Industrial Light & Magic animation supervisor Jance Rubinchik describes the joys of playing with dinosaurs for ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’
Why are dinosaurs so popular? Perhaps simply because they’re big, bizarre, and terrifying. Scary, but extinct and therefore safe. Their anatomy is familiar yet exotic. They’re mysterious. They represent a deep history of our planet.
So, of course animators love them.
“Every animator’s dream is to work with dinosaurs,” says Industrial Light & Magic’s Jance Rubinchik, who supervised animation for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. “A lot of guys will tell you that Jurassic Park, the original, got them into the industry and that is certainly true for me. It was a pivotal film for me as a kid; it had a huge impact. I thought, ‘I don’t know how to do that, but I need to learn.’”
And he did. Rubinchik graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2004, worked as an animator in Orlando at Electronic Arts for a year, and then moved to Tippett Studios in California. Three years later, he joined Weta Digital in New Zealand where he was a senior lead animator for nearly six years. Then, he hopped over to ILM’s Singapore studio where he received an Annie nomination for Kong: Skull Island. In 2017, Rubinchik circumnavigated on to London to supervise animation for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
J. A. Bayona directed Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. ILM’s David Vickery supervised visual effects created by that studio’s artists and a group of subcontractors. Neal Scanlan’s team created and puppeteered animatronics. The filmmakers shot on location in Hawaii and England, and worked on sets at Pinewood Studios near London.
All told, Rubinchek estimates that there were probably 15 different dinosaurs in Fallen Kingdom including the crowd shots. ILM animators based in Vancouver and supervised by Glen McIntosh worked on the stampede sequences and the meeting between Blue and Owen; animators at ILM’s London studio handled the rest, including various shots with Blue, the trapped T. rex, the new hybrid Indoraptor, and the fight between Blue and the Indoraptor. All told, approximately 52 animators at ILM worked on the film.
“The movie centers on the relationship between Blue and Owen [Chris Pratt], but in the background, there’s a new dinosaur cooking up,” Rubinchek says. “We finally see Indo revealed and there’s a big showdown. Blue and Indoraptor are the main characters.”
For Blue, the animators referenced the character’s performance and personality from the previous film and worked on strengthening the relationship between Blue and Owen. In a flashback, we see Owen training baby Blue, and we see tender moments in the film between Owen and the adult Blue, who has been living a feral life since the last film.
“We have Blue nervously approach Owen,” Rubinchik says. “We dial back the aggression and have tender, quiet moments when he pets her. She lets her guard down. Owen strokes the top of her nose, the top of her head, and we feel that connection.”
For close-up scenes with Blue when she is nearly still, such as the operating table scenes, the filmmakers had a full-scale animatronic on set that puppeteers could perform. Even so, the animators played a part.
“We augmented her [in post] to add a complexity of motion,” Rubinchik says. “Heavy breathing, muscle firing, the motion in her throat accompanying guttural sounds. Those things are difficult for animatronics. So, she is a hybrid. You can’t tell where the animatronic begins and the CG Blue starts.”
ILM artists would track a CG Blue’s head to match the animatronic and then augment her nostrils, eyes, and around her lips. In doing so, they preserved the on-set interaction between the animatronic and the actor, while enhancing the performance using CG “makeup” performed by animators. Modelers creating the animatronic and the CG model worked from the same data set to make the enhancements and transitions seamless.
“The contact is 100 percent real,” Rubinchik says. “And the eye lines are accurate. But, the CG augmentation makes performance more believable.”
Whenever Blue moves around though, she’s CG. For the training sequence in Jurassic World, ILM animators wearing motion capture suits performed as Blue to give actor Pratt a character to work with on set and to provide data and reference for the animators later. For this film, the animators relied more on keyframe animation.
“Going into the film, I had a chat with Glen [McIntosh], Alex [Wuttke, vfx supervisor at ILM’s London studio], and David [Vickery] about using motion capture and we did some tests,” Rubinchik says. “But I felt that although motion capture was great as a starting point and to block in performances, it couldn’t get us where we wanted to go for this film. Old-fashioned key framing was the best approach. I supervised some motion capture that was almost like previs to get something in front of J. A. [Bayona], so he could see how the action flowed. And, we used a bit as reference. But, it’s hard to get a human to do the things these large animals need to do because the anatomy is so different. So, we relied on the animation done historically for the series as reference. We have really talented animators here.”
In addition to referencing dinosaur movement from previous films, because there were animatronics on set, the animators needed to make sure their CG Blue moved in a way that would tie into the puppeteered performances.
“It was great to see how the full-scale animatronics moved on set, and how fast,” Rubinchik says. “And, the animatronic informed our animation to a certain extent. We would make sure that what we were doing with the CG versions would tie into that.”
A full-scale animatronic of the T. rex was on set, as well, but during the shot in which a drugged T. rex held in a container gradually wakes up, the dinosaur is a combination of practical, practical with CG extensions, and all CG.
“We make the switch from practical to CG as he wakes up,” Rubinchik says. “We added eye twitches and blinks to the practical T rex in the beginning to make him feel more alive and real, then augmented him through a slow build across the sequence as the action ramps up to the fully CG T rex.” When the T rex opens his large mouth to attack Owen, he’s all CG.
For the Indoraptor, animatronic head, claws, and hands performed by puppeteers on set gave the cinematographer, camera operators, and actors something real to work with, and the animators and lighting artists something to match. But in the film, Indo is fully-CG 99 percent of the time. The creature is a hybrid based in part on Blue’s DNA, but three times larger than Blue. The visual effects crew never had to match a full-sized practical dinosaur.
“Indo is more of a character than dinosaurs we’d done previously,” Rubinchik says. “His arms are more human and he uses them more than the other dinosaurs. The other dinosaurs will try to open doors, but he is far more adept at using his claws and hands to get what he needs. And, he moves between quadruped and biped, which is unique. It was an interesting challenge to see how human we could make him and still have Indo feel like an animal, like a dinosaur.”
In one dramatic sequence, Blue and Indo fight in a little girl’s bedroom, a fight designed at ILM and keyframed by the animators, and one that was particularly fun for the animators.
“They’re clawing, biting, scratching each other,” Rubinchik says. “We had to keep the weight there and they’re in a small space with the kid’s toys getting smashed around. We didn’t have any real previs for the sequence, so we designed the fight here in London and placed the props that the effects team will throw around. It was the trickiest sequence. But, it was a lot of fun. We all know that little kids play with dinosaur toys in their bedroom. So now we’re seeing real dinosaurs going after each other and trashing a kid’s bedroom.”
In addition to the overall choreography, animators working on Indo created detailed movements specific to his character.
“He’s mentally broken, devoid of empathy and compassion,” Rubinchik says. “He’s just a killing machine. We wanted to express that in the way he moves. He’s very twitchy. We drove that in animation with controls that would inform the creature dev team. They would use what we were driving with those specialized controls to drive their simulations.”
The animators also had specialized controls to move the neck in a way that preserved the angle and slope they needed.
“When he’s a quadruped, he really had to crane his neck up, and the hard shells down his back had to slide over one another,” Rubinchik says. “We needed to control that line, how the angle at the top of his head would play, and how the movement worked as it entered his collarbone and torso.”
Animators also keyframed the crowds of dinosaurs to maintain control over the movement. For these dinosaurs, they animated cycles -- running, walking, tripping, and so forth -- and then placed dinosaurs on motion paths and dropped the cycles onto them.
“We had tools to control the characters along those paths,” Rubinchik says. “We’d add variation between similar dinosaurs so it didn’t look like they were all running with the same cycle.”
Once the animation was final, the creature development team added muscle simulations create shake, wiggles, and vibrations as the skin slides over the bones. For reference, the team looked at high-speed photography of horses running.
“There are more moments where we’re right up on the dinosaurs than in the other films,” Rubinchik says. “J. A. [Bayona] wanted to get as close to these dinosaurs as we could get, because the closer we get the more real it feels. At times, it almost feels claustrophobic. But, we definitely had a fair share of large moments, too. We had lots of shots of the dinosaurs fighting on the island.”
The animators worked on shots without dinosaurs, as well. Digidoubles here and there, and the gyrosphere. But, dinosaurs were the most fun.
“Getting the chance to be part of this franchise is special to me,” Rubinchik says. “This is my first Jurassic, and all the dinosaurs are in this film. It was fun to play around with them. That’s what it felt like. Playing. And to bring this new dinosaur to life and set it apart from the others -- that was amazing. Animating these dinosaurs is a dream come true.”