Return on the incredible fate of Steve Williams, this animator of ILM who secretly decided to create the T-Rex of “Jurassic Park” by computer, thus modifying forever the history of the cinema. (Source: “The Movies That Made Us” on Netflix)
We are in 1991.
Steven Spielberg, who is already the most popular director of the moment and who has conquered the general public on multiple occasions with The Teeth of the Sea, ET or The Adventurers of the Lost Ark, has decided to do thrill its spectators once again with dinosaurs. Those of Michael Crichton, famous creator of science fiction, and author of a work entitled … Jurassic Park.
For dream and magic creator Spielberg, the biggest challenge of this colossal project is obviously to craft creatures believable and impressive enough that his audience won’t doubt their existence for a single second.
To do this, he decided to call on a true genius of stop motion animation: Phil Tippett, known in particular for having worked on the AT-ATs of The Empire strikes back, on the bipedal machines of Robocop or even on the special effects of the Indiana Jones trilogy.
In order to smooth the movements of the dinosaurs (and in particular the T-Rex) – which are no longer immense machines as in Star Wars, but many organic creatures with much less precise gestures – the team calls on the company of ILM special effects recently created by George Lucas, and more specifically to an animator by the name of Steve Williams, as the series The Movies That Made Us, available on Netflix, tells it very well.
Even if he is not yet aware of it, this young computer enthusiast who has already worked on the watery creatures of Abyss or on the T-1000 of Terminator 2 is about to upset the fate of Jurassic Park. And consequently, that of the cinema.
Engaged to add “motion blur” to Phil Tippett’s models, alongside his colleague Mark Dippé, Steve Williams realizes that things can be improved. Considerably. Aware of the unlimited potential – although still in its infancy – computer animation, he proposes to animate the T-Rex himself, using his mouse and keyboard.
“We had the opportunity to create a real creature that breathes, that moves, and we were told that it was impossible. I knew they were wrong. That it was possible”, he remembers in The Movies That Made Us on Netflix.
Faced with the relentless reluctance of his boss – the legendary Dennis Muren – Steve Williams then decides to withdraw, and to carry out his project on his side, clandestinely:
“I started building T-Rex bones in secret. We had a lot of trouble because of it, I got kicked out of ILM 3 times. It’s on my resume.”
Beginning only with the various bones of the dinosaur, Williams studies its movements and the way it moves. After 5 months of strumming on his computer while listening to Bach and Beethoven thoroughly, he obtains a particularly convincing moving T-Rex skeleton.
It remains to show the fruits of his hard work to the team of Jurassic Park and persuade them that he is right. To achieve his ends, he decides to use a test screening in the ILM offices and trap producer Kathleen Kennedy, who works hand in hand with Spielberg:
“I set a trap for them. Nobody knew what I was going to do. I did it because otherwise I knew they wouldn’t give me my chance. (…) I had turned my screen [ndlr : sur lequel le T-Rex était en train de marcher] to the door. Kathleen Kennedy and her team have arrived. Dennis Muren was with them, and the first thing they all saw was my screen. My trap had closed on them. Kathleen Kennedy said, ‘What is this?’ (…) She looked at the screen, everyone looked all over the place, and she patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘You are promised a bright future.’ Word for word.”
So the trick is played. Amblin Entertainment agrees to finance the continuation of the project, still carried out with discretion, and which now consists of covering this dinosaur skeleton with skin and scales. 5 months later, Rex is ready for his day of glory, and for his meeting with the maestro.
Presentations with Steven spielberg take place in the studios of Universal, during a test screening event organized by Dennis Muren, bringing together not only the director of Jurassic Park but also Kathleen kennedy, producer Frank Marshall and George lucas, the Star Wars daddy. For about 5 seconds, they all watch with a stunned air the T-Rex – in bone but also in flesh – running on a plain in the direction of the camera. The reactions are not long in coming.
“It seems that George Lucas cried”, says Steve Williams, still at the microphone of the documentary series The Movies That Made Us.
As for Steven Spielberg, his finding is clear. The situation has changed. The production of Jurassic Park is about to be upset by these few images. And with it the fate of the entire cinema.
“This is the future. It will be like that from now on”, he exclaims.
With his gigantic animatronics, used for close-ups, the filmmaker therefore decides to combine the computer magic of ILM and Steve williams.
Phil tippett, who continues to impart his knowledge to animators to influence the digital movement of creatures, but whose stop motion models have almost become obsolete for the film, admits to being frustrated. He tells the filmmaker that his profession is dying out. To which Spielberg replies that this line will be integrated into the film.
So when he arrives at Jurassic Park, when paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) discovers the dinosaurs genetically created by John Hammond, he declares that his profession is “finished”.
“You mean extinct”, then corrects it Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), in reference to the irremediable observation of Phil Tippett, and to this colossal technological change of cinema, initiated in secret by Steve Williams.
Discover Steven Williams’ story in detail in The Movies That Made Us series on Netflix (season 2, episode 3).
(Re) discover our video dedicated to the T-Rex …