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20 Things You Might Not Know About Jurassic Park

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Universal Studios

So far 30 million people have watched the Jurassic World trailer on YouTube. Here's a look back at the original.

1. Spielberg found out about Jurassic Park while working on ER.

When director Steven Spielberg and author Michael Crichton were working on a screenplay that would eventually become the television series ER, Spielberg asked the writer about the plans for his next book. Crichton told him about Jurassic Park, and Spielberg immediately tapped Universal to buy the film rights in May 1990—before the book was even published. He was so excited that he began storyboarding scenes from the book, even though there was no screenplay written yet.

2. Jurassic Park almost took a backseat to Schindler's List

Though excited about Jurassic Park, Spielberg wanted to direct his dream project—Schindler’s List—first. But MCA/Universal President Sid Scheinberg would only greenlight Spielberg’s Holocaust film if the director agreed to make his dinosaur picture first. Both films were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June, and Schindler's List at the end of the year. 

3. Chip Kidd is behind that iconic logo.

Universal Studios 

Most books that lead to movies end up taking the film’s poster as their cover art, but for Jurassic Park, it was the other way around: The iconic logo on the poster was adapted from designer Chip Kidd’s T. rex skeleton drawing used for the original novel.

4. A King Kong Ride inspired Spielberg's original plan for building the dinosaurs.  

The logistics of Spielberg’s original plans to bring the dinosaurs to life were inspired by the Universal Studios “King Kong Encounter” ride. Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr designed Kong as a full-size animatronic with an inflatable balloon-like skin surrounding a wire frame. Unfortunately, the plans to build all of Jurassic Park's dinosaurs as similarly full-size animatronics proved too costly.

5. In order to pull off the dinosaurs, Spielberg had to get creative. 

Because the dinosaurs couldn’t be life-size animatronic recreations, Spielberg had to think a little differently—so he assembled a group of special effects legends to create his vision for Jurassic Park: 

Stan Winston and his team, which created the exoskeleton from The Terminator, would build and operate the live-action dinosaur robots. Some creations, including the T. Rex, were full dinosaurs, but most were just the upper half—including the head and torso of certain dinosaurs—while others were the just bottom half, including the legs and claws. Here's footage of the 7.5-foot-tall Brachiosaurus puppet, which included just the head and neck:

Michael Lantieri, special effects supervisor on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the two Back to the Future sequels, would supervise the interactive elements on-set. For instance, in the final scene when the CGI T. rex throws a CGI raptor into a practical T. rex skeleton, Lantieri was responsible for making sure the skeleton reacted, in a realistic manner, to the yet-to-be-included CGI elements.

Phil Tippett, who received an Oscar for his special effects work on Return of the Jedi, would use his “Go-Motion” technique—an updated method of using miniatures and stop-motion animation to add motion blur to each frame for smoother and more lifelike movement—for dinosaurs in wide shots.

Finally, Dennis Muren, who had previously supervised special effects on the Star Wars films and Spielberg classics like E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, would lead the effects team at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in seamlessly combining all of the effects elements in post-production.

6. Jurassic Park broke new CG ground.

Spielberg wasn’t 100 percent happy with the wide test shots of the dinosaurs—they just weren't photorealistic enough. So Muren and his ILM team, spurred by their revolutionary experience in designing and incorporating fully computer-generated characters into films like The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, showed Spielberg an early CGI dino test of a group of Gallimimus skeletons running through a field. Spielberg was in awe of the ease of movement and realism of the effects, but he was still wary that they wouldn’t hold up under intense scrutiny—and he didn’t want to scrap Tippett’s practical animation talents altogether. So the director urged Muren and ILM to go further. When they came back with a CG test of a fully rendered T. rex walking across a field in broad daylight, the director decided to go full CGI for some shots.

7. One Ian Malcolm line was inspired by a member of the effects team.

While viewing Muren’s complete CGI test with Spielberg and the other members of the effects team, Tippett said, “I think I’m extinct.” Spielberg incorporated Tippet's comment into the film in an exchange between Sam Neill's Alan Grant and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm:

Dr. Grant: "I think we're out of a job."
Malcolm: "Don't you mean extinct?"

But instead of leaving the production and wasting the animal motion research he had done, Tippett served as a consultant, helping the CG animators create realistic movements in their digital creations.

8. To create realistic dinosaurs, effects artists had to get into character.

The digital artists took video of themselves acting like the Gallimimus herd for reference before they animated the stampede scene; it helped them create more realistic instinctive behavior. Meanwhile, Stan Winston's crew built raptor suits ... and got into them:

Combined, all of Jurassic Park's CG dinos have just 6 minutes of screen time, while total dinosaur effects shots make up only 14 minutes of the 127 minute film.

9. Other big names were up for roles in the film.

Casting is everything: Other possible candidates for the roles in the film included William Hurt and Harrison Ford as Alan Grant, Christina Ricci as Lex, Sean Connery as John Hammond, and Robin Wright or Juliette Binoche as Ellie Sattler.

10. Jurassic Park brought Richard Attenborough out of retirement.

Richard Attenborough, who plays InGen CEO John Hammond, was on a 15 year hiatus from acting when Spielberg approached him about taking a role in Jurassic Park. Attenborough had been directing—in fact, his film Gandhi beat Spielberg’s E.T. for Best Director and Best Picture at the 55th Academy Awards—but said he agreed to end the semi-retirement because Spielberg had “the charm of the devil.” 

11. A huge hurricane hit the set during production. 

Jurassic Park shot on location in 1992 on Hawaii’s Kauai Island. Hurricane Iniki—the most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii in recorded history—hit during filming. Attenborough apparently slept through the worst of it. When asked by cast members how that was possible, he replied that it was nothing—after all, he had survived the London Blitz during World War II!

12. Jeff Goldblum liked to read his lines out loud on set.

In 2011, Ariana Richards—who played Lex—recounted a fun Jeff Goldblum story to Interview magazine: Between scenes, she was sitting in a helicopter with Joey Mazzello (who played Tim) and Goldblum, who had his script in his hands. "I was struck by the fact that he wasn't studying it like most people I'd been around that were actors, who'd study quietly [and] kind of unobtrusively," she said. "He was speed-reading them out loud!" That’s chaos—just like Ian Malcolm would want it.

13. Spielberg had paleontologists serve as consultants on the film...

Famed paleontologist Jack Horner was used during production to ensure the dinosaurs exhibited scientifically accurate behavior, and Robert T. Bakker—also a paleontologist—gave animators information about the dinosaur's physical characteristics. In the forward of his 1995 novel Raptor Red, Bakker had nothing but praise for the animators creating the dinos. "The artists ... wanted the latest info on all the species they were reconstructing. They wanted everything to be right. They'd been calling me once a week for months, checking on teeth of T. rex and skin of Triceratops. I'd sent them dozens of pages of dino-details." He told Popular Mechanics in 2012 that the dinosaur artists working on Jurassic Park were "better animal morphologists than most tenured professors."

14. ...but he didn't always take their advice.

Still, Spielberg insisted on using dramatic license when it came to some of his prehistoric stars’ appearances. Take, for example, those T. rex teeth. Bakker sent over diagrams of the chompers—which, in reality, were banana-shaped— but "the powers that be didn't like the real tooth shape," Bakker told Popular Mechanics. "The CGI rex and the robot had their fangs sharpened."

The most famous example is probably Spielberg's Velociraptor, which more closely resembles the Deinonychus. A major source for Crichton’s book was Gregory Paul’s Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, which labeled the Velociraptor as a Deinonychus subspecies; real Velociraptors weighed less than 50 pounds and had feathers.

But in a bit of good fortune, a new, much bigger species called the Utahraptor was discovered during Jurassic Park’s production. In the forward of Raptor Red, Bakker wrote about a call from Dr. James Kirkland, who was part of the team that discovered Utahraptor:

"Jim!" I yelled. "You just found the giant raptor Spielberg made up for his movie." Jim thought I was daft. He didn't know about the other phone call I had gotten about giant raptors that morning. It was from one of the special effects artists in the Jurassic Park skunkworks ... the artists were suffering anxiety about what was to become the star of the movie—a raptor species that had never been documented by a real fossil. ... Just before Jim called, I'd listened to one artist complain that Spielberg had invented a raptor that didn't exist. ... He wanted hard facts, fossil data. "Yeah, a giant raptor's possible—theoretically. But you don't have any bones." But now Jim's Utahraptor gave him bones.

That dinosaur, discovered in January 1992, was almost exactly the same size as Jurassic Park's big female.

15. Only one robotic dinosaur actually made it to the Hawaii set.

Winston’s team worked from highly detailed drawings to create their robots—first making small-scale and full-scale clay models based on the drawings and then constructing the remote-controlled skeletons that would move underneath the robo-dino’s latex skin. Here's a mini-documentary from the Stan Winston School on the construction of the T. Rex, which, according to the crew, was as dangerous as a real dinosaur:

And check out some behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage of the animatronic dino in action:

According to Entertainment Weekly, only one of Winston’s machines was used on location: the sickly Triceratops that the characters come across while on their tour. All of the other robots, including the one used for the famous T. rex attack or the raptors in the kitchen sequence, were used on sets and sound stages.

16. It took many different animals to create the T. Rex's roar.

The sound design of the T. rex's roar was reportedly a composite of tiger, alligator, and baby elephant sounds. The deadly Dilophosaurus roar was created by combining howler monkeys, hawk screeches, rattlesnake hisses, and swan calls.

17. Grant and Lex probably would have been T. rex food.

Even though the T. rex could have hunted based on smell, at the time Jurassic Park was made, it wasn't known for sure whether the giant dinosaur’s vision was based on movement. Since some reptiles are known to exhibit the trait, consultant Jack Horner didn’t object to having Spielberg include it in the film. More recent research suggests, however, that T. rex probably had pretty excellent vision. Oops.

18. Robert Muldoon's weapon of choice was a SPAS-12.

Game warden Robert Muldoon, portrayed by actor Bob Peck, uses a folding stock variant of the Franchi SPAS-12 combat shotgun to hunt the Velociraptors in the film. The firearm—which gets its name from “Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun"—was a dual mode shotgun that cycled between semi-automatic mode at 4 rounds per second and pump-action mode for low pressure ammunition; it was manufactured from 1979 to 2000. Its effectiveness was limited to close range fire, but even then, this gun didn't help Muldoon. Clever girl.

19. One iconic moment was inspired by listening to Earth, Wind & Fire.

The idea for the rippling water and rattling mirror in the tour vehicle caused by the approaching Tyrannosaurus was inspired by Spielberg listening to Earth, Wind & Fire with the bass turned up at full volume in his car. On set, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri plucked a guitar string underneath the cups to create the ripples; a vibrating motor above the windshield made the mirror shake.

20. After filming wrapped, another famous director took the reins so Spielberg could start work on Schindler's List.

Spielberg and his crew completed filming on Jurassic Park on November 30, 1992—12 days ahead of schedule—but he had to quickly shift gears and concentrate on shooting and completing his next film, Schindler’s List, which would go into production in March 1993. Because of the tight shooting schedule on that film and the extensive post-production needed for Jurassic Park, he handed over some post-production responsibilities to friend and frequent collaborator, George Lucas, who owned ILM. Lucas was given a “Special Thanks” credit in the final film.

Sources: Entertainment Weekly (2); Popular Mechanics; Raptor Red; Stan Winston School's Making Of Videos; Vanity Fair; Cinefantastique Online; Jurassic Park production notes (via Lost-World.com); "Making of Jurassic Park" documentary.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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