Indominus rex


“It’s white. You never told me it was white.”
“Think it will scare the kids?”
“The kids? This will give the parents nightmares.”

“There is no shortage of awesome dinosaurs,” said Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World. “We could have populated this entire story with new species that haven’t been in any of these movies. But this new creation is what gave me a reason to tell another Jurassic Park story. We have the most awe-inspiring creatures to ever walk the Earth right in front of us, but for some reason that’s not enough. We’re always hungry for the next thing, and those who profit from it are always looking to feed that hunger. The focus groups want something bigger than a T.rex — and that’s what they get.”


The Indominus rex’s various attributes and qualities shifted as the script for the film was refined. Early names for it included Malasaurus (in the storyboards) and Diabolus rex — or D.rex for short — the nickname most widely used by the crew during production. In one of the original story drafts, the creature was an unprecedented fictional species of Dinosaur discovered in China — a concept Trevorrow discarded because the Monster’s origin needed to fit within the thematic of the film.

The Indominus thus became the product of genetic engineering, an idea that both satisfied said necessity and harkened back to Michael Crichton’s original novel — where Dr. Henry Wu considered genetically modifying the next generations of the dinosaurs in their park in order to satisfy what the public wanted. John Horner, paleontological supervisor for the film, commented on the idea of transgenic engineering: “it is actually the most plausible idea in the whole franchise. It’s the kind of thing that we can do these days. If we could bring dinosaurs back from the past—and I mean the way Jurassic Park did it—we actually would be able to probably make hybrid dinosaurs and transgenically make them do other sorts of things. So as weird as it is, it’s plausible.”


As a hallmark of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, the Indominus rex’s genetic structure represented an element with unexpected outcomes. Horner, who oversaw the whole design process of the Indominus, was also the one to suggest a camouflaging ability — which the filmmakers decided would be incorporated from cuttlefish genes. “I have, for years, wanted to get camouflage on a dinosaur,” Horner said. “The cuttlefish is what we use for their camouflage — they’re just the best camouflagers ever. So our dinosaur has that capability. I would like to have had a dinosaur that camouflaged itself so well that it wouldn’t even have to run after anything. It would just wait until something came up to it and eat it. But we have to have them running in a Jurassic Park movie.”

The filmmakers strived to design a Monster that not only would satisfy the various needs of the script, but also convey a balance between realistic believability and dramatic stylization. There was an element of natural malevolence the character also had to convey. “The challenge was to introduce a character that displayed a frightening, indiscriminate malevolence to anything that moves,” said creature model supervisor Geoff Campbell. “With Indominus there’s no soul, only an uncontrollable monster with a vengeance.”


Design groundwork started with Legacy Effects Studio — headed by John Rosengrant and other Jurassic Park creature effects veterans — hired to retain the visual connection with the other films. Rosengrant collaborated with concept artists Ian Joyner and Scott Patton The Indominus had to fit within the Jurassic Park dinosaur aesthetic in its structural design.”The Indominus was one of the first things we started designing and working on,” said Rosengrant. “We went through a lot of iterations to try and figure out what this hybrid creature was going to be, as far as making it evil but believable and then mixing the characteristics of both the T.rex and the Velociraptor.”


Although the Jurassic Park versions of the T.rex and the Velociraptor were the fundamental base of the Indominus design, other dinosaur species were used as reference. The notion of large claws was inspired by the Therizinosaurus. “It has great, big claws and big arms,” said Horner. “It’s sort of the opposite of a T. Rex—rather than having short little arms, it’s got these monstrous arms.”

Legacy’s design was an ornate creature with fins and crests. This iteration was passed over to Industrial Light & Magic, headed by visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander. Also collaborating on the digital effects were Jurassic Park veterans Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett. At ILM, the concept art was sculpted into a digital maquette by Kris Costa — and used as a template to further define the Monster’s appearance.


Indominus concept by Aaron McBride.

The Indominus — with the work of art director Aaron McBride and his team –began losing its ornate qualities, which were replaced with more aggressive traits such as quills, spikes and ostheoderms. Limb length and other anatomical features were also discussed. “Her design comes from reading the script, talking to Colin and figuring out what she needs to do,” Alexander said. “We needed to take into consideration what action she needs to do. Colin pointed out that he wanted her to have weapons different from the other dinosaurs. She has long arms and hands and a very powerful thick tail. Knowing that he wanted to use those actions in the film helps us to define what that character was going to be. She needed to run 35 miles per hour and that goes to limb length – all of those design considerations.”


The realism of the design was always a key factor the crew put into consideration. “We wanted it to be super cool and different,” Alexander said, “but it couldn’t look too alien or too much like a fantasy character. It was very important to Colin that the D.rex look like something that could possibly be created.”


ILM artist Glen McIntosh, collaborating with John Horner, was instrumental in the process.  “[Glen] made a number of descriptive illustrations and sketches to bring out the armoured plating along her neck and back,” said Campbell, “as well as defining her trade mark fenestrae between the nostrils and eyes and in front of the ear holes. If you include the eye cavity you get a kind of cathedral effect of three strong vertical structures defining her face.” McIntosh elaborated the bony horns above the Indominus’s eyes and decided to carry that horned pattern down the neck and flank of the creature.


The Indominus’s head was designed to work visually from all angles, and was especially intended for front shots. “Regardless of the scientific data and whether or not T-rex even had binocular vision, Spielberg designed the original T.rex with her front facing eyes partly because she looked better when she was moving toward the camera,” Campbell said. “Colin Trevorrow wanted to follow that same plan of attack.” For the Indominus’s eyes, their shape and relative size, the crew used goshawks as reference, and included a full nictitating membrane.


Particular attention was given to the Indominus’s mouth. “I needed to know how the mouth would come together and close,” McIntosh explained, “and there were several options. The mouth could close so that no teeth showed, such as on a Komodo dragon or the Raptors, or it could close with the upper teeth exposed, like the T.rex and other theropods, or it could have interlocking teeth, like those of a saltwater crocodile. It would have a very different look, depending on how its jaw closed.” Ultimately, the crocodile-like jaw structure with exposed, interlocking teeth was chosen. The lower jaw was also emphasized and brought forward to create an underbite effect. “Colin liked the opposing tension of gnashing teeth that you find with crocodiles so we incorporated that into the design and then added more meat to her jaw for bone crushing,” Campbell said. “We also pulled her lower [jaw] forward to give her a menacing under bite. This was all in the very early design stage of defining the character as a maquette for basic approval from Colin.”


With all of this data collected, Steve Jubinville — the lead digital modeler of the project — sculpted an entirely new digital model of the Indominus, based on Kris Costa’s maquette and incorporating all the new elements the crew defined. “Steve came with an incredible sculpting talent in addition to having worked on a number of dinosaur projects before coming to ILM,” Campbell related. “Building up his own reference library of lizards, birds and other animals he started sculpting an entirely new model of Indominus based on Kris’ maquette, starting with an accurate skeleton and muscle model for rigging and then moving on to the surface topology, detailing and adding structure, weighting skin folds, adding creases and aging along with bony scutes along the side of the head, neck and back. Martin [Murphy] worked with Steve, mapping out a scale pattern and the two of them worked back and forth in ZBrush, Adobe Photoshop and The Foundry’s Mari to finish the model and texture.”Similarly, a baby Indominus model was fashioned for the early introduction sequence.


The Indominus rex was an entirely digital effect. On set, the crew used stand-ins such as cardboard cutouts of the creature’s head, as well as 3D printed replicas of its feet, to establish where exactly the creature would be in a specific shot. A 1:5th scale maquette of the head and neck — differing only slightly to the final version of the creature — was also 3D-printed by the Legacy crew, and painted by Jon Cherevka.


Given the size of the creature and the other large animals of the film, ILM developed an app for iOS called Cineview — which allowed them to have an instant representation of the digital creatures on set. “I can get the same frame that they have on camera and see the dinosaur viewed on my iPad,” Alexander explained. “We could have discussions about how big the dinosaurs were going to be and if they were going to be framed correctly. With numbers of dinosaurs and different locations, we could see if the dinosaurs would fit.”


The digital model used for the animation incorporated realistic skeleton, muscle and skin simulations, where the skeletal movement effectively drove the muscular movement and the skin sliding over the muscles themselves. ILM’s simulation systems were refined to unprecedented realism. “Typically animation would inform the simulation,” McIntosh said, “and it would also in many ways kickstart the simulation. If we did nothing we would get some interesting aspects of impact tremors in the flesh or muscle. There’s also a tensing that precedes the movement – it’s new for Jurassic World in that it wasn’t just a secondary action as a result of the step, they’re using their muscles to take that step. We also had a tail rig where we could build muscle detail on top of that; in typical texturing, if there’s stretching of the limbs the texture itself stretches — but they devised a system based on the scale detail where the space between the scales stretch, but not the scales themselves. You see that when you see a snake swallowing an egg and the skin between stretches but not the scales.”

Initial animation tests were used to explore the possibilities given by the Indominus rex’s anatomical structure. Its large forelimbs allowed the animators to distinguish the creature from the traditional T.rex, incorporating different cues. Although the animation of the Raptors and T.rex from the previous films served as reference, the animators integrated new behavioural elements distinctive to the Indominus. “Initial motion studies were done,” McIntosh explained, “and we also quickly realized she would have long arms and raptor claws, and small thumbs. It opens up the world creatively to make her very distinct from a T.rex. Not only can she get down on all fours and sneak around this environment, she can push off with her claws to get up, use her claws to throw things around. We did a bunch of animation tests to explore that; we found that if you overanimated or made it too anthropomorphic and human-like in its movement, [you can detect it]. The goal was to always make sure she felt like a gigantic animal that was a theropod but taking advantage of its extra features.”


Among those elements were the Indominus’s flexible jaws and long arms. “She has a much more flexible jaw than other dinosaurs,” McIntosh said, “and can open her jaws much wider. We took advantage of that in the animation. We also took advantage of the D.rex’s long arms, which give her the ability to go down on all fours, and to swing and grab at things in a way that the T.rex can’t.”


For more pictures of the Indominus rex, visit the Monster Gallery.

About the monster philologist

I'm always bored and monsters were the first thing to entertain me

Posted on 02/01/2017, in Movie Monsters and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. James Phillips

    Yes! I loved parts of the i. rex, and I’m glad it was all purposeful. The head and arms especially, I defended those are great design choices back during the Build-a-Better-Fake-Theropod contest.

    What I still burn by is the dumb script. How did “We’re always hungry for the next thing” translate into “people are bored of dinosaurs”? So illogical!

    • Problem is the arms look nothing like the purported therizinosaur influence, and just come across like humanoid godzilla bunny-hands. Combined with the blunt, generic ‘megalosaur’ head, it’s no wonder it was taken as a retrograde step to the pre-dinosaur renaissance days, and the Build-A-Better-Fake-Theropod contest sprang up in response.

      At least it wasn’t that films Dimorphodons, though.

      For all the work put into it, it was a bad idea coming from a stupid conclusion (‘bored of dinosaurs’, as you say), and took Wu’s few words from the original Jurassic Park novel out of context as a weak justification. (even flipped them – contrary to the article here, Wu was concerned that the park’s dinosaurs weren’t the real article) After two mediocre sequels, Jurassic World is the point where the franchise gives up even pretending to have anything to do with the wonder of dinosaurs, or ‘renaissance’ dinosaurs, and just becomes – with respect to this site – another cheesy set of monster flicks.

      Kind of disappointed that John Horner egged this shambles on, but then he was getting sone stick for going off the rails before his retirement, anyway; what with ‘chickensaurus’ and “Fooled you! I didn’t really insist that Tyrannosaurus was a scavenger, you guys! No, really…”

  2. Great article, buddy! Cheers from Brazil! 😀

  3. Now That cinefex has gone the way of the Dinosaur when it come covering anything but cgi…I’m especially thrilled i found your website. Great stuff man, keep it going! Between Monster Legacy and Prosthetics Magazine all the bases are covered!

    • Thank you for your kind words, DT!

      I’d say Cinefex is still a very valid source, even though they’re less detailed than before. They used to discuss design too

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