Dennis Muren

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Dennis Muren, A.S.C.
Dennis Muren.jpg
Muren at the International Press Academy’s 12th Annual Satellite Awards, December 16, 2007
Born (1946-11-01) November 1, 1946 (age 75)
OccupationVisual effects artist and supervisor

Dennis Muren, A.S.C (born November 1, 1946) is a self-taught American film visual effects artist and supervisor. He has worked on the films of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron, among others, and won nine Oscars in total: eight for Best Visual Effects and a Technical Achievement Academy Award.[1] The Visual Effects Society has called him a perpetual student, teacher, innovator, and mentor.[2]

He has been identified as a primary pioneer in bringing a new wave of visual effects films to the public, opening the doors for screenwriters and directors to tell stories never before possible with a new realism through the use of his skills in cinematic arts and advanced technologies.[3]

According to Spielberg, he set the example at Industrial Light & Magic for visual effects excellence with effects that add strong, appropriate emotion to a shot and fit seamlessly into a movie.[4]

Early life[edit]

Muren was born in 1946 in Glendale, California, the son of Charline Louise (née Clayton) and Elmer Ernest Muren.[5] His interest in photography began at eight years old while shooting model spaceships and dinosaurs. Muren quickly deepened his interest in effects by studying the films of John Fulton, Ray Harryhausen, and Howard Lydecker. He was fascinated by what he observed around him, in appearance and purpose, which lead to his studying the artwork of John Singer Sargent and Frank Frazetta.[6] He never attended film school but was self-taught, also growing through friendships with other young Los Angeles effects enthusiasts including Jim Danforth and David Allen.[7]

In 1965, after graduating from John Muir High School in Pasadena, CA[8] and during a summer vacation at Pasadena City College as a business major, Muren raised $6,500 to make The Equinox, a 71-minute DIY supernatural film incorporating the visual effects techniques he had grown up admiring. He sold it to producer Jack Harris who hired film editor Jack Woods to write and direct additional footage that added a demonic villain and made the film 82 minutes long. When Equinox was released in May 1970, Muren was credited as a producer despite having directed much of the film and created the special effects. Regardless of the mixed to weak reviews, the movie made enough money for Muren to recoup his investment, and in the years since, it has become a minor cult classic.[9]

Industrial Light & Magic[edit]

After earning his associate's degree, Muren struggled for years to find steady work as a visual effects cameraman in Hollywood. In 1976, Muren was hired as 2nd cameraman at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), then an upstart visual effects studio founded by George Lucas.[10] Muren was one of the original hires for Lucas' Star Wars. The film was released in 1977 to wide critical and public acclaim and was the highest-grossing film of all time until that point. With a weekend off, he immediately went to work on Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, photographing the Mothership for Douglas Trumbull.[11]

After working a few months on a new television series, Battlestar Galactica, for John Dykstra, Muren relocated to Marin County, California to help build a new ILM. He was hired as effects director of photography with a focus on the techniques and photography of miniatures on Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. After that, Muren worked primarily as a Visual Effects Supervisor on all of his films.[12] According to former ILM president Jim Morris, even with the limited tools available at that time, he could always find a way to look at a problem from a different angle and come up with a shot or scene that would be wondrous to watch, winning him five Oscars in the next seven years.[13][14]

When Lucas started the Lucasfilm Computer Graphic Group in 1979, Muren hoped to use their technology to make better, original movie images.[15] In an exciting collaboration, he directed the group in the making of the CGI stained glass swordsman for Young Sherlock Holmes, earning an Oscar nomination. He learned that if his cinematic goals were clear, then the tools could be used as a means to that end.[16]

The Graphics Group was sold in 1986, and Lucas started the ILM Computer Graphics Division with Muren helping voice ILM’s needs for the digital image to mimic film qualities from lenses to film stocks, with user-friendly tools to mirror what we see.[17][18] He has said that his years spent observing and building an understanding of the physical world were invaluable to making virtual realities.[19]

In their first big project, Muren directed the Division in creating shape-shifting animals using in-house custom software for ‘morphing’ (blending) footage of animatronic models in Willow (1988).[20] The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and Jurassic Park (1993) followed.[21] Steven Spielberg had intended to use go-motion for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, but a CG test of a walking skeleton T-Rex made by ILM’s Steve Williams and Mark Dippe (with Marin County as the backdrop) convinced Universal to fund a proof-of-concept, photo-real, no-excuse shot.[4] In three months, following Muren’s cinematic goals, the ILM CG department broke new ground, adding organically moving flesh and muscle to the creature's skeleton, covering it with animal-like skin texture and exterior sun and bounce lighting to make a photorealistic walking T-Rex.[22][23] "It's going to be amazing. People are really going to believe that dinosaurs are walking this earth today," said Steven Spielberg.[24] It was “the shock of the new,"[25] earning Muren an Oscar for Best Visual Effects (shared with Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, and Michael Lantieri).[26]

Jurassic Park was the breakthrough that convinced Lucas that technology had advanced enough to make the Star Wars prequels.[27] Director Peter Jackson was similarly inspired by the technical breakthrough in Jurassic Park to begin planning the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and King Kong (2005).

Personal life[edit]

Muren is married to British documentary filmmaker and landscape architect Zara Muren, who produced and directed Dream of The Sea Ranch and The Landscape Architecture of Roberto Burle Marx.[28][29] They have two children and currently live in California.

In June 1999, Muren was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first visual effects artist to be so recognized.[30] He is also a recipient of nine Oscars for Best Visual Effects and a Technical Achievement Academy Award, the most of any living person.

He has a small, non-speaking role in Raiders of the Lost Ark; he appeared as a Nazi spy who peers over a magazine as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) boards a passenger plane. Due to their similarity in facial appearance (despite great variation in height), this character is often mistaken for Major Toht (Ronald Lacey), the film's primary antagonist, but it has been confirmed that they are not the same. Muren also had a cameo in the theme-park attraction Star Tours.

Novel Builds & Innovations[edit]

  • 1983: In three days, Muren pre-visualized over 100 shots for the Return of the Jedi speeder bike chase by hand-holding the first tiny video camera and taping a Barbie and Ken doll as well as cardboard tubes on a shag carpet.[32]
  • 1984: Used a Nikon F3 camera as a go-motion movie camera to photograph much of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mine car chase, saving construction and shooting time.[33]
  • 1985: Directed the Lucasfilm Graphics Group to make the first photo-real CGI character, the ‘Stained Glass Knight’ for Young Sherlock Holmes as well as the first theatrical-quality digital film composite.[34]
  • 1987: With ILM’s newly-formed CGI department, Muren pre-visualized the original Star Tours ride-film for Disneyland in early CGI to work out the story, moves, and timings for a four-minute continuous view out the shuttle’s front window.
  • 1988: Directed the first digital 2D morphing effect for Ron Howard’s Willow.[35]
  • 1990: After The Abyss, Muren took a one-year sabbatical to study CGI software and hardware theory, to which he credits much of the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day digital effects.[36]
  • 1991: During his sabbatical, assembled the first robust film scanning, manipulating, recording system for flawless, photo-real 2D and 3D image manipulation which was first used for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, then Death Becomes Her, and Jurassic Park, among other films.[36]
  • 1993: Directed the CGI dinosaurs to their photo-real conclusions for Jurassic Park.[4]
  • 1992-1995: Directed proof-of-concept CG tests for Death Becomes Her and Twister.[37]
  • 2001: Utilized a real-time, on-set rendering and compositing preview viewing with a 6-axis camera movement for A.I. Artificial Intelligence.[37]
  • 2003: Made a live on-set portable previz using the Unreal Tournament game engine on a laptop PC to display the film camera’s live view under a live render of Hulk’s 12-foot tall shape, in real time, as a live on-set previz.
  • 2012: Supervised unreleased 3D conversions of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith with exaggerated depths that he called Extreme 3D.[38]

Affiliations[edit]

Engagements[edit]

  • Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
  • American Film Institute
  • American Society of Cinematographers
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Supercomputing Conference
  • BFI
  • Berlin Film Festival
  • California Film Institute
  • Dallas Film Festival
  • UCLA Film Department
  • UC Berkeley Film Series
  • Liverpool University Film
  • MARS 2019
  • Mill Valley Film Festival
  • New Yorker Conference
  • Paris Images Digital Conference
  • San Francisco Art Institute
  • SIGGRAPH
  • ShowBiz Expo
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • USA Film Festival
  • USC Film Department
  • VIEW Conference - Torino

Filmography & Select Awards[edit]

Academy, BAFTA, Emmy, and VES Awards

YEAR FILM TITLE AWARD CATEGORY RESULT
2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Effects Creative Consultant
2012 Paranormal Activity 4 Senior Creative Executive
2011 Super 8 Visual Effects Supervisor
2008 Wall-E Visual Consultant
2005 War of the Worlds Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
VES Award Best Single Visual Effect of the Year Won
2003 Hulk Visual Effects Supervisor VES Award Best Single Visual Effect of the Year Nominated
2002 Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Visual Effects Supervisor
2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Nominated
1999 Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Nominated
1997 Deconstructing Harry Creative Advisor
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
1997 Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Visual Effects Advisor
1996 Twister Visual Effects Creative Advisor
1996 Mission: Impossible Visual Effects Creative Advisor
1995 Casper Visual Effects Supervisor & Digital Character Supervisor
1993 Jurassic Park Full-Motion Dinosaurs Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Won
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Won
1989 The Abyss Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
1989 Ghostbusters II Visual Effects Supervisor
1988 Willow Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
1988 Empire of the Sun Additional Optical Effects
1987 Innerspace Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
1987 Star Tours (Ride Film) Director & Visual Effects Supervisor
1986 Captain EO Visual Effects Supervisor
1985 Young Sherlock Holmes Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
1984 Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure Special Effects Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Special Visual Effects Won
1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Won
1983 Return of the Jedi Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Won
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Special Visual Effects Nominated
1981 Dragonslayer Visual Effects Supervisor Oscar Best Visual Effects Nominated
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Visual Effects Director of Photography Oscar Best Visual Effects Won
1978 Battlestar Galactica Visual Effects Photography
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Mothership Effects Photography
1977 Star Wars Visual Effects 2nd Cameraman
1975 Cascade of California (Commercials) Camera Operator / Department Head
1972 Flight to the Stars Visual Effects Photography
1972 The Solar System: Islands in Space Visual Effects Photography
1969 Cascade Pictures of California, Filmfare Freelance Effects Cameraman / Stop Motion Animator
1965 Equinox Producer / Director / Director of Photography, Editor

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dennis Muren Biography (1946-)".
  2. ^ Stefen Fangmeier, "The Storm-Chasing Special Effects Team behind 'Twister'", Alan Siegel, the ringer.com, May 7, 2020
  3. ^ George Lucas, Visual Effects Society "Lifetime Achievement Award" presentation to Dennis Muren, February 11, 2007
  4. ^ a b c Steven Spielberg, "Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible" documentary by Leslie Iwerks, 2010
  5. ^ "Dennis Muren Biography (1946-)".
  6. ^ Visual Effects Society narrator, "Lifetime Achievement Award" presentation, February 11, 2007
  7. ^ Don Shay, "Dennis Muren - Playing It Unsafe," Cinefex journal #65
  8. ^ "Piece of Mind: LCF holds a special-effects place in his heart," La Canada Valley Sun, Aug 21, 2014
  9. ^ "Dennis Muren Biography (1946-)".
  10. ^ Shay, Don. "Dennis Muren - Playing It Unsafe". Cinefex Issue 65.
  11. ^ Visual Effects Society narrator, "Lifetime Achievement Award" presentation, February 11, 2007
  12. ^ George Lucas, "Hollywood Walk of Fame" Star to Dennis Muren, Glendale CC recording June 3, 1999
  13. ^ Jim Morris, "Hollywood Walk of Fame" Star to Dennis Muren, Glendale CC recording, June 3, 1999
  14. ^ Shay, Don. "Dennis Muren - Playing It Safe". Cinefex Issue 65.
  15. ^ Shaw, Lucas (October 30, 2012). "A Lucasfilm History: 30+ Years of 'Star Wars,' Indy and THX". TheWrap.
  16. ^ John Lasseter, "Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible" documentary by Leslie Iwerks, 2010
  17. ^ Shaw, Lucas (October 30, 2012). "A Lucasfilm History: 30+ Years of 'Star Wars,' Indy and THX"". TheWrap.
  18. ^ Industrial Light & Magic - Real-time onset previz, #ILMinnovation, @ILMVFX, June 28, 2021
  19. ^ Visual Effects Society narrator, "Lifetime Achievement Award" presentation, February 11, 2007
  20. ^ "Over 30 Years, WILLOW Has Morphed into an Effects Classic". VFX Voice Magazine. 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2022-03-14.
  21. ^ Shay, Don. "Dennis Muren - Playing It Safe". Cinefex Issue 65.
  22. ^ Jim Morris, "Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible" documentary by Leslie Iwerks, 2010
  23. ^ Brooks, Dan (May 24, 2019). ""ALL FILMS ARE PERSONAL": AN ORAL HISTORY OF STAR WARS: EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE".
  24. ^ Steven Spielberg, "From Star Wars to Star Wars - The Story of Industrial Light & Magic" documentary, Lucasfilm, 1999
  25. ^ Hurley, Leon (January 5, 2018). "The 25 Most Successful Movie Franchises of all Time".
  26. ^ "Dennis Muren". IMDb. Retrieved 2022-03-14.
  27. ^ Hearn, Marcus (2005). The cinema of George Lucas. Ron Howard. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers. ISBN 0-8109-4968-7. OCLC 56405075.
  28. ^ "DREAM OF THE SEA RANCH: ZARA MUREN". UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. June 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  29. ^ "It Takes One: Zara Muren | The Cultural Landscape Foundation". tclf.org. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  30. ^ George Lucas, "Hollywood Walk of Fame" Star to Dennis Muren, Glendale CC recording June 3, 1999
  31. ^ Rogers, Pauline (1998). Contemporary Cinematographers on their Art. pp. 183–4.
  32. ^ "From Star Wars to Star Wars - The Story of Industrial Light & Magic" documentary, Lucasfilm, 1999
  33. ^ "Indiana Jones and a Nikon 3". November 12, 2020.
  34. ^ John Lasseter, "Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible" documentary by Leslie Iwerks, 2010
  35. ^ Ron Howard, "From Morf To Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking" documentary, Lucasfilm, 1988
  36. ^ a b Rogers, Pauline (1998). Contemporary Cinematographers on their Art. pp. 193–4.
  37. ^ a b Ian Bryce, "Industrial Light and Magic: Creating the Impossible" documentary by Leslie Iwerks, 2010
  38. ^ "Revenge of the Sith 3D Screening Impressions (SWCA 2015)". April 18, 2015.

External links[edit]