How Animatronics Works

Monster Mash

Because the animatronic Spinosaurus is controlled by radio-frequency (RF) devices, certain precautions must be taken when it is in use. Any other device, such as a cell phone, that operates using RF technology must be turned off in the vicinity of the animatronic device. Otherwise, improper signals can interfere with the control signals. This could have disastrous effects when dealing with a 12-ton monster. Clean power is important for the same reason. The Spinosaurus has a dedicated uninterruptible power supply (UPS) so that a power surge or brownout would not cause it to go out of control.

Rosengrant calls the Spinosaurus a "hot rod" animatronic device. Everything on the Spinosaurus has more power than usual. The hydraulics have larger cylinders than normal and provide approximately 1,000 horsepower. The Spinosaurus is such a powerful machine that it can literally tear a car apart. When the tail is whipped from one side to the other, it reaches 2 Gs at the tip (1 G is the force of Earth's gravity).

Photo courtesy Universal Studios
The incredible realism of the animatronic Spinosaurus gave the actors ample reason to appear terrified.

On the set, the animatronic Spinosaurus was bolted onto a platform that moves on a track like a train does. An 18-foot (5.5-m) hydraulic cylinder was attached to the back of the Spinosaurus to move it forward very quickly. Moving the Spinosaurus to another location required a crane to lift it.

Since a lot of the action in "Jurassic Park III" involves water (mist, rain and lakes), the Spinosaurus had to be waterproof. Stan Winston Studio sealed everything tightly, providing enough protection that the machine could be completely submerged and still operate!

When watching any of the Jurassic Park movies, the blending of the animatronic and digital versions is extraordinary. Very few people can distinguish between them on the screen. However, Stan Winston says there is an easy way to tell if a dinosaur is digital or animatronic: If you can see the entire creature, legs and all, moving across the screen, then it is digital. The majority of other shots, particularly close-ups, probably use the animatronic version. Most animatronic figures, the Spinosaurus included, do not have legs. The ones that do are generally not capable of completely free movement.

Photo courtesy Universal Studios
Onscreen, the digital Spinosaurus from Industrial Light & Magic is hard to distinguish from its animatronic counterpart.

The dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park III" are incredible examples of the state of the art in animatronic technology. After seeing the Spinosaurus animatronic figure up close and actually touching it, I am amazed at how reality can be shaped so intricately by these masters of their craft.

To learn more about animatronics and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Links

More Great Links