How the guitar played a surprisingly important role in Jurassic Park’s most iconic scene

The Jurassic Park vehicle, which hosts the famous water cup scene – sparked by Lantieri's guitar
(Image credit: Murray Close / Getty)

A guitar played an unlikely role in what is arguably the most iconic scene in Jurassic Park – a moment that helped to make it the highest-grossing movie of all time upon its release back in 1993. 

We all know the scene: the protagonist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his two young wards – Lex and Tim Murphy (played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) – are sat in a Jurassic Park vehicle and notice a cup of water start to ripple and vibrate. 

It is a touch of suspense-building directorial genius that masterfully indicates the menacing arrival of the massive T-Rex. It’s also a prime example of movie making’s “show don’t tell” adage being put to good use and a clever substitute for expensive CG footage.

Jurassic Park director Stephen Spielberg

Jurassic Park director Stephen Spielberg used the cup of water as a way to convey the sheer scale of the T-Rex (Image credit: Murray Close / Getty)

Indeed, the prohibitive costs of early CG animation meant that director Steven Spielberg had to use the sequences sparingly. As such, he was forced to think of other ways to convey the scale of the film’s dinosaur stars.

When it came to the cup of water, music proved to be both the inspiration and the method behind the scene, as Jurassic Park’s Special Effects Supervisor, Michael Lantieri, recounted in the film’s behind-the-scenes documentary.

“I was at work and Steven calls into the office,” recalls Lantieri. “And he goes, ‘I'm in the car Earth Wind & Fire is playing and my mirror is shaking. That's what we need to do: we need to shake the mirror – and then I want to do something with the water.’’”

Spielberg tasked Lantieri with making it happen and the special effects veteran set about experimenting. As he recalls in the clip, the mirror proved easy (“I put a little vibrating motor in it and it shook it”).

However, the same could not be said when it came to triggering the movement of the water in the cup, which is where Lantieri’s guitar, quite literally, entered the picture.

“It was a very difficult thing to do,” says Lantieri. “You couldn't do it! I had everybody working on it and, finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass [on it] and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.”

In a touch of genius, Lantieri was then able to replicate the effect by attaching a guitar string to the dashboard of the Ford Explorer used in the scene and plucking it at the right moment. 

Guitar World can reveal that – having just briefly tried to recreate Lantieri’s initial experiment using a paper cup and an acoustic guitar – it’s easier said than done. The resulting effect will have required him to figure out the right note to for the amount of water and weight of the cup – and god knows what the resonance of a Ford Explorer will do to a guitar string!

So there you have it: if it wasn’t for Lantieri’s guitar, Jurassic Park’s most iconic scene might have looked very different.

Does Jurassic Park now qualify as one of our best movies for guitarists? Erm, probably not… but it’s certainly brought new meaning to the term ‘guitar effects’.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.