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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Dennis Muren

Award Contender-Dennis Muren

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“We don’t have any more time,” asserts Dennis Muren, which might be taken as an odd comment from one of the larger-than-life figures in visual effects, a man whose pedigree goes back to camera, miniature and effects work on the first Star Wars, and who has re-created rather large passages of time in films like Artificial Intelligence: AI.Muren was talking about the time allotted to production schedules, and FX work in particular. If time had simply marched on in terms of the tools available, the job would be even easier than it was in the days of yore: “It would be much cheaper if we (only) had to duplicate the shots we did 25 years ago.” But with new tools come new tasks, and Muren finds “more complexity” in everything effects supervisors are asked to do, though that only “means we’re more successful now.”He cites FX history, in particular, the master of tabletop animation and vivid latex creaturedom, Ray Harryhausen. “The stuff Harryhausen [was doing] applied to a not very big audience.” In other words, as beloved as they might be, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans weren’t looked at as summer blockbusters, or even necessarily “mainstream” films. “Now, the work is so good and real, it doesn’t take you out of the story.”The most recent “story” he worked on was War of the Worlds, with Steven Spielberg, with whom he famously worked on E.T., as well as the Temple of Doom installment of the Indiana Jones adventures, Empire of the Sun, and Jurassic Park, in addition to the aforementioned A.I.Returning to the theme of “no time,” Muren mentions that War of the Worlds happened so fast—shooting the fall before its early summer release—that he and Spielberg “stuck with previs” all the way through, in terms of figuring out the effects, a process Muren likens to “seeing a rehearsal without have to do it.”Another aspect of time is generational, and Muren notes that while Worlds is a mixture of FX techniques old and new, the “younger people” in the digital illusion biz are “all with computers.”Though while he once thought this would lead to the “extinction” of older methods—miniatures, etc.—he’s not as convinced now, and anyway, thanks to CG in particular, “safety for stunts is much greater now, because you can put cables in shots.” And, of course, notch them out later.What does Muren see in the future of effects work? “We’re starting to see the work not up to the quality it has been,” he says. “My feeling is enormous amounts of money are being wasted—[the studios] are running around dealing with five companies” on a single film’s FX work.But whether it’s one company or a half-dozen putting together the digital sleight-of-hand, Muren knows there are still a couple of Grails lurking out there: “3-D will finally happen. I’m glad that’s working out,” and once 3-D becomes routine, you “go into more alternate realities.”When that happens, he’s waiting for the “equivalent of 2001 for the digital revolution. Star Wars was like that, too. Shocking. ‘Where did this movie come from?’”If you’re Dennis Muren, it came from a third of a century spent “in the biz.”

Written by Mark London Williams

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