A trip to the new Jurassic Park 30th Anniversary Tribute Store at Universal Orlando is a movie lover’s dream. Especially if they are a fan of the 1993 classic, Jurassic Park. The film, a classic of cinema in general, is also recognized as a landmark achievement in the world of visual effects and computer animation.
Yeah, yeah, but what does that have to do with the new retail experience in the middle of a theme park you ask? This.
This is a specially-designed armature to help animate the dinosaurs in the film. Let’s back up a bit. The 101 version of the story is that back in its original developmental stages, Jurassic Park was going to use stop-motion animation for all the creatures in the film. Which, 30 years later I look and say “Could you imagine?!” Think of the other films of the late 80s/early 90s that use stop-motion in their film. Looking at you, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and their cringeworthy scorpion and ants that did not hold up.
I digress. Using a form of stop-motion animation, called Go-motion, Director Steven Spielberg recruited Phil Tippett and his studio to use the technique in the film, along with Stan Winston and his team who were developing full sized animatronic creatures and puppets to use in the production. It was Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), led by Dennis Muren, who would be responsible for other visual effects in the film. There is more to this story, but I’m simply highlighting a prop in a special souvenir shop at a theme park, so I’ll be succinct. (The full story can be found in any of the DVD or Blu-Ray editions as part of the bonus features) Spielberg wasn’t completely sold on the stop-motion, as he felt it still didn’t look natural enough. On the heels of advancements made with computers for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a small team at ILM made a demo reel of a T-Rex running using Computer Generated Imagery which Muren then showed to Speilberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Phil Tippett.
The group was blown away and reportedly watched it several times over, leading Tippett to say “Looks like I’m extinct.” According to the legend, Spielberg liked the quip so much, it made it into the final movie. His one-liner proved to be untrue though, as Tippett was kept aboard as an animation consultant, lending his years of expertise to the film.
As part of this effort, Tippett and his team developed a special armature, the Dinosaur Input Device, as an innovative answer to that film’s core creative animation and effects problem: how to bring an array of prehistoric creatures to life on screen in a way that felt fresh and believable.
Developed by a joint team of Tippett Studio’s Craig Hayes, ILM’s Brian Knep and Thomas Williams, and Pixar’s Rick Sayre the first device was a custom-machined metal armature created by master-puppet maker Tom St. Amand. It roughly mapped to a T. rex’s skeleton, with sensors along its length that captured the poses created by a stop-motion animator. Encoders on the Device then translated those poses into data that could be fed into graphics software, where it was further manipulated by digital animators.
All records seem to indicate that two Velociraptor D.I.D.s and two T. rex D.I.D.s were built for Jurassic Park, and additional versions of their specific setup would see use in later films such as Starship Troopers (1997) (where the first “D” acronym would come to stand for a more-generic “Direct” and “Digital”.
When closely examining the one on display at the new tribute store, I’m inclined to believe that it’s a replica. Comparing my pictures to those available online show similarities but also differences. Joints aren’t numbered and a lot of the cogs and motors seem to be missing from the retail location version. Of the reported four in existence, I know that one is on display at the Academy Museum, and another once appeared at the Museum of Pop Culture (MOPOP) in Seattle. One recently was auctioned from Tippett’s collection, and was expected to go for upwards of $35,000. Leading to my next point, these are highly valuable pieces of cinematic history with each appearance being kept strictly behind glass or cased in some way. A prop desk at a theme park where people can reach and grab and touch and pose with pictures seems to not be a likely scenario for such a highly valuable piece of equipment.
You can see this prop on display now at the Jurassic Park 30th Anniversary Tribute Store at Universal Studios Florida.