(Source: VanityFair) Eight-time Oscar winner Dennis Muren is the first visual-effects artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ahead of Encore’s November 12 documentary about Industrial Light & Magic—the visual-effects arm of Lucasfilm where he is creative director—Muren shares behind-the-scenes photos from five of his famous projects: Terminator 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park, and E.T.

WEB EXCLUSIVE November 11, 2010

“Here, stop-motion master animator Phil Tippett [center], Mike Pangrazio [right], and I stand between two incredible matte paintings used to depict the windswept snowscape of Hoth. Pangrazio, a legendary I.L.M. artist, painted many such paintings during the production of The Empire Strike Back to allow for scenic vistas, practical sets to be extended, or, in this case, a stop-motion puppet of a Tauntaun and rider to be inserted for a story point.”

“While a number of complex approaches were considered and tested to realize the ghosts that appear at the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the end, it was model-maker Steve Gawley’s idea to shoot the silken ghost puppets in a tank of water that yielded the haunting realism that Steven [Spielberg] was after.”

“The melting of Toht, the Nazi villain’s head in Raiders of the Lost Ark, required an innovative approach. After a brainstorming session, it was decided that the head would be sculpted in wax. Artist Chris Walas meticulously added layer upon layer of various color waxes, building each of the underlying forms up until the final face took shape. Filmed at a speed slower than normal, high heat was applied and the head appears to melt rapidly revealing layers of skin, muscle, and bone when played back at normal speed.”

“Photographing E.T.’s ship posed a considerable challenge. Due to budgetary constraints, we were limited in the scale at which we could build the ship so it ended up being quite small. Adding to that, Steven wanted the ship to be highly reflective so we had to use huge cards to reflect the warm sky into the ship. We also filmed the miniature at 120 frames per second to give the ship a sense of mass.”

“In this shot, E.T. is on a hilltop overlooking the city. We realized the shot using a combination of a miniature set in the foreground and a matte painting in the background for the city. E.T. was a small puppet mounted to a rod that slid down a track, which gave the appearance that he was walking down the hillside toward the city. A lot of what makes this shot successful is the lighting and composition. The foreground looks a bit foreboding, whereas the cityscape has an almost magical quality about it. Hundreds of twinkling lights beckon him. In a way, it reflects what E.T. is feeling at this point in the story.”

Terminator 2 was a breakthrough film in many ways, but the digital effects saw a number of impressive breakthroughs. The sequence where Robert Patrick as the T-1000 walks through the security bars was particularly challenging. In order to have Robert’s face and torso warp and bend around the bars, we developed new software called ‘Makesticky.’ The software allowed us to map footage—in this case, the texture of Robert Patrick—onto a C.G. model without it sliding around on the surface and deform it as necessary. We shot Robert alone without the bars, then bars by itself, as well, and combined all three elements digitally into the final shot you see.”

“One of the things that really sells a shot like this one of the raptors in the kitchen is lighting. We worked closely with Steven to use very dramatic cross-lighting, intentionally playing some parts of the creatures in shadow to retain a sense of mystery. You really weren’t sure what they were going to do next. We used eye lights to make sure we could read their eye movements—they really are the windows to the soul.”


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