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Super 8 ILM VFX Master Dennis Muren Talks Spielberg, Going Back to 70s

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 20, 2011 at 8:40AM

Dennis Muren is the godfather of visual effects artists. Hired by George Lucas in 1976 to work on Star Wars and help launch Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), he went on to make the key breakthroughs that led to where VFX are today. Muren has won nine Oscars, including Visual Effects awards for Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Abyss, Innerspace, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, E.T., and The Empire Strikes Back. He masterminded everything from the miniature dogfighters in Star Wars to the first fully CG larger-than-life Hulk.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Dennis Muren is the godfather of visual effects artists. Hired by George Lucas in 1976 to work on Star Wars and help launch Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), he went on to make the key breakthroughs that led to where VFX are today. Muren has won nine Oscars, including Visual Effects awards for Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Abyss, Innerspace, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, E.T., and The Empire Strikes Back. He masterminded everything from the miniature dogfighters in Star Wars to the first fully CG larger-than-life Hulk.

Muren delivered the first photorealistic CG character (the stained-glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes) and first morph (the old woman turning into a tiger in Willow), before pushing it even further, after taking off a year in 1989 to learn to use a Macintosh and Photoshop. That's when Muren helped take ILM's photo compositing -- combining separate visual components into one shot -- into the digital age, making possible the morphing waterpod in James Cameron's The Abyss and T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

His relationship with Steven Spielberg is especially close; he delivered E.T.'s flying bicycles, not to mention the then-seemingly impossible dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the destructive effects in The War of the Worlds. "When I decided to make the movie," Spielberg told me for a VFX feature in Wired, "Muren was one of the first people I called."

So it was no surprise that producer Spielberg and writer-director J.J. Abrams turned to Muren to help them out on Super 8. In my Skype video interview with Muren, he digs into the details of how they delivered the train sequence (clip below) and designed the monster, as well as problems facing the VFX industry.

Here's a six-minute MSN clip from the beginning of Super 8.

Part One:

Part Two:

Super 8 train wreck:

[Photo of Dennis Muren and E.T. by Art Streiber, courtesy of Wired.]

This article is related to: Awards, Directors, Genres, Studios, Video, Interviews , Oscars, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Sci-fi, Paramount/Vantage/Insurge/CBS, Trailers


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.