Welcome back to another Jurassic June highlight – and today we will be looking at one of my favourite toy photographers. Instagram is a great platform for Jurassic toy photography – and I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with this person through it!
Jurassic Pics (jurassic_pics on Instagram) describes their account as “Life finds a way...with plastic. Classic Jurassic Park scenes reimagined using (mainly) Mattel’s Jurassic World line”. However, their scene recreations often go above and beyond – capturing perfectly in plastic our favourite moments from on-screen.
I wanted to sit down to hear more about how some of these shots are achieved. Let’s get straight into it.
Hey JP. Thanks for sitting down with me. Starting off light – how did you get into Jurassic Park?
Thanks for asking me to talk Tom. I was eight when the first Jurassic Park movie came out so was immediately hooked after seeing it at the cinema with my family. I had a fair few of the original Kenner line toys back then, but sold them all whilst growing up.
Do you have a favourite Jurassic film? Your feed tends to capture plenty of scenes from the original film!
Yeah, the original is my favourite (closely followed by The Lost World). The combination of practical effects and CGI is so evocative had has completely stood the test of time and the human characters are all so well developed. I do enjoy the Jurassic World movies (a good friend of mine is the guy in the yellow raincoat who gets chased by the T-Rex in Fallen Kingdom opening!), but the human characters and CGI dinosaurs just aren’t as engaging for me.
What was your reaction when you first saw the Mattel toy line?
I had no plans to buy any of the new toyline, I had a few figures from favourite movies on my bookshelves but that’s about it. But the Legacy Collection items really sparked nostalgia in me, and the quality of sculpts, articulation and variety of dinosaurs made me want to start collecting whilst re-living a childhood ambition to do a photographic recreation of the film/s using the action figures.
Do you have a favourite product from the line so far?
There are so many! But Extreme Chompin’ T-Rex is pretty much at the top of the list. It’s my favourite species of dinosaur and the combination of action features and great pose-ability made it a no-brainer, in fact it was the first Mattel item I bought.
What would be your dream addition to the line-up?
I’d love to see more Legacy Collection humans, especially Lex, Tim and Hammond - plus the Jungle Explorer tour car. They’d make for some great photos and then I wouldn’t have to force Ellie, Grant and other characters into scenes that they’re not part of in the movies!
Jumping into what we are all here for now – Toy Photography. What camera do you shoot on?
I get asked this question a lot, and I always feel embarrassed to say that I shoot all of them on my ancient iPhone 5s (which is long overdue for an upgrade!). Mainly as i always seem to be selecting from my shoots and editing on the move so it’s the most convenient way of maintaining my feed.
You use a mixture of both physical sets and backdrops to achieve your photographs. How do you decide between physical props or a backdrop for a given photo?
Oh, that’s a great question, and one I haven’t really rationalized before. Since I’m based in the UK my options for outdoor shooting to achieve the bright sunlit Costa Rican island look are limited! So sometimes I use a printed background and shoot indoors because it is so grey outside. But I think generally I use backdrops for scenes in the movies that are shot on soundstage and am aiming to shoot more exterior scenes outside now summer is kicking in.
How do you build your physical sets – what kind of materials do you use?
I generally keep things very simple, using a lot of papers, cards and plastics from art suppliers and then combine these with scale foliage and more textured items from model shop. printed elements - either lifted from film screen caps or found online - are a great way of adding a whole level of detail and texture in the quickest possible time. It’s surprising what impressions you can create through a camera lens.
Some of the sets – like the recent JP ones – look quite large in scale. Do you build these for a shot and then dismantle them, or do you have somewhere you store them?
All my sets are hilariously basic and are instantly able to be dismantled. Backdrops or sections of walls are masking-taped onto books standing upright for stability and then I use whatever I have at hand in my studio to hang things from or lean against so they appear in shot accurately. It’s all separate tool kit items that I keep loose and re-positionable for different shots. The most elaborate shot so far that had the most making time spent on it was the ceiling chase from the JP control room, cutting tis strips of silver card to create the grid of the ceiling.
What would be your biggest tip for someone wanting to add more practical effects to their photographs?
I’d say that always viewing and re-viewing your sets through your lens or screen stop you from over-engineering things, as so often I’ve discovered that simpler is more effective. That and I think combining fabricated elements with more organic ones - or varying the textures within a single shot - can make things feel more dense and realistic, it’s all about finding the best way to highlight the figures and their poses as that’s where the action is.
Lighting is a big element of your photos. Do you use any special techniques to achieve lighting effects, or is it trial and error?
It’s all trial and error, whatever emulates the look of the film shot and as simple as possible! My lighting is either just my two desk lamps or natural light from my studio window. Occasionally I’ve used candles, Claire’s flare in my ‘Open paddock nine’ shot was highlighted with a candle and the flickering light on the T-Rex made for some nice variation in shots to choose from. I’m a big fan of using shadows or shining light through and off things to get fun textured effects or blending 2D and 3D elements.
Have you got any special plans for photographs to mark Jurassic June?
My hope is that I can get back into doing some more outdoor shoots in the summer weather. I’ve had a whole herd of Gallimimus figures waiting all winter to do the Jurassic Park sequence, and ever since getting the Parasaurolophus I’ve wanted to do the round up from The Lost World. I’ve also found a brilliant toy boat to re-create the Spinosaurus river attack from Jurassic Park 3 which I get a lot of requests for.
This is going to be a hard one – what’s your favourite picture you’ve got so far and why?
Hmm that is tricky, as so often shots that are very complicated don’t turn out as accurate as I’d like and by contrast others that are super-simple to create look much better than I’d anticipated. I think my ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ shot is a highlight of my feed so far and was the first of my photos to get more than 3,000 likes. It was a relatively simple set up - though getting the background printed at a big size cost a bit - bit it took several different runs of poses and camera angles to get the right composition of the T-Rex. And I’d devised these very complicated means to make the banner look like it was free-falling but none of them worked, so in the end a bit of improvisation with a chunk of foam and tape did the trick.
Lastly – what can people look forward to next?
A lot of shots from The Lost World using the green Legacy T-Rex and Tiger-striped Raptors, as I’ve had plans to do set ups from it for a while but needed to source a few specific set items - like long grass! I’ve also recently started collecting the classic Jurassic Park lego items - and am very excited about the mysterious big set coming soon - so I might branch out into some fun Lego recreations too. The support and enthusiasm from followers so far has been incredible, so I look forward to sharing even more nostalgia and dina-infested fun.
Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Jurassic Pics! Make sure you go and follow this account on Instagram from your dose of your Jurassic Park nostalgia fix!