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Stan Winston 1946-2008 – UPDATED

Tuesday 17th June 2008 by profwagstaff

Hey guys, Jonathan here. I didn’t even know where to begin writing up a story on the passing of Stan Winston. You can go back through the Geekscape episodes and pick out all of the times I’ve quoted or referenced a movie that Stan had worked on or a creature he had created. Yesterday’s slow filtering news of his passing was a complete double-take inducing shock. I know that you guys have expressed in the forums how much you will miss Stan Winston and his work.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have briefly met Stan Winston last fall during the press junket for Skinwalkers, a movie he exec produced and did the effects for. The movie was destined for gauntlet greatness from the start, but that didn’t stop Stan from gushing about the work involved in the film and the efforts put forth from everyone. It really was like spending 10 minutes in the room with a loving grandfather and a big kid stuffed into the same enthusiastic body. And the guy was funny. He didn’t flinch when I questioned him about the wolfman’s nards, but instead offered a funny reply. I walked out of that interview completely jazzed and went down the phonebook geeking out to anyone who would pick up (especially Gilmore, who helped set up the interview and was bummed he couldn’t make it).

Well Gils, I’m sorry that the chance has passed us all by. This one really hurts, my friend. Below I have a piece written by our own Professor Wagstaff from his own website which he e-mailed to me to share with you ‘scapists. Waggy put it better than I ever could, so I will leave him to it:

Special effects and makeup men are the kinds of people you can be a fan of without even realizing it. I mean, who can forget their first sight of the Terminator walking out of the fire? Or the slime dripping off of the teeth of the Alien Queen? Or the feeling they got when the camera panned up the legs of that giant brontosaurus? Or a wolfman who’s got nards?

These are all moments that sent chills and thrills up and down the spines of movie lovers everywhere. And they were all created by one man: Stan Winston, one of the greatest geniuses to hit film special effects since Ray Harryhausen made skeletons walk.

Stan died today after a long battle with multiple myeloma.

Coming to Hollywood in the late 60s, he thought that he was going to be an actor. Instead, he found a talent for makeup. In fact, he won an Emmy his first time out on a TV movie called Gargoyles.

He floated around for a while doing some low-profile work (WC Fields And Me, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) mixed in with some high-profile jobs (The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman, “Roots,” The Wiz).

But it really wasn’t until the early 80s that people started to take notice of this genial guy with a ready smile. In 1981, he was nominated for his first Oscar for the Andy Kaufman/Bernadette Peters vehicle, Heartbeeps. (Why they chose this one to award him for, I’ll never know.) But really, The Thing was his first big break. Sure, he’s only credited with “additional makeup effects” because he took over for Rob Bottin after he got all exhausted, but what better place to start?

Then he created one of his greatest creatures: The Terminator. Never before had a mechanical man been so frightening. He would top himself two years later with the Alien Queen in Aliens. We only thought that Ridley Scott’s version of the alien was scary. Winston’s Queen was well beyond anything in our nightmares in 1986. It was enough to win him his first Oscar.

In 1987, he created the creatures for a slightly more farcical movie called The Monster Squad. It was never a big hit, but it has become quite the cult item and Stan even sort of makes a cameo in the film. His crew created the Wolfman in his image. Who knew?

1990 brought Edward Scissorhands and 1991 brought Stan’s second Oscar for Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 1993, Stan started a partnership with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park and won his third Oscar. From there, he worked on the two sequels and AI, always blending beautiful CGI work with amazing practical effects.

His most recent work has been just as amazing as ever. Iron Man’s suit is a creation that only Stan could bring to life. Unfortunately, we won’t know what kind of work he would have done on the new Terminator film. He was working on it when he died. Now it’s up to his crew at Stan Winston Digital and Stan Winston Studios to take the reigns.

Stan Winston leaves behind an amazing body of work that haunts the dreams and nightmares of moviegoers everywhere. They may not know his name (although, he is one of only two special effects artists to have a star on the Walk Of Fame), but they know his work. And they remember it forever.

You can find more Professor Wagstaff reviews and opinions at Professor Wagstaff’s official website: www.profwagstaff.com. He is the self professed Geek of All Media (and who are we to argue)!

UPDATED! Here is another Geekscapist with his personal feelings about Stan Winston’s death: news submitting monster and brother across the pond HiroProtagonist. He shares his thoughts on Stan’s accomplishments and what this loss means to him.

Monday, June 16th 2008, at around 10pm, I got back from the cinema, having been lucky enough to watch IronMan again (My local cinema runs a Mystery Movie programme on a Monday evening, and on that particular night, they chose IronMan). As with the first time I’d watched
the film, I marvelled at how good it was – not just in terms of the story and the acting, but the special effects – “I need to get me a scale-replica model of that IronMan suit”, I though, before grabbing a bite to eat, and then getting some sleep.

The following morning, after finishing my exercise for the day, I switched the TV on, and switched the Interactive Service on, and switched it to the Entertainment section – nothing really interesting on the first page, nor the second, then at the top of the third page:

“Film special effects pioneer dies”

As a self-confessed proclaimed Film Geek, the article caught my attention, ’cause I figured I might know the person the article refered to. Once it loaded, the text that appeared caused me to literally stop in my tracks:

“Oscar-winning special effecs expert Stan Winston, who created the creatures in films including

Aliens and Jurassic Park, has died at the age of 62.
Winston, who also made the robots in Terminator, died at home in California surrounded by family on Sunday.
The film veteran had been battling multiple myeloma, a plasma call cancer, for seven years, a representative of the Stan Winston Studio said.
He worked with Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Tim Burton.”

Stan Winston dead? That’s gotta be a mistake I thought. I put it towards the back of my head, but around an hour later I went online and a quick visit to Geekscape confirmed my growing fears – it was indeed true, Stan Winston dead, aged just 62.

Born in Arlington, Virginia on April 7th 1946, Stan Winston went on to study sculpture & painting, two skills that he’d put to near-unparalled effect later on in his career, at the University of Virginia, from where he graduated in 1968, aged 22. A year later, after a brief spell at California State University he left for Hollywood, determined to pursue a career as an actor. Times were tough, and the jobs were few and far between, so eventually Stan took up an apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios.

In 1972 Stan decided to create his own company – Stan Winston Studios, and soon won an Emmy for the companies’ work on a TV-Movie – “Gargoyles”. During the 1970s Stan & the company continued to garner multiple Emmy nominations for their work on many projects, as
well as working on the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (Stan worked on the wookiee costumes).

Stan Winston received his first Academy Award nomination in 1982, for his work on the 1981 film Heartbeeps, however it would be two years later, when Stans work would first be appreciated by film fans around the world, with his iconic work on James Camerons’ The Terminator. The low-budget film was a worldwide hit, and propelled it’s main stars – Writer / Director James Cameron, Actor (and Future Governor of California) Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course, Stan, to stardom. Stan, and his team continued to work through the 1980s, gaining aclaim which would reach a peak with the premier of the next collaboration between James Cameron & Stan Winston – 1986s’ Aliens, which introduced the world to another of Stans more iconic creations – The Alien Queen.

During the remainder of the 1980s Stan continued to work on a number of films, creating much loved characters & effects for, amongst others, Tim Burtons Edward Scissorhands, the Predator films, and the much-loved cult classic Monster Squad.

Towards the end of the decade Stan turned his hand to directing his own films, starting off with the horror film Pumpkinhead, and then a year later A Gnome Named Gnorm.

As the 1990s started, Stan continued to remain at the top of his field, continuing to work on some of the biggest and most memorable films of the early 1990s, such as re-teaming with James Cameron on Terminator 2: Judgement Day, for which he would receive two Academy
Awards and Tim Burton, on Batman Returns, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup, for his work on the characters of The Pengiun & Catwoman.

1993 would see Stan collaborate for the first time with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park. Stan Winston Studios worked on the dinosaur effects, combining prosthetic effects with ground-breaking Computer Generated Effects, in order to bring the world of living Dinosaurs to
life. The film went on to become the highest grossing film of all time (at the time), and landed Stan Winston his fourth Academy Award, for Best Visual Effects.

Later on in 1993, Stan Winston, along with previous collaborator and friend James Cameron, founded Digital Domain, a digital effects company that’s still heavily involved in the film world today.

As the 1990s progressed Stan and his company expanded their focus, expanding into the field of Animatronics. A prime example of the companies work can be seen in the 2001 Steven Spielberg film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, for which Stan would receive his 10th Academy Award nomination.

As the 1990s came to an end, and a new decade started, Stan, and his company, Stan Winston Studios, continued to work on films, and their work can be seen in films such as Jurassic Park III, Big Fish, Terminator III, Constantine and the recently released IronMan.

Based on reports that have come out since Stans death, he and the company were also involved in work on forthcoming films such as James Camerons’ Avatar, Jurassic Park 4, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins & The Suffering, as well as GI Joe & the forthcoming Martin Scorcese film Shutter Island.

So that’s Stan Winston, the Professional, however it’s only appropriate to devote some time to Stan Winston the man. Personally I never had the pleasure of meeting him, however Aint-It-Cool-News have started up an article, which can be found at http://www.aintitcool.com/node/37109 At the time of writing some of the people who’ve contribued their thoughts on Stan include past collaborators James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and John Favreau (Zathura & IronMan).

Now, from a personal point-of-view, I guess the reason why I felt like I had to type something up, in order to remember Stan by is for the simple reason that his work had a hell of an impact on me, as a film geek. I’m not an animator, nor do I work in the film industry (for which y’all
should consider yourselves very, lucky :bigsmile: ), but I love movies. They’re my addiction, pretty much every spare penny I have goes on buying new DVDs, or going to the cinema. And like all addictions, good or bad (mostly bad, I’ll concede), there has to be a spark, something that pulls the trigger, and pulls you in. And the simple fact, is that although I started going to the cinema pretty late on in life – the first film I watched in the cinema was Dennis (based on Dennis the Menace), when I was 10, it didn’t really grab me, and hook me, until a few months later, when I went to the cinema again, with my GrandDad to go and watch a lil’ film called Jurassic Park. And that was the film that started the love affair with cinema.

And, I believe that I owe equal thanks for that film, to both Steven Spielberg, and Stan Winston. Admitedly it’s a Steven Spielberg film, based on a Michael Crichton book, but the simple fact (at least as far as I’m concerned), is that, put simply, the film wouldn’t have worked, were it not for awe-inspiring combination of special effects, and plain old-fashioned, yet kick-ass animatronics that Stan & his studio created. A lot was made back then (and, indeed, now), about how Jurassic Park represents a milestone in the world of CGI, which I wholeheartedly agree with, however, for me it also represented a significant leap into the world of combining CGI with animatronics.

And for that 10 year-old boy, sitting in a cinema, both terrified (say what you will, for a 10 year old those dinosaurs were scary as hell ), it started a love affair with cinema that continues to this day. Stans’ death is indeed a sad day for many a film geek around the world, however I think we should also take a few minutes to remember just what an amazing impact his work has had, both on the next generation of film makers, effects wizards, etc, etc, who would follow his work, and attempt to top it, but also the legions of film fans around the
world, most of whom would name a film that Stan worked on, as amongst their favourites.

Stan Winston is survived by his wife of 37 years Karen, and his two children, Debie & Matt. He eaves behind him an industry that has developed into a booming business, which personally, I don’t think would have progressed to the level that is has, were it not for the work of Stan and his two companies – Digital Domain & Stan Winston Studios, who I’m sure will continue to produce work that makes helps transform the realms of imagination into cinematic reality, for many years to come.

Rest in Peace.

Stan Winston – 1946: 2008