DENNIS MUREN: MASTER OF VISUAL EFFECTS
“Dennis has the rare ability to view everything as a possibility.”
– George Lucas
Perhaps only fans know his name, but all of us have enjoyed his work. Dennis Muren, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, is one of the preeminent visual effects artists in the world and, for that matter, in film history. The winner of nine Academy Awards, he has played a vital role in the field’s technical achievements from Star Wars (1977) to this day.
As a filmmaker, Muren is largely self-taught, beginning with 8mm films as a child in Glendale, California, where he honed his skills in stop-motion animation and in photographing miniatures, even paying visits to one of his heroes, stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen.
He joined the nascent ILM in 1976 to work on Star Wars and helped forge the company’s technical and artistic directives, spearheading the move from models and miniatures to CGI (computer-generated imagery). He has been a trusted collaborator with directors George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, and he has been involved with several landmarks of modern visual effects, from Star Wars and Indiana Jones to Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and beyond.
In 1999, flanked by Lucas and Cameron, he became the first visual effects artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is currently preparing a book, Art and Emotion, addressed to visual artists. While remaining actively involved in the evolution of ILM and the design and development of new cinematic techniques, he hasn’t lost his love for the “old-school” styles of pioneers like Harryhausen because the feeling in their work is so true. As the white-bearded elder tells Sabu in The Thief of Bagdad: “Everything is possible when seen through the eyes of youth.”
Dennis Muren will present and discuss five films on which he worked, and one classic
that inspired him:
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY
Rare 35mm Print
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the star of director James Cameron’s great sequel to his own The Terminator, but Robert Patrick’s T-1000 cyborg (the liquid-metal man) was the star attraction, as well as a major reason for its Academy Award for visual effects. Muren says: “This was the breakthrough film for photo-realistic computer graphics and led to Jurassic Park.” Rated R. (US 1991) 137 min. plus discussion.
While still a teenager, Dennis Muren began this “amateur” stop-motion effects fantasy with a 16mm camera and a few thousand dollars, but ultimately sold it to a distributor who enlarged it to 35mm and added new scenes. Muren will screen his version of the film, originally called The Equinox…A Journey Into the Supernatural, and discuss the childhood experiments that informed his professional career. (1965-67) 71 min. plus discussion.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Rare 35mm Print!
Screened in the “Director’s Cut,” this science fiction classic about UFOs came out later the same year as the original Star Wars. Both films ignited the visual effects boom that still dominates the industry today. Dennis Muren photographed the mother-ship miniature in 70mm for shots designed by director Steven Spielberg and visual effects maestro Douglas Trumbull. He then rejoined ILM for The Empire Strikes Back. (US 1977) 137 min. plus discussion.
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD
This charming British fantasy produced by Alexander Korda and starring Sabu was a favorite of Dennis Muren’s since childhood television viewings, and it helped inspire him to make his own 8mm movies. While its effects won an Oscar in its time, they can seem dated to modern audiences, and Muren will discuss the techniques available to the filmmakers in 1940 (particularly challenging in Technicolor) as well as the qualities that endure today. Directors: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan. (UK 1940) 106 min. plus discussion.
AI ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Steven Spielberg had Stanley Kubrick’s blessings to realize his science fiction passion-project, but Dennis Muren did as well. Muren met with Kubrick to discuss the ways to create the robot boy and other effects, and he will talk about these meetings and the issues involved. The final film is a fine melding of Kubrick and Spielberg: philosophical science fiction with heart. (US 2001) 149 min. plus discussion.
STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES
Rare, never-before-released 3d presentation!
Dennis Muren was Visual Effects Supervisor for this episode of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, but more recently he also supervised its conversion to “Extreme 3D,” and this is one of the first public screenings of this version. Muren calls it “A different 3D experience from other films, very stylized, with the intent of telling the Star Wars story with heightened clarity and emotion…Impressionistic depth as opposed to scientific depth, with actors’ faces sculpted for drama and with sets so lifelike you feel you could walk into them.” (US 2002 & 2012) 142 min. plus discussion.