Greg Jein (1945-2022)

Greg Jein in 2012,

[[Greg Jein, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed creators of miniatures used in filming, died May 22 at the age of 76. Jein was twice nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1941. He also was an Emmy nominee for his visual effects work on Angels in America. He worked on a multitude of genre films and tv shows, and for the Star Trek franchise he built a Klingon starship, a Ferengi spaceship, plus studio models, props, and landscape miniatures. He generously participated in local LA Worldcons, Westercons, and Loscons. Craig Miller knew him for many years and has given permission to reprint this tribute from Facebook.]]

By Craig Miller: Back in the early 1970s, almost certainly in the home of John and Bjo Trimble, I met a guy, Gregory Jein, with a big interest in movies and special effects miniatures. He was friendly and funny and somehow simultaneously grumpy. And, as I and everyone else discovered, he was really, really, really good at building miniatures.

Greg and I became friends. And stayed friends. Yesterday afternoon, I heard that Greg had passed away. Greg had been sick with a variety of ailments for the several ears but I hadn’t realized he was that close to the edge. Though, we hadn’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic. I’d called him a couple times earlier this year but we never connected. Now I’m really sorry I didn’t try harder.

Miniatures aren’t as big a part of movie making as they used to be. CGI has taken over a lot of what used to be done with miniatures, not always for the better. But especially during the science fiction boom of the 1960s (with Star Trek) through the 2000s, they were everything.

Greg and I used to get together for lunch all the time. I’d come over to where he (and, on some pictures, his crew) were building the Mothership for Close Encounters or spaceships for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan or a scale model of Hollywood for 1941 and Greg would show me what they were working on before we headed out to eat.

And he’d tell irreverent stories. How, on 1941, they’d built a full Hollywood street in something like 1/8th scale (so still huge) and how Steven Spielberg, the film’s director, suddenly wanted to be able to see “movement” in some of the windows. To make it seem more real. But he wanted it for that afternoon. Greg told him he didn’t think it would be possible but Steven asked him to try. They were using the then-new and then-really-expensive-to-rent Louma Crane to shoot and didn’t want to keep it longer than necessary. So Greg got a dozen or so of those toys where you pull down on a central string and the arms and legs wiggle up and down and hung them in some of the windows. Steven came back from lunch and laughed. He got more time.

Another 1941 story. The film went way over time and way over budget. The script kept getting rewritten. Greg showed me the latest version one day when we were having lunch. It said “Revised 12th Draft”. Greg, ever irreverent, printed up a bunch of tee-shirts for his crew and friends. He gave me one.

Greg was responsible for a number of “jokes” (or, these days, Easter Eggs) in films. Most famously, you can clearly see the silhouette of R2-D2 hanging upside down from the Mothership when it crests Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Other things not visible among the nurneys on Mothership are a VW bus, the shark from Jaws, and a cemetery.

Greg was a terrific guy, quite beloved in Hollywood both for his enormous skills and because he was just a great person to spend time with. Or get Christmas Cards from. I’m going to miss him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.