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WAR OF THE WORLDS

Visual Effects
With hundreds of extras screaming amid smoke and fire, an essential component of every major sequence would be created on computers. "When I decided to make ‘War of the Worlds,” says the director, "Dennis Muren is one of the first phone calls I made.”

The recipient of eight Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Visual Effects (three of those for his work on Spielberg's "E.T. — the Extraterrestrial,” "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and "Jurassic Park”), Dennis Muren continues to be a driving force in the evolving art of visual effects.

"What Dennis Muren and everybody at ILM brings,” says production designer Carter, who has worked closely with Muren on a number projects, "is the ability to see in our world something you could never see, and that it could be filmed as though it was there the whole time.”

"I'm always looking for something new to do,” Muren notes. "As soon as I finish a film, I think, ‘That film is obsolete. The visuals in that are obsolete, what's new?' And the idea of doing ‘War of the Worlds' was pretty exciting, especially going back to the book to look for the war machines. I think I've got a grasp of what people have seen, and what is fresh, because I get tired of it as fast or faster than the public does. And we spent a lot of time in the preproduction of this, coming tip with an interesting look for the Tripods and even for the alien creatures. We didn't just jump in at the first or second or third or tenth or fiftieth design.”

Despite Muren's place on the cutting edge of visual effects, he worked with Spielberg to assign the most effective technique to each visual effect shot rather than relying heavily on CG. "Having come from the age of miniatures, I've got no problem with saying, ‘Let's do this as a miniature, and let's do this as computer graphics' —whatever's best for the shot,” he says. "We've got a lot of great talent here, people who know how to build the models. We know how to put them together in scenes. It's really important to be able to use the whole toolbox, not just the computer graphic part of it.”

Spielberg, Muren and Janusz Kaminski worked closely together to keep all the composite elements of the film in sync. "You're shooting inserts; then, you're shooting against a green screen; then, you're shooting against a ferry that's tied to the wharf and doesn't move,” Spielberg describes. "Then, you're shooting the ferry actually in the water. And then there's a digital unit. I'm pretty accustomed to shooting this way from all my experience from ‘Close Encounters' through ‘Jurassic Park' to now. To me, it's like a big salad. You treat all the ingredients separately, but with equal tender loving care. Then, finally, when all these disparate pieces are combined, you put the final dressing on. And if that combination is correct, then you're going to have a feast.”

The tight schedule did not afford the filmmakers a leisurely post-production period. Instead, processes allotted to post were assimilated into the production period. "All the time that we were on location shooting, we were getting video back and forth,” Muren recalls. "That kept the process going rapidly, and essentially, it saved us weeks and weeks of time. We managed to parallel the action on both coasts, and get things directly approved by Steven on set all the time, too. So, it was really, really great.”

Because while Spielberg was shooting the film, he was also editing it, delivering shots to ILM and approving shots once they came back to him for review. Visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman notes, "Steven was the first director I ever worked with who turned the work early. As we were wrapping principal photography, he turned over all the visual effects work. This is a first for me.

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