Every summer, Hollywood goes big. Big stars. Big budgets and huge visual effects. This summer’s technology is more spectacular than ever. We went behind the scenes to see how magic is made in 2018.

How to make a dinosaur, 

by David Vickery, VFX supervisor

Neal Scanlan and I started creating the Indoraptor (above) in August 2016, with the creature concept artist, Jama Jurabaev, and the director, J.A. Bayona. J.A. knew what size he wanted the Indo to be. He wanted it to be black, with oily snakeskin, so that it felt like a deadly shadow. Early on in production, he showed us a picture of a shell-shocked soldier during World War I, this haunting image of a man with the craziest eyes you’d ever seen. J.A. wanted those eyes on the Indo.

We got concepts from Jama that J.A. would tweak. We used those to create a detailed study of the head. That’s when we had Steven Spielberg come in and approve it. From there, Neal and his team added details and created a full-scale arm, leg, and head/shoulders. We used those for up-close shots with the performers. We also created a large foam-sculpted version. Pieces of paper were laid over a 3D-printed scaled version, then peeled off and used like a dressmaker’s pattern. The pattern pieces were transposed to a piece of flexible high-density foam, and were then cut out and assembled.

At Industrial Light & Magic, we also started animation testing. We used a 3D model to render the dinosaur’s skeleton and musculature and see how it would actually move. We wanted it to walk like a raptor, on its hind legs, but also to get down on all fours like a big cat. But when we made him walk like that in the renderings, we noticed that his legs would collide with his elbows. We had to elongate the proportion of his body from hip to shoulders and shorten the arms slightly.

When it came time to shoot, we wanted to use as much practical animatronics as we could. The Indo gets so close to people. We really wanted that reaction from the actors. Once we got into post, however, we ended up replacing the Indo scenes with CGI. It let us get those special details, like the texture and color of his irises. The cheeks blowing in and out or the throat creasing as he swallows. He has a lot of damage and scarring on his body, as if he’s been mistreated. Very rangy. Very muscly. J.A. thought of him as a malnourished street dog. We even gave the Indo crazy synaptic twitches, so his muscles and skin would twitch like a horse’s.

How to fake a volcanic eruption, by Anthony Simonaitis, Pyrotechnics Supervisor

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom eruption

The Plot: After a volcano destroys their island, the dinosaurs are brought to a sanctuary in the United States, where, instead of being protected, they’re sold off to the highest bidders. The bad guys genetically modify an even-more-ferocious dinosaur. It escapes.

The Scene: As the characters run from a volcanic eruption, blobs of lava slam into the ground around them, throwing up dirt and lighting fires.

All the lava and debris flying through the air was CGI, but the visual-effects people needed a practical effect when it came to the blobs splattering when they hit the ground. Wherever the lava interacted with the terrain, they also needed us to create ribbon fires that would be shown burning the vegetation, with smoke rising off of them.

For the lava bombs, our charges were made of something called detonating cord, a small-diameter cord filled with explosive powder. We spool out the length we need and wrap it into a flat disc we call a Frisbee. That goes into a heavy steel tray that we can set on the ground and conceal. We put material in the tray that will blow into the air and look like whatever the indigenous dirt is. The goal is to create a simulation of these hard chunks of lava hitting the ground and kicking up dirt. We wanted it to look like the dirt was being thrown out to the sides as if someone were stomping in a mud puddle. So we put sand on top in the middle, then covered that with a layer of mulch, thicker around the edges. When the charge blows, since the sand particles are small and light in color, you don’t really see them, and they hold down the explosive energy in the middle, forcing the mulch out the sides.

To create the fire lines that the burning blobs of lava left behind, we used propane. The gas runs through a hose that goes to a pipe that has slots cut into it, just like a burner on a stove. Probably 3,000 feet of slotted pipe for the burners, 3,000 feet of pipe to get the gas to the burners, and then 1,000 feet of two-inch hose connecting the propane to the burner system. We cut it, threaded it, and slotted it. It took us weeks and weeks and weeks. And the logistics of getting some of it up into those jungle roads is quite a challenge. We usually used cans of Sterno as pilot lights, but we also had a mixture of biofuel and sawdust that doesn’t contaminate the soil and burns away clean.

Then there’s the matter of safety. We put additional pilot lights on the downhill side of the whole system. Propane is heavier than air, and the crew is all at the bottom of the hill. So if we had a leak, and the leak didn’t get ignited and just started rushing down the hill, you could have a giant cloud of gas enveloping the crew and then finding a source of ignition. And that would be a disaster.