It is very sad that the film industry lost one of its most gifted and innovative special effects artists recently – Stan Winston. Not only did he create amazing dinosaurs for us in Jurassic Park, the handsome and attractive Predator, but he also amazed us with other cinematic icons, such as The Terminator, Edward Scissorhands, the Queen Alien and Pumpkinhead.
Steven Spielberg once said this about Stan Winston: "His creations are the creations of horror and fantasy and science fiction and imagination and pure unmitigated genius." As a tribute to this incredible legend, we have published a story about him that appeared in one of our Smoke & Mirrors issues last year.
By Joe Nazzaro
When director Steven Spielberg began making plans for his big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel Jurassic Park, he approached make-up/FX wizard Stan Winston to find out whether or not full-size versions of the film’s dinosaurs could actually be created.
“I remember Steven looking at me,” recalls the four-time Oscar Award-winning Winston, “and asking, ‘So you built a 14-foot Alien; can you build a 25-foot dinosaur?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but yeah, we’ll figure it out,’ because it wasn’t a sudden right turn for us: we just built a mouse, so now can you build a dinosaur? We had already built a big creature so the question was, could we build a creature that was a little bit bigger? That’s the nature of what this business has been for us.
Winston’s career has now been recounted in exhaustive detail thanks to The Winston Effect, a lavish coffee table book that examines the work of Stan Winston Studio over the past three decades.
Covering every project from early film and television work to current big-budget blockbusters, the book also shows how each new assignment helped create the technology that made later projects possible. “For example,” Winston explains, “The groundbreaking on Terminator 2 was the actual melding of live action and CG FX in the same character, which people hadn’t seen before, which then became the precursor to Jurassic Park, so it was groundbreaking in that way, but it was never a hard right turn, just as Terminator 1 wasn’t.
“We took things that we learned on Terminator 1 and expanded upon them in Terminator 2, which brought the CG world into it, adding that tool to our kit so we had even more avenues to design because we had access to this body of artists and the work that Dennis Muren was going to bring to the table with all these brilliant minds from ILM, and a new concept from the Jim Cameron the director, so it begot itself.
“Terminator 2 would not have happened had not Terminator 1 and The Abyss both happened, and I would say that Jurassic Park would not have happened had Aliens not happened, because with the Queen Alien, we saw a 14-foot live-action character on stage for the first time. We had never seen a creature that big done ‘live’ on stage before, and we had never seen CG and live action blended together the way we did on Terminator 2, which again sparked the imaginations of Dennis Muren and the guys at ILM to the fact that they could do that with dinosaurs, so each begot the next.”
The Winston Effect also reveals some little-known secrets from Winston’s career, such as the fact that he wasn’t Jim Cameron’s first choice to work on The Terminator. That job was actually offered to Dick Smith, who turned it down, suggesting Winston as the right person. “I think ultimately it proved out to be a match made in haven between Jim Cameron and myself, but before it happened, no one had ever done a film like that before, so I can understand the process of talking to Dick Smith, who is an extremely brilliant artist, who was inspirational to all of us.
“Dick was also Rick Baker’s mentor, and I learned many of my early mould-making techniques from Rick when we worked on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman together, and Rick had learned those techniques from Dick, who had done Little Big Man. At the time, all of us were still the new kids on the block, so for me, Dick is still the man to go to.”
The Winston Effect captures the collected work of an incredibly talented group of artists. “It’s not about me,” he insists. “It’s really about hundreds of people who I have had the good fortune of working with through my career, who have made the studio work.”