How the Jurassic Wars dinosaurs were created

We asked computer artists Jon Hughes and Russell Gooday a few questions about the creation of the stunning, life-like dinosaur images they produced for Jurassic Wars.

How do you know what the dinosaurs looked like?

We can get an idea of the appearance of dinosaurs through fossil evidence of bones, teeth and claws. Skin impressions, footprints and even soft tissue traces are also found as fossils. Beyond this, we often draw from similarities found with species that may be alive today.

Are your representations based on scientific fact?

Many of our commissions come from publishers who wish to illustrate examples of species referred to in the texts of their book. Often the authors are respected palaeontologists, who also have their own specialised fields of interest. By working together on a commission we come into direct contact with the latest facts, theories and opinions. The constant change in palaeontology, with new interpretations being made as new fossils are being found, ensures that this is always a learning exercise for us.

Where does artistic judgement come into play?

Quite often there is very little evidence of what a species looked like, sometimes we are asked to create a whole animal based on only a few small bone samples and some comparisons, this conjecture has to be a blend of creative interpretation and scientific fact, balanced so that the end result is both acceptable to look at, but also plausible given the evidence. There is always an element of interpretation when reconstructing extinct animals, some things are purely conjecture, colouration of animals for example, as this does not survive the process of fossilisation. Another influence can be the availability and quality of reference material. As the posture of animals can greatly alter their appearance, and fossils can provide clues to how dinosaurs behaved, we try to incorporate these theories wherever possible. As the theories are updated and we often have to update the compositions we create.

How are the images produced?

The artworks are all created digitally. First a 3D model is made, then textures are created to reproduce the colour, bump and specularity of the surface of the animal. These images are then "wrapped" onto the 3D model, followed by the properties of the materials. The skin, teeth, tongue, claws and eyes all have different values of glossiness, bump, reflection and so on, and these all have to be added.

The animal models then have to go through what is known as the "rigging" stage, where bones, controls for movement, and areas of influence on the model are added, so that the model can be set up and manipulated in a way that mimics the way the animals would have actually moved.

Once the animal is rigged, lights are added to a scene, often with a ground plane for the model to sit on, it is like a virtual film stage, complete with cameras. Only then can the image creation process start, by posing and rendering (taking a photo/filming) the model.

Finally, the 2D rendered image of the animal model is taken into image manipulation software, and composited into an environment made by combining photography, 3D renders and straight illustration work along with other re-touching if necessary.

What hardware do you use?

Both Russell and I have pretty much state-of-the-art computers, which are powerful enough to handle intensive rendering needed for this type of work. As software becomes more advanced, it requires improved hardware to run it on.