Skip to main content

Behind the Scenes of "Robocop 2" at Tippett Studios and how "Jurassic Park" Changed Special Effects Forever

A depressingly large percentage of Hollywood movies boast a gratuitous amount of potential and possibility and yet, for one reason or another, often fall far, far too short to live up to the films they seem to have the potential of being. Although it’s a shame that many of these films have a stupendous level of production value and talent but are often often overlooked, as production value and talent are seen as secondary and supplementary to a quality story – the special effects work done on such second-rate films sadly go unrecognized the most often. An immutable fact stands strong – mediocre films, no matter the level of talent and amount of time poured into producing their special effects, are seen and remembered as nothing but wasted potential…or worse. Yet few box office bombs have had special practical effects work as groundbreaking, especially in the stop motion realm, and yet unfortunately remains unrecognized in every respect than the 1990 film Robocop 2, both an irrefutably shoddy sequel – full of half-baked ideas amplified by its rushed production schedule – and also a magnificent gem for its usage of practical effects.

Phil Tippett animating the psychopathic robot, ED-209

The special effects for Robocop 2 were helmed by Tippett Studios back in 1990. The film was released three years before the release of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, the special effects for which were also helmed by Phil Tippett. Yet the effects work on Jurassic had a far different legacy than its infamous predecessor, both in how much Jurassic raked in at the box office and how it affected the special effects industry at large. Yet, purely in terms of its special effects, Robocop 2 is nothing but a tour de force in its usage of practical effects, stop motion animation being one of the most frequent techniques to be employed in the film, elevating the medium to new heights.

The first Robocop 2 behind-the-scenes resource I recommend to you – also the resource that I consider to be the centerpiece of the making-of material, situated among several accompanying tomes – is a series of four behind the scenes videos, each ranging from 6 to 14 minutes.

Filmed by one of the special effects artist working on the film at the time, these videos document several days of Tippett Studios during the production of Robocop 2. The documentary does a wonderful job in rooting the viewer in the reality of the Tippett Studios special effects crew at the time. My biggest revelation in watching them is the sense of panic and distress felt by the whole crew while working under the infamous nose-to-the-grindstone deadline which the film was given. Because of this, the videos lack any pretense of a veil of romanticizing the job special effects artists have when working a big budget film, rose-colored glass through which the vast majority of featurettes shroud themselves in. As the crew feverishly works to produce some of the most incredible stop motion effects of the decade for the film, the documentary captures several conversations from among the crew that are remarkably banal. An example of such a conversation can be seen near the end of the first video where several crew members discuss which movie they’re going to see after they get out of the studio later that day. These kinds of details provide a wonderfully intimate, honest, and rare look at the special effects industry. Even though the videos are twenty-seven years old, this look at the industry remains quite relevant today.

You can go view the films by clicking the subsequent links: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

The second behind-the-scenes resource I’m going to recommend is a 1991 issue of the special effects magazine Cinefex, issue #45, The issue includes some really great interviews with many of the heads of the production as well as a scene-by-scene walk-through of the film and how-to explanations for each of the shots that involved special effects. You can go here to buy a physical copy of the issue, or you can go here to download the Cinefex app for the iPad where you can buy the issue for a significantly reduced price.

Other various behind-the-scenes Robocop 2 resources in video form can be found below. They range from several interesting making-of featurettes as well as an interview with Phil Tippett in which he discusses the project in-depth. You can view them by clicking on the following links:

A Brief History of Phil Tippett’s 
Work in the Special Effects Industry and of the Recent Resurgence of Stop Motion:

As an anecdote, it’s interesting to note that one of the techniques pioneered for Robocop 2 was, in fact, an early form of go-motion – a technique that was originally optioned by Tippett, while working on Jurassic Park, to bring to life the famous the dinosaur characters for the film. However, the go-motion approach was eventually scrapped when the special effects company Industrial Lights and Magic instead chose to use CGI to bring these dinosaurs to life. This fateful choice made such an impact on blockbusters that it ultimately led to the preference of CGI over traditional practical effect like stop motion, an age in which we still live in today. This fact is one which Tippett himself has admitted to feeling an immense amount of guilt for, saying in an interview with the multimedia production house Vice, “Jurassic Park was actually the shot in the head that killed stop motion. It was a very big deal for me that the tide had totally gone out in my department. It was actually very emotional for me…I got like really sick. I got pneumonia and had to stay in bed for two weeks and it was like [mimes swallowing a bullet]…I thought I was out of a job and that was – you know – the tipping point where it looked like everything I knew – you know – had no value. And – you know – so how do you process that?” (If you’re interested in watching some of the original stop motion and go-motion techniques used in the conceptual phase for the effects on Jurassic Park, you can go watch clips of the original animation here.)

In stubborn refusal to end this blog post on a sad last note, it should be noted that Phil Tippett is still producing stop motion films of his own such as his series of dystopian silent films entitled, Mad God. He is currently in the midst of creating the third film in the series, aided by a small group of committed young animators interested in learning the craft of stop motion, eager to work in tactile handmade animation and to get away from CGI.

However, what Tippett said concerning Jurassic Park being the “shot in the head” that killed stop motion is certainly true in terms of the use of stop motion to create the effects for live action blockbusters that are heavy on special effects. However, the medium, now twenty-seven years since the release of Robocop 2 (twenty-five since Jurassic Park), still employs a workforce of individuals highly dedicated to the medium, although it is relatively small when compared with the number of animators working in CGI. Thus, there remains a hunger for the medium that cannot quite be satisfied with CGI effects. The recent golden age of television in which we are still living has given an avenue for several stop motion shows, such as Amazon Prime’s Tumble Leaf and Aardman’s cultural phenomenon Shaun the Sheep. Aardman and Laika stand as the two biggest stop motion studios in the industry producing feature-length stop motion films, although several independent studios also provide evidence for the stop motion industry being alive and well, such as Rita Productions who, in partnership with a few other studios, made last year’s Oscar-nominated feature-length stop motion film, My Life As a Zucchini. As one last note, the incredible popularity and universality of the internet has proved to be perhaps the best thing to have ever happened to stop motion, as it has allowed for many thousands of filmmakers – professional and amateur alike – to share their stop motion creations with the world in a very way that’s incredibly easy to access and share. So, indeed, stop motion, although perhaps presumed dead in the ‘90s, has seen a great revival in the past few years.

You can stay tuned for the upcoming interviews and articles by subscribing to Stop Motion Geek via the “subscribe” button at the top right corner of our homepage, or by following us on Facebook @StopMotionGeek, or by visiting You can also stay up-to-date with the blog by following us on Instagram or


Popular posts from this blog

Interview with Victor Haegelin, Director and Animator of Stop Motion Action Mini-Movie, "Captain 3D"

Captain 3D in Haegelin's  Captain 3D . Source: Vimeo. Snatching a moment’s respite, a moment now drawing to a close, animation director Victor Haegelin—sporting wide-rimmed 3D glasses with big, red and blue lens—flips through the last few pages of a comic book boasting in big, red letters, “Captain 3D.” He reclines in a leather-backed computer chair, sitting at his desk, every inch of it crammed with something , though what exactly is anyone’s guess, stocked as it is with an animator’s lightbox, a glass jar filled to overflowing with colored pencils that lies an arm’s distance from of a litany of neatly stacked books and magazines—complete with a smattering with glossy comics coated in celluloid—the array finished off with every creator’s most essential companion: a sketch-pad and pen, the items lying closest at hand. Victor Haegelin in Captain 3D . Source: Vimeo. Victor Haegelin closing the cover on the "Captain 3D" comic in Captain 3D . Source: Vi

Aardman Senior Model-Maker Jay Smart Reveals Aardman's Puppet Materials and Plasticine Techniques for "Early Man" to Adam Savage of Tested

Adam Savage (right) holding "The Farmer" puppet from Shaun the Sheep and Jay Smart (right). Copyright Tested. Along with the usual humdrum of press ranging from critic reviews and interviews with voice actors regarding British animation powerhouse Aardman Animation’s latest feature film – Early Man , a “prehistoric underdog sports story,” in the words of the film’s director Nick Park – has come by the way of the YouTube channel Tested something really exceptional and especially meant for stop motion enthusiasts – a deep-dive into the materials and plasticine techniques Aardman uses for their puppets presented by television personality and special effects aficionado Adam Savage and Jay Smart, a senior modeler at Aardman. During Savage’s tour of the plasticine department, Smart gives Savage a demonstration of a system Aardman began developing for Chicken Run , their first plasticine-driven feature film, to methodize a system for mixing large batches of plasticine to p

Interview with Samuel Lewis - Animator, Character Designer, and Sculptor on Stop Motion Short Film, "Lost & Found"

Knotjira, a clumsy dinosaur made of wool, as seen in Lost & Found . Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith. “If I had to pick a starting point for my career as a stop motion animator I would have to say it was my obsession as a six year old with a book called ‘Playing with Plasticine’ by Barbara Reid,” Samuel Lewis – a London-based stop motion and 2D animator and director, whose most recent labor of love can be seen in his contribution to the Australian stop motion short film, Lost & Found – tells Stop Motion Geek. Upon reflection, Lewis explains that his love for the medium of stop motion began very early in life, and has merely managed to burn ever brighter in his fervor to master the craft. “I would spend countless hours fixated on sculpting tiny snails, fruit bowls and dinosaurs to the point where I would stay inside on family holidays sculpting a surfer in a beach scene rather than going to the actual beach that was only a short walk away,” Lewis recalls wistfully. “

Interview with Mark Smith, Director and Writer of Stop Motion Short Film, "Two Balloons"

A still from Two Balloons featuring the character of Elba. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith. As I sit, listening to Peter Broderick’s moving composition for piano  More Of A Composition , I close my eyes and envisage an enormous funnel cloud skimming across the crystalline face of an ocean – the skies are murky and unusually dark, lightning crackles, spider-webbing across the darkened skies before then vanishing, and still, after its gone, an electricity continues to hum in the air and I simply  know  that it’s going to soon strike again. And as the scene presents itself to me, I suddenly feel something similar to what director Mark C. Smith felt when he saw the same image as he sailed to a small island called Grenada along with his wife in a timeworn sailboat. For him, in that moment inspiration struck, and the idea suddenly came to him for his heartfelt stop motion film,  Two Balloons . For me, I open my eyes and feel as I did the instant  Two Balloons  faded to black – as if I’ve j

Short Flicks: Bent Image Lab's "Fruity Pebbles"

What could be better than starting your day off with part of a whole breakfast, Fred Flintstone, and Stop Motion?  We couldn't think of anything either.  Nevertheless, these awesome commercials/BTS will bring out the kid, and nerd, in all of us.  Directed by Rob Shaw for the incredible Bent Image Lab (a studio that just moved to Manhattan , by the way), these TV spots encapsulates everything we know and love about the modern stone-age Flintstone family who establish how we now think of Prehistoric times. Fire House : Cocoa Pebbles "Fire Hose" from Bent Image Lab on Vimeo . Cop Rock : Cocoa Pebbles "Cop Rock" from Bent Image Lab on Vimeo .

Interview with Bradley Slabe, Co-Director of Stop Motion Love Story, "Lost & Found" (Part 1/2 of Interview with "Lost & Found" Directors)

Knotjira (foreground) and Knitsune (background) in Lost & Found . Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith. The true essence of art – a reflection of life itself – is very much akin to the Japanese aesthetic of “wabi-sabi”: it’s imperfect, impermanent, and, at times, profoundly...incomplete. It is both at once a fundamental truth, and, curiously, more often than not, a thing incredibly hard to acknowledge, to make peace with. Yet perhaps our resistance is justifiable, for once we admit that the world is full of unknowns – unknowns that aren’t ideal, that aren’t perfect – we are just as soon confronted with the actualization of a deep, intrinsic, and very human fear: the fear of a future full of...unknowns that aren’t ideal, that aren’t perfect. Yet it’s the confrontal of that fear that is the most terrifying reality of all, for the moment we make peace with it we have just as soon have acknowledged that our paths in life aren’t in our own hands, or something we can contro

Interview with Tim Allen, Key Animator on Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs"

Tim Allen animating on the set of Isle of Dogs . Source: YouTube. “The Wes style of movement has a simplicity & a more experienced animator has to learn to not put in the little tricks or flair that they may have used animating elsewhere,” Tim Allen – an animator whose career spans decades and includes credits on prestigious projects such as Shaun the Sheep , Postman Pat , Fireman Sam , The Flying Machine , Creature Comforts , the Oscar®-nominated films My Life as a Zucchini , Corpse Bride , Frankenweenie , Fantastic Mr. Fox , and the Oscar®-winning short film Peter & the Wolf – tells Stop Motion Geek, describing the metamorphosis his animation style underwent on one of his most recent projects – Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs , currently available on digital and set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 17th. “The Wes style is direct & clear,” he goes on. “I take the old stop motion phrase & embraces it: ‘Less is more’.” "Atari" Isle of Dogs ch

Interview with Matt Bollinger, Painter and Animator Behind Stop Motion/Painting Hybrid Short Film "Between the Days," a Beautiful Portrait of Routine, Unfulfillment, and Despair in Middle America

"Before Work" finished painting featured in  Between the Days . Photo courtesy of Matt Bollinger.  Often – far too often – we forget the true weight of our actions, our everyday decisions, ranging from those big to small. And, in forgetting, we forget ourselves – who we truly are, where we have been, what we have done, how we have gotten here, to this very place in this very moment. For we are nothing if not the sum total of all our decisions, our actions…even the most minute, even those – perhaps especially those – made in the thrumming humdrum of the everyday: the act of rising from our bed and reaching over to flick off the alarm resting on our bedside table, lighting a cigarette, collecting yesterday’s trash before moving on to more, equally menial tasks. Moments spent alone, in ostensible comfort – the comfort provided us by 21st century accoutrements so many of us have grown to take for granted. Whether we are aware of it or not, each of our actions leave a ma

Interview with Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Director, Writer, and Animator of Stop Motion Short Film "Bath House"

In art as in life, when in the thick of something – a chain of, at times, loosely connected actions and consequences – it can be easy to miss “the point.” It’s often only in retrospect – the moment when one can contemplate, assessing and reassessing an event, whether mundane or abnormal – when one can discover meaning and a “point” to events in life as in art. When in the thick of something, things often feel commonplace, moments of actual weight sporadic, chaotic, and adrift, lost in the moment. Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s  Bath House  – a 15-minutes-long short film – perfectly captures these feelings of disorder and inconsequential consequence in the midst of the mundane and seemingly aimless. This mood is further accentuated in the film by a disquieting lack of a soundtrack, using dialogue only sparingly which perfectly accompanies Bahr’s incredibly lifelike puppets and animation, together harmonizing and bringing to life moments and an atmosphere that are rarely (if ever) ca