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A SOUND OF THUNDER

Fearsome Creatures
Looks Like a Dragon, Screams Like a Baboon –

Perhaps the job most creatively challenging but also the most fun was imagining what kinds of creatures might have developed if evolution had taken a divergent path 65 millions years ago – and bringing them to life. That task fell to Peter Hyams, who took his inspiration from many sources, especially those that frightened him the most. "I'm scared stiff of eels,” he proclaims, "and if I saw a Komodo Dragon it wouldn't have to worry about running me down because I'd be dead as a doornail from a heart attack in a second.”

Hyams considered elements of looks, sounds and attitudes people find intimidating among the animal kingdom and combined them into new ferocious and unpredictable life forms. One, nicknamed "the lizboon” by the art department, is a combination of Komodo dragon and Mandrill Baboon – the kind with the bloodcurdling shriek.

The 50-foot eel-like animal that attacks Dr. Rand in the subway is patterned after an actual eel, as Hyams explains, "only more so.” Recalling a story he covered while working as a reporter in New York, about a moray eel being moved to a new aquarium, he says, "That eel was probably about seven feet long. It took five or six guys to move him and they were really having a time. It started to thrash and these guys really couldn't control it. So I thought, why not take that and make him 50 feet long?”

Once imagined, the art and effects crews took over. Visual effects producer George Merkert (Starship Troopers, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Barbershop 2) recalls that "there is only one animatronic piece in the film, which is the claw of the dinosaur, seen as he sinks into a tar pit.” The rest is CGI.

Hyams also improvised with sounds for his menacing menagerie, amplifying and experimenting with a range of natural squawks, shrieks, hisses and growls from sources as varied as lions, primates and beetles. "Beetles make awful sounds,” he attests. "It's not something you would normally hear but if you magnify it 100 times it's truly horrible. I've recorded sounds and changed frequencies, played them backwards, sped them up, slowed them down, combined them. I blended the sounds of a lion with a boar and a snake.

"The visceral impact of such sounds is very powerful,” says Hyams. Noting the high quality of speakers in theaters today, he expects "there will be moments when the theater will shake. I promise you that.”

The Allosaurus –

What sparks this global catastrophe is an errant time-traveler who impacts the planetary timeline while on an expedition to the Cretaceous Era. It's Time Safari's specialty to offer its elite clientele a few moment's close proximity with an actual living dinosaur on their tours into the past. For that, Hyams needed to cast a genuinely intimidating Allosaurus.

When it came to his star dinosaur, "the object was accuracy,” says Hyams. "We wanted to manufacture an image as close as possible to reality,” since extensive data on the omnivorous beast exists. Allosaurus lived in the late-Jurassic to early-Cretaceous era, roaming the area that is now Wyoming.

To determine how the animal would have moved and behaved, the production delved into the research and consulted professors who specialize on the subject. With that information, the visual effects team animated their virtual Allosaurus to turn, claw, run and maneuver realistically, starting with clay models made by the art department.

"Big Al,” Hyams says casually, "stands about 18 feet tall, is 38 feet long from nose to tail, and weighs between 12 and 20,000 pounds. That's like a guy looking into a second storey window, going ‘how are ya?' You'd be a canapé to him, an hors d'oeuvre. You're not a meal, you're a snack – an onion ring.”

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