Special effects master’s cinema secrets

From the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Jurassic Park to Superman Returns and now Hotel for Dogs, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri is always at the center of Hollywood’s biggest spectacles.

Lantieri continually pushes the special effects envelope. The multiple Oscar-winner visits with SheKnows in an exclusive interview. It was Lantieri’s vision that brought Beowulf, Indiana Jones and Tom Cruise’s nightmarish Minority Report to life. With Hotel for Dogs’ arrival on DVD and Blu-ray April 28, the special effects mastermind took a few moments to share insight into his arena of film expertise.

Lantieri admits feeling like 'an eleven year old' working on Hotel for Dogs

Hotel for Dogs stars the niece of Julia Roberts who is carving quite a career for herself, Emma Roberts. Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon and an army of dogs and gadgets fill out the cast.

Summer blockbusters: Lantieri’s Lost

His docket for 2009-2010 is beyond impressive including Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Hollywood knows when it comes to special effects, few have mastered the art as Michael Lantieri has for decades.Dogs provided a unique challenge for the special effects wizSheKnows: Considering the real and imaginary things that you have worked with over your career, how do having animals in the scene affect what you do?Michael Lantieri: One of the key things that animals bring to the table would be that there is a substantial training time that is necessary to get them comfortable whatever props and gadgets we’re working with. Immediately we found out that things had to be built and tested and changed per our animal trainer’s (Mark Forbes) input. Everything was on an escalated schedule to get the things finish to spend time with the animals getting them to know simple things like motor sounds, cylinder sounds — things like that.SheKnows: They’re always actors stay away from working with animals and kids…Michael Lantieri: (Laughs)SheKnows: …for you as an effects person, is that an added challenge working with children in any way?Michael Lantieri: There’s always the issue of children can only work so many hours. Children are sometimes more inquisitive than interested in what’s going on so they like to play with the props. Truthfully, it’s all the same. A good rehearsal and everybody gets together on the same page. It always works out pretty well. I prefer animals, to tell you the truth (laughs).SheKnows: They can’t talk back.Michael Lantieri: (Laughs) That’s true.SheKnows: I can’t help but notice your schedule for 2009-2010, from Tim Burton’s Alison in Wonderland to Land of the Lost. First of all as a fellow workaholic, how do you not get worked thin?Michael Lantieri: (Laughs) You know, sometimes it runs in cycles. You get the projects coming your way that are the ones you’re looking for. In Hotel for Dogs, the idea to be able to have the gadgets I create be such a big part of the movie — it was irresistible. It’s nice if you can space them out and have them line up the way you like them, but they don’t. I certainly try to mix it up as much as possible.

Film tech advances

SheKnows: Two things I’ve noticed, the prevalence of 3-D lately in film and the use of IMAX as a means of taking Hollywood films to the next level and get audiences out of their houses. Now, there’s the combination of the two. Does that affect your job at all or does it simply take it to a different level in a different way?

Jake T. Austin gets a high-five

Michael Lantieri: It’s funny, I was just having a conversation with Robert Zemeckis, who I’ve worked with quite a bit, when we first started in tried to do something like a Roger Rabbit, we took cartoons and put them into an all real environment. We’ve kind of done a 180 now — we’re taking things that are non-existing in a pre-existing environment. There’s non-existent props, non-existent reality ways of putting people into the effects. Each thing that you do presents a different challenge. In the case of nowadays, I’m factoring in weight and mass to make it as real as possible. It doesn’t affect my job very much — it just changes every day when you wake up.

A legend’s legendary moments

SheKnows: Is there a movie, or movies, that you felt broke a barrier in your line of work that you had a pleasure of being a part of that took your field to the next level?Michael Lantieri: There’s a few. Obviously, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was one changed the way everything could be done. Obviously, Jurassic Park changed the way people looked at films. Then, most recently I did Alice in Wonderland with Tim Burton and he has a completely different view (laughs) of the world than most — and anywhere in between. That’s the great thing about my job is it’s always different. On Hotel for Dogs, for instance, I spend all my time building things like an eleven-year-old would!SheKnows: In many ways, you are a scientist. The other day, Minority Report was on TV and Tom Cruise is using his hands to move text and images on a screen. At the time, people thought ‘that’s so incredible.’ Now, if you turn on CNN, there’s John King using the technology with the election coverage. Do you ever get a kick out the fact that something you put in a movie years later changes our culture?

Tom Cruise does his thing in Minority Report courtesy of Michael Lantieri

Michael Lantieri: Oh, absolutely. The funny thing is every now and then I’ll teach at film schools and I tell them to also read books on engineering, medical magazines, aerospace materials and most importantly the business page to find out how the money flows. I constantly read new technology publications to see what’s on the cutting edge of technology.

SheKnows: Your list of directors you’ve worked with is immense including Steven Spielberg. I can’t think of any you haven’t worked with, but are there any that are on your wish list?Michael Lantieri: (Laughs) I’ll tell you who I like, I like Chris Nolan’s (Batman) vision. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with him. There are definitely some and lots upcoming that I’m sure will be fun. I’ve been lucky to work with the guys who do things in movies that are truly memorable.Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Michael Lantieri’s Filmography:

Mars Needs Moms! (2010) (pre-production) (special effects supervisor)
Alice in Wonderland (2010) (post-production) (special effects supervisor)
Land of the Lost (2009) (post-production) (special effects supervisor)
A Christmas Carol (2009) (post-production) (special effects supervisor)
The Macabre World of Lavender Williams (2009) (completed) (special effects supervisor)
Hotel for Dogs (2009) (special effects coordinator)
Get Smart (2008) (special effects supervisor)
Superhero Movie (2008) (special effects supervisor)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) (special effects supervisor)
Beowulf (2007) (special effects coordinator)
Superman Returns (2006) (VG) (special effects)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (special effects supervisor)
Monster House (2006) (special effects consultant)
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) (special effects supervisor)
The Polar Express (2004) (special effects coordinator)
The Terminal (2004) (special effects supervisor)
Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) (V) (special effects supervisor)
Will Ferrell runs from the Land of the LostHouse of Sand and Fog (2003) (special effects coordinator)
Seabiscuit (2003) (special effects coordinator)
Hulk (2003) (special effects supervisor)
Minority Report (2002) (special effects supervisor)
Jurassic Park III (2001) (special effects consultant)
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) (special effects supervisor)
The 6th Day (2000) (special effects supervisor)
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) (special effects supervisor: Los Angeles tank crew)
The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) (special effects supervisor)
Wild Wild West (1999) (special effects supervisor)
Deep Impact (1998) (special effects coordinator)
Paulie (1998) (special effects coordinator) (uncredited)
Mousehunt (1997) (special effects)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) (special dinosaur effects)
Mars Attacks! (1996) (special effects supervisor)
Matilda (1996) (special effects supervisor)
The Indian in the Cupboard (1995) (special effects)
Congo (1995) (physical effects supervisor)
Casper (1995) (special effects supervisor)
Mr. Payback: An Interactive Movie (1995) (special effects)
The Flintstones (1994) (special effects supervisor)
Jurassic Park (1993) (special dinosaur effects)
Alive (1993) (special effects consultant)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) (special mechanical effects supervisor)
Death Becomes Her (1992) (special effects supervisor)
Hook (1991) (special effects supervisor)
Angelina Jolie through the eyes of Michael LantieriBack to the Future Part III (1990) (mechanical effects supervisor)
Back to the Future Part II (1989) (special effects supervisor)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) (special effects supervisor: USA) (as Mike Lantieri)
Twins (1988/I) (special effects coordinator)
Caddyshack II (1988) (special effects supervisor)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) (special effects supervisor: USA)
Moving (1988) (special effects)
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) (special effects supervisor) (as Mike Lanteri)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) (special effects supervisor)
Back to School (1986) (special effects supervisor)
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) (special effects coordinator)Fright Night (1985) (special effects)
Thief of Hearts (1984) (special effects)
The Woman in Red (1984) (key special effects)
The Last Starfighter (1984) (special effects)
Flashdance (1983) (special effects)
Heartbeeps (1981) (Phil’s remote operator) (as Mike Lanteri)

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