For over 25 years, John Bruno has created some of the most memorable visual effects in film, and he’s got an Oscar (and a pile of nominations) to prove it. His credits include classics like Heavy Metal, Batman Returns, and Ghostbusters. And his collaborations with longtime friend James Cameron gave us The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. For all of these, Bruno has dictated the style and substance of the surreal and supernatural on our screens.

Most recently, Bruno took a turn in the director’s chair to document James Cameron’s historic dive to the Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which lies 36,000 feet below the surface of the ocean – the deepest place on earth.

We caught up with Bruno over the phone to take a look back — and forward — at how he’s put such a strong mark into the movies.

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.