’s body rolling away from the CGI lava. «It was all him, he is brilliant» commented Vickery about Chris Pratt’s performance. The drug induced partial paralysis in this film was a cross between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Wolf of Wall Street Lamborghini scene and his Bear attack in The Revenant, the crew joked on set.  The only VFX is «one split screen of his finger with his body, but otherwise it’s all Chris’s performance».