Vfx master says director puts feeling into films

The obvious question that comes to mind about Steven Spielberg’s lifetime honor from the Visual Effects Society is: What took so long?

As a director, Spielberg has been pushing the vfx envelope since at least as far back as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — and before that, pushed special effects to their limit with “Jaws.” Perhaps only George Lucas did more to create the modern vfx-heavy tentpole.

Even more than his directorial credits, though, Spielberg helped advance the art — and create the industry — of visual effects by becoming a mogul, says his longtime collaborator, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren.

“When he started Amblin, suddenly there was an outpouring of movies that he’s not directing and wanted to make, and a lot of them are vfx films,” Muren says. “They mostly carried his stamp, the stamp of Steven. That’s something about youthful imagination, a sense of wonder, something that appeals to the child in all of us.”

Spielberg has not only pushed visual effects along, making films that set standards in quality and efficiency that others have struggled to match, but he has also been able to sustain his run of vfx blockbusters with nary a stumble for 30-odd years.

Muren says that’s because Spielberg doesn’t really make action movies.

“I just saw ‘E.T.’ and to analyze what’s happening moment to moment in that film, why people respond the way they do, is nearly impossible. For an action film with a lot of explosions, you can analyze what it is. But Steven is touching your heart constantly in his movies like nobody else, and consistently doing it.”

It’s that emotion, says Muren, that really makes the effects shine in Spielberg’s films, even when they’re actually quite simple.

“If you come out of ‘Jurassic Park’ saying, ‘Those dinosaurs are the greatest thing in the movie’ you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t think without the reverse shots of the actors looking the way they do and talking about it for a few minutes afterwards, those scenes would never have the impact that they have.

“That’s where Steven is unique. He can bring that sense of wonder and put it into words, and he gives it screen time. He’s not afraid to give screen time to feeling. So many directors, they just want to cut and get on with the action, and he won’t do that.”

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