LOST WORLD DINOSAURS  How were realistic dinosaurs created for Jurassic Park:  The Ride?  Eileen goes to Universal Studios to geta a behind-the-scenes follk at the famous ride.
To Purchase NEWTON'S APPLE videos and other science stuff, 
call 1-800-588-NEWTON.
Getting Started

Begin the lesson by asking these questions: Have you seen the movies Jurassic Park or Lost World? How real did the dinosaurs appear to you? What makes them seem real? Have you ever seen model creatures that didn't seem real? What was the difference? What were the moments in the movies that were most striking? Why? 

How would you like to come face to face with a T. Rex or Ultrasaurus? Of course, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park aren't real. Despite Jurassic Park's science fiction about recreating dinosaurs through modern science, we are still left to imagine how dinosaurs really looked, sounded, and felt. So how did they build Jurassic Park: The Ride? How did they get the dinosaurs to move so realistically? How did they make an environment that replicates the one scientists believe the dinosaurs lived in? How do paleontologists know what environment would be the most realistic?


The Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood was in development even before the first frame of film was shot for the first movie, Jurassic Park. The creators spared no expense to make the park as lifelike and realistic as possible, right down to the scripted "disaster" that happens in the middle of the ride. The designers of the ride (who came from every area of the science and technology community) based the ride's environment on the most current knowledge about what the dinosaurs looked like and how they behaved. 

For example, chemists made materials for the dinosaurs' skin that accurately duplicates skin imprints found with fossils. Botanists selected over 100 species of plants to be viewed from the ride. They based their choices in part on fossilized plants found in Wyoming. An attempt was made to accurately depict dinosaur behavior, too. Scientists now think that dinosaurs were at least somewhat warm-blooded, that some of them (like the Velociraptor) hunted in groups, and that some tended their hatchlings the way birds do today. Evidence for these ideas comes from a large fossil deposit in Montana, in which dinosaur eggs and babies were found in nestlike formations, and a group of Velociraptors was found entangled with the fossil of an enormous plant-eating dinosaur.

Scientists extrapolated dinosaur movements and posture by studying the size and shape of bones and connective tissue, and by observing the layout of fossils that had apparently died in action (running or fighting). Robotics experts at a defense contractor then modeled these movements with an advanced hydraulic technology first developed for the space program.

The hydraulics were particularly important because most of the moving models of living creatures (animatronics) up until then had been rather jerky. This new hydraulic system, however, used a fluid under pressure to allow very smooth and detailed movement called compliant reactivity. Combined with computerized instructions for even the smallest movement detail, such as shifting the shoulder slightly when moving an arm or moving the tail for balance when shifting weight from foot to foot, this compliant reactivity is startlingly realistic.


1. Why is realism so important to people in a ride like the Jurassic Park ride? 

2. How do you think the ride designers are going to top themselves? How could the next ride be even better? 


Determine how accurate the dinosaur-makers were in creating realistic dinos?

The best models show that close attention was paid to small details. See if you can notice these details and suggest materials for models.


  • video of a dinosaur movie (Jurassic Park or Lost World, for example, but also Godzilla or another science fiction movie) and the equipment to play it on, preferably with a stop-motion feature
  • artists' depiction of reconstructed dinosaurs (in library books, magazine articles, or on the Web)
  • natural objects (rocks, flowers) or a small animal such as a frog or fish

  •  1. Choose a short portion of the video with a dinosaur exhibiting some close-up behavior. 

     2. Watch the video clip a couple of times, stopping it to study individual movements and materials. Can you identify any clay animation, models, humans in costumes, or computer-generated elements? Is there anything that isn't completely realistic?

     3. Compare the video to the reconstruction of dinosaur fossils. Can you find mistakes or inaccuracies in your video clip?

     4. Take a simple natural object such as a rock or a single flower, and think about how you would design a model for it. What materials would you use? What details would be particularly important to reproduce? If you wanted to design a model for a small animal such as a frog or fish, what additional details would you need? Why are moving models more difficult to make?


     1. What areas of study are necessary to get a job modeling animals and natural elements for the movies or for museums?

     2. A science has recently been created that involves creating faces on human (or human ancestor) skulls. What do scientists have to consider when reconstructing a face on a skull? 

    Brian Show Number: 1501


    Books and Articles

    Allman, W.F. (1993, June 7) 
    The dinosaur hunter.
    U.S. News & World Report,
    pp. 62-72.

     Horner, J. & Dobb, E. (1996)
    Dinosaur lives: Unearthing an evolutionary saga. 
    New York: Harper Collins. 

    Thro, E. (1993) 
    Robotics: The marriage of computers and machines. 
    New York: Facts on File.


    The Everything Dinosaur Catalogue 
    (800) 346-6366

    Web sites

    Dinosaur Society

    Universal Studios' Jurassic Park:
    The Ride


    Try This:

     Write a story line for an amusement park ride. What kind of action would you have? How would you draw the audience into your story? 

    Try This:

    An online Jurassic Park game is available on the Internet at the address below. Try this game out. What do you think of it? How would you improve it? jurassic.unicity.com

     Try This:
    Raise your arm or leg and notice what other parts of your body shift or move also. Is this movement consistent? Can you move a limb without moving any other part of your body? 

    NEWTON'S APPLE video cassettes and educational materials provide further information about this and other topics. Call 1-800-588-NEWTON.


    Copyright 1997,
    Twin Cities Public Television

    We encourage duplication for educational non-commercial use.Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.NEWTON'S Apple is a production of KTCA Saint Paul/Minneapolis.Made possible by a grant from 3M.