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Dennis Muren

Dennis Muren: “There’s a magic to it”

May 31, 2023

Mr. Muren, as a nine-time Oscar-winning visual effects artist and a pioneer in the industry, how would you define visual effects in filmmaking?

A very easy way to explain it is that it’s all the magic inherent to filmmaking. Visual effects get used when it's impossible to do something another way. The best way to do something is always if you can do it for real, with real actors on a real location, with a real crew, the real performances, whatever it is. But a lot of things are impossible — spaceships flying, dinosaurs — or too much danger, that's when effects come into it. Sometimes we’re adding a visual effect to a real scene in order to augment it, like a creature or a background or a character. But there’s been such change in the industry in the last 20 years that now entire movies can be shot on another planet, and that was never possible before.

What were the effects like back then, for example when you first became interested in this field in the sixties and seventies?

I actually got started even earlier than that, when I was a little kid, probably six or seven years old. I was interested in the stuff that I saw in the theater, you know, these spectacles with a giant creature or an invasion from Mars or something! I remember walking out of the theater and thinking, “I want to see that again.” So I’d go out to our backyard and in our garage, and I would  recreate those moments that I just loved seeing in films using film cameras. As I got older, the quality got better, but it was still always hard. There was no digital in those days, and so everything took a week before you could see it.

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Last week’s Interview
Rob Marshall

Rob Marshall: “There’s nothing like it”

May 24, 2023
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Mr. Marshall, how did people react when you first told them your plan to make a film version of the hit musical Chicago?

I was told a million times, no one's is going to see this movie because musicals are dead. At that point in the early 2000s, animated musicals were very successful, but live action musicals on film were nowhere to be seen. But I believed in the genre! I never think a genre is dead, you know, they say things like, “Oh, the Western is dead,” I never believe that. I think it all comes down to how it's done. Musicals are very delicate, they can go off the rails like that. It can turn into a Saturday Night Live sketch... We've all seen musicals where they start to sing, and it feels embarrassing, like, why are they singing? I'm always very aware that the song has to be earned, it has to come out of the story seamlessly, like there's no other choice but for them to sing. That's how I approached Chicago.

Did it feel like a validation when Chicago went on to win six Oscars, including Best Picture?

It was such a surprise, all of it. I have to say the whole ride was insane, because I honestly didn't think it would be seen by that many people, I thought it'd be more of a niche piece. So when it was embraced the way it was, and it was my first movie, it was an overwhelming experience. I feel like we did open the door for other musicals to be made. It was a combination of Moulin Rouge and Chicago, they happened almost simultaneously and started to breathe life into the form again.