GREG PRO INTERVIEW
JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE MURAL AND CONCEPT STORYBOARD ARTIST
Rides aren't all about a single attraction. They are about creating an atmosphere in a limited space; a way to escape from our world and into another. Jurassic Park: The Ride may not have had an entire expansive "land" like its Orlando counterpart does, but it still managed to be immersive in the space available. Apart from the massive ride, there was a gift shop, a café, and eventually a snack bar. While they could have looked simply generic, the creative team went out of their way to make proper theming.
Part of the creative team was Greg Pro: one of the ride's concept storyboard artists and creator of a series of captivating murals that were featured with the attraction. He is with us today to discuss his involvement in adding extra life to the ride's little world.
Derrick Davis: Your concept art of the T-Rex bursting out of the water from Jurassic Park: The Ride is forever engrained in my mind, as well as the fantastic murals in the Jurassic Cove Café. They are incredibly beautiful pieces of work.
Greg Pro: Wow, thank you! Yes, the T-Rex was actually the first piece of art for that ride. I had the pleasure of working on all stages throughout the construction. In 1995, I was commissioned to create a set of 6 murals for the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios California […] in the Buffeteria. [It] was a fantastic experience for me. I got to work on the Universal Studios lot for about 7 months while creating it.
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Derrick: What did your work consist of?
Greg: We used an Extramural print process to enlarge the originals. I painted each one in Cel Vinyl about the size of a small surfboard. My contract stated that I had to present completed tonal sketches of each panel. I did a ton of […] concepts before they cleared the final designs. I had to do a lot of research and learn as much as I could about the period [of dinosaurs]. It was great practice as an artist. I took some time to learn some Dino anatomy [and] plant life studies from the Jurassic period. Memos [were] received weekly. […] These guys were [very particular] with the direction. Remember this was all painted traditionally, so every little move or change had to be re-painted.
Derrick: Weren't there once also murals inside the gift shop, Jurassic Outfitters, as well?
Greg: [A] T-rex and [its] babies were part of the mural series used in the retail section. I think I had about four paintings used as backdrops for plush toys and behind the counter. It was pretty cool to see them all over the shop. They removed [them early on].
Derrick: In one of the murals in the café, there are a pair of Carnotaurs standing in the background. One of them, at least, appears to be disappearing within the trees like a chameleon; just like they did in Michael Crichton's novel The Lost World. Was this an intended reference?
Greg: I'm happy to see you noticed that camo gag. We did pull that right from the book at the time. You're the only one who has ever mentioned that. Nice!
Derrick: So apart from the murals and the T-rex artwork, was there any additional art you provided Universal for this project?
Greg: Besides [those], I did a brochure advertisement too. I think from the early 90's. I storyboarded the ride, too. [Eric Heschong], a good friend of mine, did a few Jurassic Park building POV scenes early on while I did more of the action stuff.
Derrick: Eric was the one who did that incredible illustration of the Ultrasaur in the lagoon, right? The same one that can actually be seen in the film; in the background of the lunchroom scene.
Greg: Yup, [that was him], and to him it was just a quick rough sketch. He was my mentor. [We also worked together on a] Wizard of Oz concept. A full theme park that was supposed to be located in Kansas. Would have been amazing. You should have seen his art. Wow! It was an incredible presentation and came very close to materializing. Eric is an unsung hero. I [also] did another ride very similar to Jurassic for Gary Goddard [and his team]. Not sure where that was going to go, but it was still fun stuff.
Derrick: What was the experience like creating Jurassic Park's murals?
Greg: An amazing adventure. My friends and I would walk the tour every day and see the sets and stars. Amazing! I remember watching them film Eraser. I was able to go on all the sets. The construction crews just let us walk right in. We just acted like we were supposed to be there, and they didn't bother us. It was amazing. I saw a couple other stars which I can't recall the names at the moment. It was a fun experience, but also a nightmare to deal with [corporate, at the time]. I still enjoyed it. The work [itself] was tiring. I [was pushed] to the limits on [all] these murals. I never met [Steven] Spielberg, but I'm sure we passed him several times. You would have to at that studio. There were so many films going on all at once.
Derrick: With the murals being all over the walls, of course, do you have a smaller version of the completed murals in your files?
Greg: The sad thing is that [the archiving was mishandled and] [...] all the files and artwork were lost. Back then I didn't have the right equipment to photograph them properly. I know that MCA did create high resolution limited edition prints back when it first opened. I never got to see them. They contacted me recently asking if I still had any of the original paintings because the old murals were in poor shape and they needed to re-print them. I of course don't have those two paintings. I still have the smaller ones and many sketches, but the originals were stolen from MCA. I offered to re-paint them over the printed canvas for almost nothing just because I wanted to make sure it was done correctly. The main director was pushing for me to do it, but [corporate] said no. I then offered to do it for free. Still no. [Then] sadly, just a couple months ago, they painted over my mural after something like 15 years or more that it [had] been up. They sent me a small pic of how it turned out [... and it just isn't the same anymore].
Derrick: Wow... this is all very heart-wrenching to hear. It is a shame it was like that back then. With digital technology taking over since, this kind of thing hopefully doesn't happen anymore. I guess the modern-day equivalent would be a crashed hard drive.
Greg: It was frustrating. […] [And] I guess I was being a typical overly picky artist at the time and didn't value my paintings enough to properly photograph them. I regret not doing that, but oh well.
Derrick: The mural inside the Discovery Center at Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure looks nearly identical to yours, at least. Were you involved with that one, and do you think by chance they could possess your art files?
Greg: I didn't know they created that in Florida as well. That's cool. I'm almost sure they don't have the art. It was created here at the studios [in Hollywood] when MCA was at Universal City. The originals were hanging in [an office there]. They said they lost just about everything during the move, [and] I believe [someone] made off with them [...]. Oh well. I know there [were] a few prints somewhere and maybe [they can be tracked] down someday.
Derrick: So, what are you working on now?
Greg: Doing some designs for a Korean theme park [for Goddard]. I'm not allowed to say what [the other thing] is I'm working on, but I will give you a slight hint… STAR WARS! So far, I get to be the key artist doing first stage concepts, but I can't go into it too much. Just know it's something cool!
POST-SCRIPT (June 2020)
Greg Pro's Star Wars involvement turned out to be concepts for the Disneyland and Disney World's theme park land Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which opened in 2019.
In September 2018, Jurassic Park: The Ride closed to be transformed into Jurassic World: The Ride. It reopened in July 2019 with general praise, but also with a sense of loss for fans of the original. While several of the major elements of the ride would remain the same, the theming within and surrounding the entire area would largely be altered.
For Greg Pro, this sadly meant that his murals in the Jurassic Cove Café would be painted over entirely by a series of graphic designs. Additionally, the murals that were copies of his own near Orlando's attraction would be touched up in a similar fashion that had happened in Hollywood. Despite this, it is now the only place in the world for the public to see his fantastic murals in person.
I hope this article will help instill the magic that once was, and never be forgotten by those touched by it.
Interview conducted by Derrick Davis. Some of this information and material was originally published on Inside Universal's Forums by the author with permission from Greg Pro. It has been modified and updated with additional content to be more concise and relevant.