It’s only appropriate that Ray Harryhausen and The Empire Strikes Back are celebrating milestone anniversaries in the same year. 2020 marks the 100th birthday of the special-effects pioneer behind vintage Hollywood spectacles like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, as well as the 40th anniversary of the second — and best — installment in Star Wars’s Skywalker Saga.
But they have more in common than the calendar year: The AT-ATs and Tauntauns that walk through Empire are inspired by Harryhausen’s menagerie of stop-motion creatures, from cyclopses to krakens. “They had character, they had performance and they had purpose,” says Dennis Muren, who parlayed a childhood spent watching Harryhausen’s films into a groundbreaking career as a Star Wars F/X legend. “They were wondrous to look at, and the designs of the shots were dynamic. Ray’s work grabbed you emotionally, because it began with him. I’m the same way: being emotionally connected to the performance and design of a character who, simply put, looks really neat.”
Currently the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Director at Industrial Light & Magic, Muren first joined George Lucas’s pioneering visual effects studio in 1976, when it was still making and photographing spaceships in a Van Nuys warehouse. After Star Wars blew up at the box office, Muren followed ILM to the Bay Area as Lucas charted course for a return trip to his far, far away galaxy. “It was the hardest film by far,” Muren says of how The Empire Strikes Back came together behind the camera. “Everything just got bigger. The spirit of the film was still fun and adventure, but it had more romance, it had more action, the Empire was bigger and the universe was bigger than we thought on the first movie.”
Muren’s role also expanded with Empire, as he took point on directing the fleet of miniatures that play a major part of the film’s iconic opening set-piece on the ice planet, Hoth. With the advent of digital technology still many years away, Muren and his team brought the Rebel’s herd of tauntauns and the Empire’s squad of AT-AT walkers to life by hand. And through it all, he followed the example established by Harryhausen.
This article was originally published on yahoo.com/entertainment/.