This week follows on thematically from special effects, when I looked at the stunning contribution of Weta Digital, but the focus today pre-dates the kind of jaw-dropping scenes we see in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and addresses earlier techniques such as animatronics and prosthetics. Today’s individual in question has had a fantastic impact on both the film industry and on the awards front.
Stan Winston, visual effects supervisor, makeup artist and bit-part director, was born in 1946 in Arlington, Virginia. After he graduated High School, he took a 4-year University course where he undertook sculpture and painting. Shortly afterwards he moved to Hollywood, but since an acting career failed, he altered his approach and became a makeup apprentice at Walt Disney.
Only a few years later, Winston had established his own effects company and won an Emmy for a TV film, Gargoyles, in 1972. He continued to gain such Emmy recognition for the rest of the decade, until 1982 where he was nominated for an Oscar for the movie Heartbeeps. However, it was his astounding work on the Carpenter classic, The Thing, that propelled him into the limelight, which is a film that still holds its own today.
The following year he continued to work on projects for TV before beginning a recurring partnership with James Cameron. Their first film, Terminator, genuinely put Winston on the map with his vision and realisation of the now iconic machine portrayed by Schwarzenegger and just two years later in ’86, he won his first Oscar (Visual Effects) for his designs and creation of the terrifying nasties in Aliens.
The years that followed saw him assert his skills to film such as Edward Scissorhands and both Predators (for which he created the recognisable character). 1988 saw his first venture into directing with the horror film, Pumpkinhead, which won him Best First Time Director at the Paris Film Festival.
However, it was in 1990 when he reignited his affiliation with Cameron for the superb Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which blew audiences, as well as the Academy, away with its breathtaking visuals, earning two Oscars (Best Visuals & Makeup) at the 1992 ceremony.
Following that, he again teamed up with Tim Burton for Batman Returns, creating the look for Danny DeVito’s The Penguins and Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, for which he was praised for his realisation of Burton’s ideas and tone of the film.
1993′s Jurassic Park saw a slight change in direction from horror nasties to prehistoric ones, when he worked alongside Spielberg for this monster (excuse the pun) blockbuster. Animatronics were at the forefront of this visual effects marvel, and earned him another Best Visual Effects Oscar.
A more prominent venture into animatronics was to come, as himself and Cameron joined forces to establish Digital Domain: a visual effects company that became one of the most renowned in the world. Since completing the hugely successful Titanic, the pair parted ways, yet Winston continued with his team to earn an Oscar nomination for Jurassic Park: The Lost World, until yet another Spielberg movie came knocking.
This time it was the Kubrick inspired A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, where some advanced animatronics and striking CGI earned him the final Oscar nod of his career. The fantastic SFX and visuals were largely down to the handy skills and his team as well as his imprecible vision, as the film went on to receive numerous Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
Towards the latter stages of his career, Stan Winston shared his creative input on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but beforehand had been left very hurt after being snubbed for Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator. Considering he designed both the original concepts and visual effects on the films, he expected to be included, yet unfortunately wasn’t. This was probably a blessing in disguise, as even though it had great takings at the Box Office, it was a truly pitiful film.
Upon his death in 2008, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a public speech honouring his life, as well as John Favreau dedicating a sci-fi award for Iron Man to him in his memory.
Winston had intended Jurassic Park 4 to be his next project, and even up to his death he had a hand in Avatar with old pal Cameron, and his studio Legacy Effects (renamed from the original Stan Winston Studios) continued to strongly with Avatar and Shutter Island. Winston was a massive influence in his field and should be remembered for his prowess, impeccable skill and dedication.