Steven Spielberg Wanted To Make Jurassic Park As Homage To An Old Hollywood Legend

If someone asked you to name a Hollywood legend, there are certain people that just cannot be excluded. One of these is director Steven Spielberg. When you're responsible for films like "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Schindler's List," "West Side Story," and "Jurassic Park," it's pretty hard to argue against. The man is probably running out of space for all of his accolades.

Hollywood legend Spielberg may be, but he's taken inspiration from earlier legends of the silver screen. In fact, with "Jurassic Park," Spielberg paid homage to legendary animator/special effects creator/stop-motion animation innovator Ray Harryhausen. 

Harryhausen, who died in 2013 at the age of 92, was responsible for the creature work in films like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," "Jason and the Argonauts," "One Million Years B.C.," and "Clash of the Titans." Harryhausen inspired many filmmakers with his work, and Spielberg was no exception. 

'I was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen'

As someone who remembers my mind being blown by "Clash of the Titans," the fact that he's an inspiration to Spielberg is no surprise. Before the heyday of CGI, stop-motion animation was a technique that could bring dinosaurs and creatures of legend to life. For decades, Harryhausen pushed the limits of the technology he had. It might be hard to watch some of his films now after years of watching digital effects, but for those of us who hadn't seen anything like it before, it was mind-blowing. 

In a 2006 interview with the Directors Guild of America, Spielberg spoke about his Harryhausen fandom. It was mentioned that "Jaws was like a prehistoric character," and the director was asked if that was the idea that got him interested in "Jurassic Park." Spielberg said: 

"I really believe that when I read Michael Crichton's book, I flashed back to 'Jaws,' and I flashed back to 'Duel.' Look, I'd wanted to make a dinosaur picture all my life because I was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen."

Of course, "Jurassic Park" wasn't using all stop-motion animation like Harryhausen. Spielberg said that he was aware of how CGI was developing through films like "The Abyss" and "Young Sherlock Holmes," but dinosaurs were new to the technique. He explained:

"But a digital dinosaur, a main character, had never been done before for the movies. So, in a way, 'Jurassic Park' was the first movie where the entire success or failure of the story was dependent on these digital characters."

' ... the artist magician who breathed life into clay figures'

Like Harryhausen was inspired by his mentor Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation work in 1933's "King Kong," Spielberg told Time in 2013 that Harryhausen's work was what got him interested in this type of effects. He said: 

"My early exposure to all the leviathans of the Saturday matinee creature features inspired me, when I grew up, to make 'Jurassic Park.' And the artist magician who breathed life into clay figures and wire armatures and made us, as kids, happily fear for our lives, was the dean of special effects, Ray Harryhausen. All those so-called "B movies" were the A movies of my childhood. He inspired generations."

If you look back now, you can see gaps in the smooth motion of Harryhausen's creatures, but you can't judge them by today's standards. Harryhausen brought us magic. Spielberg calling him an "artist magician" is right on the money. 

'Harryhausen embraced it immediately as a positive'

What's even more wonderful about Spielberg's fandom is that Harryhausen was supportive of how the world of special effects had evolved since his time in the industry. In an interview with Ain't It Cool from 2011 (with /Film's own Eric Vespe), Spielberg talked about the day he was able to show a digital dino shot to his idol. He said: 

"Ray happened to be visiting me that day and I said, 'Ray, do you want to see a CG dinosaur?' He said, 'Sure,' so he went over to the art department where I was prepping 'Jurassic Park,' and I put on the three-quarter inch cassette into the big machine, and Ray and I watched the Gallimimus (scene). They were all just rendered as skeletons, they had not been fleshed, but the movement was so smooth that I just got to watch Ray Harryhausen's face watching the natural evolution from his art to the new era of digital characters."

Spielberg said that Harryhausen "embraced it immediately as positive. He wasn't sad to see the paradigm shift; he was as jubilant as you can imagine a young boy would be." Spielberg called it "one of the greatest moments of my life." Just a guess, but I bet Harryhausen thought it was a pretty great life moment; to see someone so talented take what you've done and continue the march forward. What better tribute could there be?