R.I.P. STAN WINSTON
As unfamiliar as his name may sound, he’s behind some of the most successful science fiction-franchises and fantasy movies ever created! Without him, Hollywood would only be a fraction of what it is today. If the name doesn’t ring a bell – then it’s time to expand your knowledge …
Stan Winston was born in Virginia where he studied painting and sculpture at the University of Virginia. In 1969 he moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor, but ended up going into a whole different direction. So he set himself up nicely as a makeup artist at Walt Disney Studios. One year later, he formed his own company: Stan Winston Studio.
What initially started with small gigs – from working on the telefilm Gargoyles to creating the Wookiee costumes for the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special – turned out to be a golden road paved to certain success. Soon bigger projects came peeking around the corner, and in 1982 he found himself in the driver’s seat for the classic horror movie The thing.
From there on out, Stan Winston jumped from one big movie to another. He helped create the mask and rebuild the face of horror icon Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th part III and did some special effects makeup for the creature in the TV-version of The Phantom of the Opera.
In 1984 Stan Winston teamed up with legendary director James Cameron to build the single greatest robot in Hollywood-history. This time there was no make-up, but the man with the magic touch showed another passion of his. Through some of the most groundbreaking techniques, Stan Winston and his team brought the metallic killing machine to life. And the rest is history …
Stan Winston reached a new level of fame after that. In addition, he and James Cameron became friends – they would share a close partnership and work together on many classical science fiction-movies. Two years later he won a well-deserved Oscar for ‘Best Visual effects’ on James Cameron‘s next movie: Aliens.
Granted, the design of the aliens was invented by Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger.
There’s simply too many movies to talk about that include the works of Stan Winston. So we’ll just stick to the most important ones.
How about the sharp knives and special make-up on Johnny Depp‘s face in Edward Scissorhands? That’s right, Stan Winston was there too! He may not have created the designs from scratch, but he did bring them to life. In other words, without Stan Winston many ideas would still be sitting on someone’s desk.
Much like the aliens in, err, Aliens … Stan Winston also gave life to the Predator in 1987. This time the shape of the monster, which he simply named Predator, was entirely created by Stan Winston himself.
Stan Winston introduced himself in the 1990’s by breaking new ground.
After James Cameron and his crew were the first ones to use CGI (Computer Generated Images) in the underrated classic The abyss, Stan Winston raised the bar to a whole new level!
Terminator 2: Judgment Day did what most sequels failed to do. It became bigger, better and far more successful than the first movie. Not surprisingly so, Stan Winston earned himself two Academy Awards for ‘best make-up effects’ (remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s metallic arm?) and ‘best visual effects’ (the T-1000, I’ll say no more).
Right then and there, Stan Winston was wildly considered the foremost talented Special Effects artist in Hollywood. For Tim Burton‘s Batman sequel, he did not only create the terrifying face of the Penguin and the sexy silky looks of Catwoman, but also helped the director in rebuilding the darkness of Gotham city.
Even more astonishing was the creation of the most realistic dinosaurs ever put on screen. This was before BBC started their equally impressive show ‘Walking with dinosaurs‘. Back in 1993, dinosaurs were nothing more than sluggish fake lizards in silly B-movies.
Not anymore, Jurassic Park became the most successful movie of all time!
Stan Winston once again won an Oscar for ‘best visual effects’, but more importantly: he raised the bar another notch for special effects in blockbuster movies! Never before did a movie have such realistic animals through the use of CGI. Now … the possibilities seemed endless!
After 1993 things cooled down a bit for him. Maybe it was the constant pressure of having to impress an audience with each new movie. Maybe it was deliberate, so he and his team could experiment with this newfound system called CGI.
Back in the early 90’s, CGI was still fairly new and it seemed with Jurassic Park they had hit a virtual ceiling already. Whatever the case, Stan Winston, James Cameron and ex-ILM General Manager Scott Ross co-founded Digital Domain, one of the foremost digital and visual effects studios in the world. This would become the foundation of many more visual effects movies in the future.
Winston and his team continued to provide effects work for many more films (such as the make-up for Fat Bastard in the second Austin Powers-comedy) and expanded their work into animatronics. One of Winston‘s most ambitious animatronics projects was the Stanley Kubrick-story (but finished by Steven Spielberg due to Kubrick’s untimely death): AI: Artificial Intelligence.
In 2008, after having done yet another Jurassic Park and Terminator movie, Stan Winston and his crew breathed life into one of today’s most amazing superheroes, namely Iron Man. The suit as well as the entire function of it was built and perfected by the man with the golden touch, and his team.
But that was nothing in comparison of Stan Winston‘s greatest-ever contribution …
In 2009 director James Cameron beat his own record of most successful movie of all time (Titanic) with the breathlessly beautiful fantasy film Avatar. More impressive than the movie itself with its wonderful beasts, strange blue creatures and dazzling natural surroundings, was the use of Motion Capture Animation effects.
First used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in 2002, director James Cameron and special effects-guru Stan Winston doubled the impact and created the most fabulous special effects movie of all time!
Motion Capture Animation is a relatively new technique that vastly improved capturing facial expressions of actors who play a role in fantasy- and science fiction movies.
Stan Winston and James Cameron pioneered a specifically designed camera built into a 6-inch boom that allowed the facial expressions of the actors to be captured and digitally recorded, so the animators could use it later on.
In short: actress Zoë Saldana had her face and entire body covered in green and blue spots. These spots were in direct contact with a massive computer who would create a skeleton mirroring every single body movement and facial expression … in realtime! Zoë Saldana screamed – and her blue counterpart (the one you see in the movies) would also scream.
It was an amazing feat, and arguably the most important evolutionary change in movie history on account of creating special effects.
Unfortunately, Stan Winston wasn’t around much longer to witness the birth of his final brainchild. He died on the 15th of June 2008, in Malibu – California, after a battle of seven years against Multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells
(this is the type of white blood cells normally responsible for producing antibodies).
The really sad news is that he never got to see the end result of his Motion Capture Animation effects in Avatar. The movie was only released a year later.
Rest assured, this man will never be forgotten again in the history of movie-making!
As a way to pay tribute to his enormous influence on special effects and make-up in blockbusters over the past 30 years, his four supervisors founded and built their own studio, and named it aptly Legacy Effects, in honor of his memory.
It’s currently one of the leading special effects studios in Hollywood gearing up some of the best special effects seen in recent times, such as is the case with the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-movie.
In addition, the Winston family founded the Stan Winston school of character arts to ‘preserve Stan’s legacy by inspiring and fostering creativity in a new generation of character creators.’
So yeah … you really wanna know how important Stan Winston was for movies in general?
Try to think of Hollywood without the Terminator, aliens, the Predator, Catwoman, the Thing, Hellboy, Edward Scissorhands, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers, and many more …
Without Stan Winston … Hollywood seems pretty dull, no?
+++ Stan Winston, you will be missed! +++