Dennis Muren Open Book interview
Dennis Muren, Star Wars The Visual Encyclopedia

Dennis Muren: Open Book

Dennis Muren: Open Book

We caught up with Dennis Muren to chat T-Rex, TIE ships and everything in between. Having worked on Star Wars™, E.T., Terminator, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and more, Dennis has won eight Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, as well as a Technical Achievement Academy Award, thus holding the most Oscars of any living person.

Dennis is the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Director of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and foreword writer for Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia.

Dennis Muren | Visual Effects Legend

Your work in five words:

Collaborate. Design. Direct. Amaze. Excite.

Three objects you couldn’t do without:

A camera, a laptop and an iPhone.

If a movie was made about your life, it would be called:

Chasing Tomorrow

The greatest Star Wars character of all time is:


You’ve said your interest in visual effects was sparked as young as age six, before the special effects industry even existed! What was it like beginning to work and learn, without an existing career path to follow?

It was like a hobby or a compulsion. I learned from friends who, like me, liked seeing effects. I was putting off getting a real job as long as I could. With the huge success of Star Wars, the new industry of Visual Effects was born. I never had to get that real job.

What’s the strangest single day you’ve had on the job?

We were working on Empire at Kerner. I would park in the front of ILM and check in with all the departments, making sure everyone's diverse tasks would come together correctly in each shot, by walking daily from the front to the back. One day, as the March deadline got closer, I didn't make it to the back. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Everyone needed some of my time, so the next day I decided to speed myself up by walking and talking faster and not ever taking a break. Still couldn't do it. And it was like this for a few weeks. I eventually solved it by delegating.

The seemingly magical effects achieved in films like Star Wars no doubt take extraordinary amounts of painstaking time and problem solving. Has there ever been an effect that you had to abandon or a technical challenge that couldn’t be surmounted?

I’m sure there certainly were, but I don’t remember them. Usually, you can solve challenges if you are willing to not give up thinking about a solution. If all else fails, you need to quickly look for a doable way to tell the same story.

You’ve worked with virtually every cinematic giant there is – George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron. Is there anyone you’d still love to collaborate with?

Chris Nolan of course, Alfonso Cuaron, Richard Linklater, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott. I could go on and on. There are so many really talented artists working today.

What’s your best behind-the-scenes story from a Star Wars film set?

I planned out the shooting of the bike chase sequence in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the blue screen with Mark and Carrie. When we went to do it, George came in and changed my plan. He saw it from the point of view of a storyteller, and shot long takes covering many bits (actions). I saw it from the point of view of an effects person who shoots one bit, then shoots another, and then another, separately. He was totally right, because he then had acting and editing choices to work with later on. The finished sequence was great. His process was an eye-opener for me.

Your work bringing dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park is considered a crucial turning point in the history of special effects. So the question is obvious: did you have a favorite dinosaur?

I'd say the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Who doesn’t love the T-Rex?

You’ve seen the visual effects industry come into being, and transform, over the decades. What’s the biggest difference between working using analogue models, and using CGI?

I’d say it’s the lack of immediate feedback at nearly every step of making a shot. When doing old-school practical effects, you can see it, touch it, paint it, light it, move it and make changes immediately. When they worked, people called it magic. Now you often start and finish with nothing ever being real. There is no relationship to the world that surrounds us, that we live in. Every bit of our planet ­– of people and animals and behaviours and forces such as gravity and light and fluids – must be correctly specified and implemented into the computing process. Nothing in CGI is successful without an enormous effort.

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia celebrates the details that bring the Star Wars universe to life. Do you have a favorite individual object from the franchise?

The original TIE ships. When I first saw those I thought, “These are beautiful, and so different!”

You have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Visual Effects Society Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy and the most Oscars of any living person. What’s next?!

Maybe a Tony and a Grammy? Ha!

Dive straight into the tiniest details and the grandest parts of the galaxy with Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia.


© & TM 2017 LUCASFILM LTD. Used Under Authorization.

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Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia Star Wars: The Visual

Covering more than 2,500 characters, creatures, planets, vehicles, Droids™, weapons, technology, and more Read more

Covering more than 2,500 Read more


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