The Jurassic Park of Randal M. Dutra

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The Jurassic Park of Randal M. Dutra – Creating the Fantastic

BY M. J. VAN DEVENTER

Randal M. Dutra is well known for his portrayals of the landscape and wildlife of the American West. Whether portraying a grey fox moving stealthily through the snow or a trumpeter swan gliding gracefully toward his lifelong mate, there’s no question that Dutra knows his wildlife. Dutra has been participating in the National Cowboy Museum’s “Prix de West” fine art invitational since 2002.

What many people don’t know about Dutra is his stellar achievements in the cinematic world of special effects – including being a director of animation for some of the most memorable achievements in film.
He has created gremlins and dragons, sculpted aliens and designed robots. But it is his realistic depictions of dinosaurs in particular that continue to strike a chord with generations of faithful film fans, having been instrumental in the original production of Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World.

“Dinosaurs have always held a fascination for me. In fact, they were my first monomania from age three on,” Dutra recalls. “I pored over every book in our local library on dinosaurs. I was constantly drawing with Crayons, sculpting with PlayDoh, and making mini-dioramas populated with dinosaurs – complete with little scooped out areas for water and my best try at palm trees.”

Dutra adds, “Around age four, my interest in dinosaurs segued rather naturally into the world of monsters starting with Universal Studios’ classic stable of creatures: Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, Mummy, Quasimodo, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Phantom of the Opera.”

His school classmates and teachers were less than enchanted with Dutra’s kindergarten show-and-tell of his Aurora monster model treasures.

“I felt sorry these humans could not see the beauty in the beasts,” he said.

Dutra’s introduction to the world of two-dimensional animation began with making home-drawn flipbooks, inspired by the 1940 Disney films, Fantasia and Pinocchio and the 1967 Disney classic, The Jungle Book.
“This eventually evolved into animating clay figures on our living room table at the age of nine with my grandmother’s wind up Bell and Howell 8mm camera,” Dutra recalled with a smile.

In the early 1980s, Dutra began his 25-year career in the film industry. He worked on the original prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, from 1981-1982. The film won the Academy Award Oscar for “best achievement in visual effects” in 1983.

In 1987, Dutra was the master sculptor of Eborsisk, a two-headed dragon, for Willow. The film garnered an Academy Award nomination for best achievement in visual effects in 1989.

Dutra’s filmography includes some of the most popular films of the 1980s and 1990s: Robocop I and II, The Golden Child, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Tim Burton’s classic The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coneheads, for which Dutra animated the Garthok, a creature that does battle with Dan Ackroyd.

But it was his work on Jurassic Park, as senior

animator for Tippet Studio from 1991 to 1993, that was a turning point for both Dutra and the special effects industry.

By then, he was a veteran of the special effects business and his credentials were well known as a key sculptor, creature and concept designer, and key animator. Dutra’s work on Jurassic Park contributed to the film’s Academy Award win for best achievement in visual effects in 1994.
Dutra explains the effects on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic

Park was divided among three studios: George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Tippett Studio, and Stan Winston’s Studio for physical dinosaur props and animatronics.

“Phil Tippett had routinely entrusted me with key creative tasks under his namesake studio banner for 10 years. So he was well aware of my qualifications for such a demanding project. Jurassic Park was a perfect fit for me,” Dutra says. “I was senior animator throughout the entire production for a year and a half.”
In that key creative position, Dutra was the sole animator for the Dinosaur Movement Bible, creating a series of stop-motion animation character and behavioral studies using articulated models of the Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus Rex – walking, running, leaping, stalking and attacking.

Dutra vividly remembers, “This was the first time anyone on production had ever seen the Jurassic Park dinosaurs in free, global movement, including Steven Spielberg himself. Until that time it had all been static, beautifully rendered artwork. The Movement Bible provided a tangible sense of the behavioral possibilities of these unique creatures.”

He also helped create Jurassic Park’s “animatics,” a pre-production technique now commonly used by filmmakers. It essentially is translating storyboards into motion.

For Jurassic Park’s 1997 sequel, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Spielberg hired Dutra as animation director, and again on his War of the Worlds in 2004. Dutra was nominated for Academy Award Oscars for both films.

“I was in the middle of creating the ‘Dinosaur Movement Bible’ and the animatics for Jurassic Park’s ‘Raptors in the Kitchen’ sequence when the digital tsunami hit. It completely upended the traditional paradigm of actively, physically working with a hands-on animation model and replaced it with sitting in a cubicle, staring at a monitor and using a mouse and keyboard.

“It might as well have been an alien invasion. This approach was so foreign to us. It was a pivotal time in cinematic history that can be pinpointed to Jurassic Park. This was pioneering work. Nothing was the same after that. A whole new vocabulary and skill set had to be learned or you would be relegated to the scrap heap,” Dutra remembers.

Dutra continued, “Being so intimately involved in Jurassic Park from beginning to end allowed me to transition from the traditional working tools of the artist, which had not changed for centuries, to being catapulted into the digital age. It was very clear this was no novelty; this was the future.

“Now computer generated images (CGI) are so

ubiquitous as to be utilized in practically every production you can think of: science fiction/fantasy, action/adventure, war themes and classic cinematic period pieces of literature. No genre is immune or remains untouched by CGI.”

Today, it is his art studio in his home in Castro Valley, Calif., that beckons Dutra. This is where he creates landscapes and wildlife scenes that beg his fans’ attention to look ever so closely at animals in their natural environments.

“As a restless artist, the digital revolution has allowed me to realize creatures, monsters, dinosaurs, strange beings and aliens of my imagination that otherwise would have remained locked away in my psyche,” Dutra said. “Now, I can share my innermost artistic inspirations in such a way as for them to be real, to exist for an audience to thrill to. I can create whole, living entities and environments that have never been seen before, incorporate them with humans and produce shared, emotional experiences such as Jurassic Park.”

Dutra continues, “The art of animation allows an artist to take his drawing or sculpture and imbue it with movement, with life ~ a performance, a personality. The creative process does not necessarily have to end with a traditionally ‘finished’ sculpture or painting. Now there is another level of creativity that can be applied.

“Ultimately, all of these disciplines that initially may appear disconnected or separate in nature are, in reality, parts of a growing aggregate of integration strengthening the arts. Each medium plays its role in advancing the future of art ~ digital technology is one of those mediums,” he says.

Dutra adds, “With the best work I see being produced today, and what young people are creating with these sophisticated new tools, the galaxy is the limit.”

Currently, Dutra is working on paintings that will be featured in June at the National Cowboy Western Heritage Museum’s “Prix de West Invitational,” a feast of art featuring western-inspired people, places and animals.

When viewing Randal Dutra’s paintings, look closely. You may just see a wolf lurking in a snow-covered forest or a concealed mountain lion ready to pounce on its prey.

Dutra’s time in the movie industry has imbued his fine art with a unique and genuine depth that could only be the result of years of study and discipline.

In Dutra’s own words, “There is so much in life to celebrate, and I will continue to explore every nook and cranny. When you are born with the curiosity gene you have no choice!”

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