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Director J.A. Bayona talks Balancing Animatronics and CGI in Jurassic World 2

Back in September Colin Trevorrow confirmed to us that the upcoming Jurassic World sequel would feature more animatronics than its predecessor. Jurassic World skewed noticeably CGI heavy, only utilizing an animatronic neck and head for the dying Apatosaurus. Now, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter J.A. Bayona elaborated on their upcoming plans and challenges:

“Obviously you don’t have real dinosaurs — sometimes you have people playing dinosaurs — but we love animatronics and we’re trying to do as much with them as possible, it’s complicated because the audience now is so used to seeing CGI that they’re sometimes reluctant towards animatronics. But at the same time, I think animatronics bring soul and reality to it. We’re trying to find the balance between animatronics and CGI in order to cheat the audience so they don’t know what they’re seeing.”

Unfortunately, the mention of audiences having a reluctance to accepting animatronics as ‘real’ on screen feels like pushback from the studio. It’s no secret those in charge of the business end have a tendency to prefer CGI over practical effects for numerous reasons – and they often seem to covince themselves it’s an artistic favor for the audience, when in reality it is not (for more on the challenges modern filmmakers face with utilizing practical effects, give our podcast with Matt Winston a listen). The Thing (2011) particularly made a name for itself when the studio forced to replace all its practical effects work with CGI.

The Jurassic Park franchise has always done an amazing job balancing its practical effects work against CGI, and the results show. The first Jurassic Park still holds up – namely with the practical effects, which look stunning and lifelike. Jurassic World is a strange film, visually. In terms of the technology, it is the best looking Jurassic film – however, the majority of its creatures are the worst looking in the franchise, coming off as cartoony and not grounded in reality. The major exception for this tends to be the Indominus Rex, who looked stunning in almost every scene, and had a sense of reality behind her animation. There is certainly nothing wrong with CGI when done right, and 90% it is done right and the audience doesn’t even realize what they’re seeing isn’t reality. However, when you can actually put something real on screen, it’s going to have a sense of reality that computer generated images do not.

Take the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, and compare her to the Rex from World. Park outclasses her entirely, and while World’s CGI may be more advanced, it has almost no sense of reality behind it when compared to the orginal.

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No audience is going to say that the top image from Jurassic Park looks less realistic than the bottom one from World. However, that’s not to say practical VFX are always the answer – I think the CGI compys in The Lost World look far better than the practical counterparts. Actually, I think the CGI Compys look ridiculously ahead of their time and more real than most creatures in World.

There is nothing wrong with animatronics/practical effects when used right – nor is there anything wrong with CGI. For some reason those in audience (and sometimes the industry) tend to lead a crusade against one or the other, which is certainly unnecessary as both are phenomenal artistic tools. But make no mistake, practical effects are the underdog currently. They’re more difficult to get right, take more planning and time, which tends to scare studios. However when they are done right they will almost always outclass CGI (unless we’re talking about real jaw droppers like Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean.)

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All I ask is that Universal listens to the artistic talent heading the franchise, and listens to the fans. Jurassic Park made a name for itself for cutting edge practical effects, and CGI. Take a note from Lucasfilm and Disney with the Star Wars franchise: embrace its history, its legacy, its identity. Let the franchise continue to be what made it special, and let it blow audiences away with what they see on screen.

Jurassic World may have visually faltered at times, but now that the franchise has proven itself in the box office, let it redefine cutting edge effects as it resurrects dinosaurs once more. Jurassic World 2 is in a position to usher in a new epoch of visual effects, and I hope it embraces its chance fully. I dare say fans would even embrace a delay if that is what it took to get realistic animatronic work in the film.

As always, sound off in the comments below and weigh in on the discussion, and check out our interview with Matt Winston below:

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

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11 thoughts on “Director J.A. Bayona talks Balancing Animatronics and CGI in Jurassic World 2

  1. Unfortunately this is not about what looks best in the final film. The priority goes like this with regards to CGI:-

    1.Cost – CGI is now more cost effective
    2.Flexibility – of CGI in post production, which vastly affects (1), practical puppetry has to be executed before and while shooting
    3. Time – production schedules are much shorter than in 1992, meaning Dinosaur design and approval is now done during post production, on the fly

    Essentially it comes down to the time allowed by the Studio and how much that costs. The modern method is less planned and rushed by Studios to cost less. CGI greases those budget wheels.

    Which is why Jurassic Park still looks better and has much more craft as you point out in those shots Chris. The production was longer, better planned and wasnt trying to make a quick buck.

    1. What needs to be added concerns the aforementioned “war” between CGI and practical FX supporters. People have a lot of passion towards their artforms and understandably want to defend their legacy and existence at a time where knowledge saturates most trivial crevices of the web and is utilized that way(pay special attention to this). While the passion of cinematic art remains the same, the challenge is that people become ignorant of the forest due to the individual trees. My point is, passion can get out of hand without serving our understanding. Since we live at saturated times, that happens all the time both in discussion and entertainment. CGI is a super-versatile tool, thus, has reached an undeniable status quo. But any tool, whether it’s computer simulated or practical, can be used without proper forewisdom. We know our tools, but how should we use them to get the best immersion possible? This is why Jurassic Park worked so well, the tools only serve a selective purpose which in turn works for the film’s favor like a genuine magic trick. It isn’t saturated like today’s movies are. If Bayona can somehow harness this understanding in how he and his crew structure the movie without too many interferences *cough*thethingprequel*cough* it can bring back at least some of that charm.

  2. CGI should only be used for dangerous stunts, or scenes where it would be physically impossible for a animatronic to perform convincingly.

  3. What will most likely happen is this:-

    The topic will be raised by fans many times before the release, and there will be promise of practical effects. Then the actual use of practical will be equivalent if not less than Jurassic World. Its just the way modern films are budgeted and planned.

    The only thing that might make this easier for fans is a bigger VFX budget than World, allowing more focus on the digital Dinosaurs, bringing them up to the level of the digital I Rex in quality.

  4. That cgi shot of the rex emerging from the broken fence from Jurassic Park is still the best cgi shot I’ve ever seen put on film. The lighting, photo realism, and weight are absolute perfection. The entire rex sequence in Park is a technical achievement that still hasn’t been challenged yet, and it’s almost 25 years old now. That is a testament to the expertise in direction, cinematography, and artistry that made that possible. Let’s be honest. Jurassic World was a good movie, but it wasn’t anywhere near the level of Jurassic Park and The Lost World in terms of practical/cgi blending. I will agree that the Indominus was pretty perfectly rendered, as was the aquatic animal. My biggest fear is that the animatronics won’t capture the same magic that Stan Winston and his studio were able to catch. Stan Winston was a genius.

  5. This makes me appreciate Bayona even more. The studio is going to push for as much CGI as possible, but I hope Bayona pushes back.

    I trust Bayona completely, it’s Trevorrow, Connolly, and the studio that has me apprehensive.

    Appreciated your write up, Chris. Nice to see someone who really enjoyed the film still manage to critique some obviously present faults. Although there are several, one reason I felt so detached while watching World was the excessive glossiness and CGI, both of which eliminated any true atmosphere the film might have had. Indominous looked fantastic, however, so I’ll give them that.

  6. Well said!
    For me, a large part of what made Jurassic parks dinos seem so real (both practical and CGI) was the sense of scale and weight they had. I feel that’s largely down to the fact that the CGI was trying to mimic the look and movements of the animatronics and not the other way around. Cgi by itself can do anything but that can lead to the dinosaurs seeming too fast, light and cartoony.
    Bayona said this film is likely to be more like the original so I’m hoping that means weightier, more grounded effects.

  7. I disagree saying some of the dinosaurs look cartoony in JW but I absolutely agree that JW2 needs a balance between CGI and animatronics.

  8. Remember when Trevorrow would make similar statements about not relying solely on CGI for Jurassic World? Just look how overblown and unrealistic the effects turned out to be in that film…

    Let’s hope this also isn’t just PR and the director/studio are actually going for a much more grounded approach.

  9. The shots with a CGI t-rex in the original Jurassic Park (and in The Lost World) look better than the CGI T-rex in JW. I don’t know why exactly. JP and TLW were done with ILM using all their resources and their best people. Even if technology has progressed by leap and bounds in the couple of decades since JP/TLW, ILM has so many teams working on so many movies at the same time… I imagine the lack of focus is a reason.

    Or maybe it was a priority issue. In my opinion, the CGI raptors looked pretty good in JW (even if over-animated at times, as it so often happens with CGI creatures), where as there are a few shots of CGI raptors in JP that are starting to show their age. The getting the I-rex right was clearly the movie’s priority, and I think it shows. Maybe the T-rex, having so little screentime wasn’t worth the effort?

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