Interview With David Beneke

The name of David Beneke might not sound as familiar as those of Steven Spielberg, Stan Winston or Crash McCreery, yet we all are familiar with his work. Mr. Beneke has worked on countless films, such as I Am Legend, Batman Returns and of course, Jurassic Park. Mr. Beneke was kind enough to be interviewed by about his work on the Jurassic Park films. First of all, We would like to thank Mr. Beneke for this interview. We have to admit that it is exciting to be able to talk to one of the people that brought Jurassic Park to life and changed the face of special effects forever.

What was your involvement in the Jurassic Park Trilogy?

On the first Jurassic Park, I was both a sculptor/mold maker and a puppeteer. I was involved in the sculpting of the T-Rex, specifically the 1:5 scale model. There were three models, a 1:25 scale model, a 1:5 scale model and of course, the full sized T-Rex. On the 1:5 scale model, I did the inside of the mouth, which was my own design; basically I just went in and copied an alligator mouth or what I thought a T-Rex mouth should look like. I then finished up the right hand of the T-Rex. The left hand was done by a talented artist named Dave Grasso. From there on, I helped mold the 1:5 scale, and then I moved on to what would become the full sized T-Rex. First, I helped in the construction of the armature, before blocking it out, and then finishing it. I was all over that thing, did bits and pieces to the head, the tail, I did most of the underside by myself, on a scaffolding, kind of like Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel, with my sculpting tool, carving out the scales on the chest and stomach area; and from there I went on to help with what was the first, probably Syntactic, epoxy mold ever done on a creature. From what I understand, the T-Rex was the biggest movie monster ever made in real life. I believe it was 33 feet long and over 19 feet high. It was big, and it had to match the 1:5 scale model exactly to the full scale T-Rex, because ILM would take the 1:5 scale T-Rex, scan it, and use it to create the CGI model.

When the full size T-Rex, which was fully mechanized, went to the to the stage to be filmed, everyone had a perception of where the CGI T-Rex would be, because, at the time, this was a first. It is so common practice now, that large creature makers like myself, well, they don’t do large creature work anymore.

After finishing the sculpture of the T-Rex, we went to mold it, and it was the first time aerospace technology was used on creature molding, the reason being that they needed strong, lightweight molds. At first, they thought silicone would be the way to go, because there were so many undercuts on this creature, meaning we wouldn't be able to pull the mold off of the core.

So, Tony McCray, who came in from aerospace technology, taught us a method of mold making which is used commonly now, but at the time was new to us. We took epoxy and spread it over the sculpture, after it had been divided properly. We then applied layers of cloth and laminated the end, much like we would do with any fiberglass mold. From there it was topped up with a dough, which is called syntactic dough, which is a filler that makes the mold very light but very strong, which means you don’t need to add layer upon layer upon layer of glass. I think the layer of synthetic dough equals 17 layers of glass. And then we topped it off with another layer of glass, and we molded the T-Rex in that particular manner, as were the other dinosaurs in the movie. The 5th scale Rex was done in silicone because we needed several copies that were needed for various purposes, not just for ILM, but as reference models and such.

Sculptor, Moldmaker and Puppeteer David Beneke

I was also put in charge of the molding and cosmetics on the sick Triceratops, which was a brilliant sculpture done by Joey Orosco, who had help from Bill Basso, Rob Ramsdell and, towards the end, I believe Crash McCreery helped on the sculpting of the tail. I did not have much to do with the sculpting, because basically, it was Joey’s baby. He did the marquette, and then went on to do the full sized sculpture. My part in that was to look at the particular sculpture, decide where it would be parted, draw the part lines, and then me and my crew had to mold it. The Triceratops was the first dinosaur used for shooting the film. In fact, we had to speed up our schedule because we didn’t know in advance which dinosaurs they were going to shoot first, and they decided because of the locations in Hawaii, that it should be the sick Triceratops.

So in about a month’s time we had to go from molding to getting it out the door; meaning we went from molding to making a core in which foam latex was whipped up and put into the mold, which was then baked. From there different pieces of the dinosaur had to be made in latex and had to be put together on top of a core so they could mechanize it. We had to do a lot of things such as seam patching and adding little details that might have gotten lost in the molding process, because we only had one shot of doing a foam latex run on it. So there were little bits that were missing here and there, not much, but we had to come in with more foam latex and then patch it and heat it. Then we moved on to a process I refer to as fabrication, making the beak and the horns, and then it was painted. And from the paint job, the mechanics would work on mechanizing the face and the belly that would expand, as you can see in the movie.

I also was one of the people that puppeteered the Brachiosaurus during the scene in the trees, where it takes a branch and chews on it, and sneezes. That was myself and another bunch of guys. And that was my involvement in the first film.

The last creature I made was on JP3. Those were 5th scale molds, scanned into a computer, and then sculpted in a special foam and then cleaned up, but the process was entirely different to the first movie, and the second, even though I had nothing to do with the second movie.

I did a lot of the technical work on the eyes of the dinosaurs in JP3, and Mark Jurinko would paint them. I would also do some of the painting on these, but we were having some technical problems in the fact that the acrylic that was being cast was over a quarter of an inch thick, and they were machining the eyes down to a particular level of tolerance. The problem was that the acrylic could not be made thicker, whereas they needed it to be half an inch to be able to machine it and they had the problem that the paint jobs would become cooked under this mass layer of acrylic, which heats up an awful lot when it's poured up. It goes through a process of chemical changing, and it was a hard task for Mark to get this done. He's a great artist and a good technician, but acrylic was my expertise because I had been schooled in it. So I helped in the development of new ways of making the eyes, so the mechanics could machine them down.

The Lost World, the second Jurassic Park film, is notably absent from your portfolio. What was the reason for this?

I did not work on the second film, because I went back to school; after I had finished working on JP, I ran into several problems. There were riots in LA, and before that, there were floods and fires. At the time, my son was one and a half years old, and I didn’t think LA was a great place to raise a kid, so I went to dental school. Later on, I changed my thinking and became an effects man again, a couple of months after I got out of school.

A popular rumour is that the picture of the T-Rex on the back of the action figure boxes for the first Jurassic Park line is actually a Stan Winston model, because the prototype of the T-Rex action figure wasn't finished. Do you know if there is any truth to this?

I don't know anything about producting any of the toys or anything like that. I worked in Stan's Studio as a person that did a little bit of everything.

What can you tell us about the baby Triceratops created for the first film? While it was never seen in the trilogy, it appeared on several promotional items such as stickers, in Jurassic Park books etc.

The baby Triceratops scene was completed, storyboarded and all of that, and I believe at the time, it was never filmed because Steven Spielberg felt he was running out of time with the particular script he had. He was going from Jurassic Park, which was a 43 day shooting schedule -and he shot it in 41 days- to move on to Schindler's List, which was really his pet project. And of course, he won best picture for that, as well as best director. As for the sculpture, it was a nice working sculpture, very cute. Shannon Shea did an excellent job on that. I think it was molded and nearing completion before it was cancelled, which I think was a sad thing for Shannon at the time.

Working on the large T-Rex

Do you own any props of either of the Jurassic Park films? If so, which ones?

No. Anything is owned by Universal, anything from the molds to the little bits of foam latex. I have nothing, and really don't want anything like that. I don't really need little bits of rotting rubber dinosaur in my garage. I never really have collected props or anything from any of the movies I have worked on. I just like to work on them and see them on screen, and I am just happy that they are on screen, and that's where they'll live forever. The only things that I have right now, well, I make eyes and teeth right now, and if I make a spare pair, I'll keep the spare pair if the production company decides that they don't want to pay for it, but that's really the only thing I have. I don't collect props, I don't collect movie memorabilia, to be honest with you.

Are you involved with the recently announced Jurassic Park 4?

I am not involved. I heard that was going to be made forever now, I think since JP3. I don't really know anything about it and probably won't until the movie's released. I have no idea who would be doing something like this at such a huge scale. Some of the bigger shops, like Stan Winstons went under, because Stan died. There's Legacy Effects, which was taken over by four of the guys that worked for Stan. Whether or not they're doing that, well they could, but I don't know if they are set up for it. I have never worked for Legacy, I have only worked for myself for the past three and a half years, so I'm not really familiar with them.

Were you personally involved with the concept designs for the dinosaurs or was this just the work of Stan Winston and Crash McCreery?

A lot of the input for the designs was done by a lot of different people. I think Stan (Winston) had actually hired a lot of consultants and people to give designs, as well as Steven Spielberg had people contributing to the designs of the dinosaurs, and basically, I was one of the minions that just followed the direction of the key artists on the film.

The designs are mostly the work of Crash McCreery. A lot of the major artists did submit some of their own drawings, and then those would be refined by Crash. Anything from the baby Raptor, to the T-Rex, to the Gallimimus was Crash's design. That was his job to take it, refine it, and then Steven Spielberg would approve it, and Stan would approve it and it just went through this kind of process, but I think each individual key artist for each dinosaur did have input and did put in maquettes and designs and drawings which would end up being used in the final movie.

The T-Rex maquette was basically designed by Mike Trcic, who’s an excellent sculptor. As a matter of facts, he’s gotten out of the special effects business and sculpts dinosaurs for a living now. He does bronzes of them. If you go to his website (linked below), you’ll find his work there. I’m not an expert on dinosaurs, Mike was, he knew them inside and out, as does Crash McCreery.

The other key artists were Chris Swift, who did the Raptors. Joey Orosco did the sick Triceratops. Paul Mejias did the Dilophosaurus and Andy Schoneberg, I believe, did the Brachiosaurus. I don’t think there were any other dinosaurs in that movie, were there? Wait yes "the Spitter" done by Shane Mahan and the Baby Raptor was Greg Fiegel's.

Do you know where the animatronic dinosaurs from the films are now?

I have no idea where those are now. I would imagine they're in a warehouse in Universal Studio's somewhere, but I don't know where any of that stuff is now, or even if it would be in good shape, because most of the dinosaurs when I worked on JP and JP3 were made out of foam latex, which has about a year's worth of life before it just rots, and when you use something like that on set, it becomes pretty well worn. So there's not much of it left after filming. We usually had to make brand-new dino skins and the whole deal, and the mechanics have to be reworked and remachined, just like a car. Things get worn and used and they get old so you just have to start from scratch.

Are you familiar with Walking With Dinosaurs live? It is a live show that features over twenty life-size animatronic dinosaurs in an arena. If you know about this show, how do you think it compares to the JP animatronics?

I have not heard of it. To be honest, I'm not really a dinophile, although some people are really nuts about them. The thing that I like more than dinosaurs are classic movie monsters, which are what got me into special effects. As things progressed technologically, I think it reached it's zenith with JP and it's sequels; and then CGI really came into play, and then less and less big creature movies were made unless they were made with a computer. I did work on Godzilla and we didn't do full sized Godzilla, but a half-size that was made to look bigger than it actually was. That was with Patrick Tatopoulos, who did an excellent job designing and creating it, and I'm proud to have worked on some of the biggest monsters in movie history.

Mr. Beneke is 'blending' a piece of the Sick Triceratops; to compensate the loss of detail because of casting.

I'm not familiar with WWD, but it's probably different than actually doing animatronics for movies. Usually, animatronics for movies are a little more expressive than what you'd see in a theme park. You could do more detail for a film, and it doesn't have to work day in or day out, 8 hours a day, over and over, where good hydraulics would come into play, where they would reset themselves. That's the major difference, and sometimes, things for movies are hand puppeteered with tiny cables and such. So you get little, tiny movements, and things you're just not gonna get with large scale show type dinosaurs, or maybe something you'd see at places like Disneyland, or, you know, wherever.

But I haven't seen the show, so I don't know, maybe they have developed ways to make the movements much more subtle, such as blinking eyes, and little twitches in the nose, and things like that.

What would you like to see in the next Jurassic Park film? (A new dinosaur, a certain action sequence.....)

I don't know, I can't think of anything I'd like to see. That's mostly up to the person that would be writing the film. I'm a rubber monster maker, I'm not a writer or producer, so I'd leave it up to them. If I had it my way, I've always been interested in non-dinosaur prehistoric animals, such as saber-tooth tigers, or wooly mammoths. I know those have been seen in other movies recently, but you know, maybe to mix things up, maybe add in a saber-tooth tiger. But other than that, it'd be fun just to see a new JP film, with whatever they come up with. They've all been clever so far, and the writers, and directors and producers and creature makers have all made excellent movies and dinosaurs, and if could have a part in that, I'd be proud to work on that, just like I'm proud to have worked on JP and JP3.

Once again, we at would like to thank Mr. Beneke for the excellent interview. Make sure to visit his website, and take a look at his more than impressive portfolio, and don't forget to take a look at Michal Trcic's website as well.

DISCLAIMER: While we understand the enthusiasm of our readers for this interview, please refrain from contacting the interviewees on behalf of JPToys. The people interviewed do this as a favor to JPToys and are generally taking time off of their busy schedules. They do not have the time to answer dozens of e-mails. If you have any questions regarding the interview, please contact staff. They will be happy to answer your questions, or centralize them and then contact the interviewee. This interview is © 2011 and David G. Beneke. The pictures are © Stan Winston Studios.