How Netflix’s Life on Our Planet Brought a More Realistic T-Rex to the Screen

Exclusive: Life on Our Planet’s lead researcher and VFX team tell Den of Geek how science helped them build a more realistic version of the legendary T-Rex.

Photo: Netflix

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​​Prehistoric creatures don’t come much more iconic than the Tyrannosaurus rex. There’s a reason why it’s called the “king”—the giant Cretaceous carnivore has been capturing people’s imaginations for over a century, cementing itself in pop culture in the early 1990s thanks to a scene-stealing performance in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. So, recreating the T-Rex for Life on Our Planet was no mean feat. “It’s possibly the most charismatic animal that’s ever lived,” says the series’ lead scientific researcher, Dr. Tom Fletcher. “And in many people’s eyes, it’s the most impressive animal that’s ever lived as well. So it’s some job to bring it up to date and to really do it justice.”

With 30 years of updated paleontological research to work from, the team behind Life on Our Planet set out to show a new, more accurate version of the T-Rex than we’ve ever seen before. Fletcher and the producers worked with Industrial Light & Magic, the effects house that had, fittingly, worked on Jurassic Park’s original tyrannosaur. “It’s obviously quite a big ask, if you work at ILM, to make a T-Rex,” says VFX supervisor Jonathan Privett. “For Life on Our Planet, there was the pressure of making it look incredible, but on top of that, Tom had waded through hundreds of pages of research. Our version is still pretty mean and ferocious and looks fantastic, but is more accurate to the science.”

Meat on the Bones

You may notice that Life on Our Planet presents quite a heavyweight T-Rex, much more chunky than previous depictions. Fletcher explains: “There’s a tendency for people to look at fossil skeletons and just put the bare minimum of flesh on top, sort of a shrink-wrapping. But the science of that doesn’t stack up—T-Rex was a brute!” Adding extra mass was just a first step in making Life on Our Planet’s T-Rex look real, though. “It’s also about the tiny imperfections that all living animals have that make them feel alive—the scars, the fat, the ligaments, the wrinkles, and the dirt,” says Fletcher. “Adding all that wear and tear and soft tissue to T-Rex might make it look bulkier, but it’s great that we’re moving away from hungry-looking dinosaurs. Ours has the heft you would expect on a healthy apex predator.”


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