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INT: Stan Winston

Jun. 27, 2003by: JoBlo

Interview 1: Kristanna Loken
Interview 2: Stan Winston
Interview 3: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Interview 4: Nick Stahl/Claire Danes
Interview 5: Jonathan Mostow

While most guys his age can’t figure out how to turn a computer on, Stan Winston is using them to create some of the most mind-blowing special effects in movies today. 

Stan is guy that likes to talk. In fact, he started going before I even got a chance to ask him a question. I don’t mind, though – it made my job a heck of a lot easier. All I had to do was turn on the tape recorder, sit back and listen as the master craftsman talked about his experience creating the effects in T-3.

STAN WINSTON

Stan: I loved the movie. I’m thrilled with it. I was very concerned – having worked on the 1st film – and wondered how anyone could top T-2. I think Jonathan Mostow just rocked.  I’m so happy with what he put together, considering the shoes he had to follow.  I think the characters are beyond what we’ve seen before and there’s some pretty amazing action.  And I think that it has a really thought-provoking ending.

Tell me what you’re responsible for in Terminator 3?

I don’t like to consider the work that we do at the Stan Winston studio “special effects.”  We create characters for film. Anything you’ve seen my name on has been about fantastic characters.  We have to use special effects often to create those characters.  So, we have all of these effects at our disposal and we’ve developed some of the most advanced technologies in the world, but it’s always about creating fantastic characters, whether with makeup, animatronic puppets or a huge robot.  So, what did we do for T-3?  We designed characters.  There are three main characters in T-3 that the Stan Winston Studio was responsible for:  the look of Arnold - what he looks like when part of him gets blasted away (because we’ve already created the endoskeleton);  the design and concept of the T-X, the new terminator; and the first Terminators, the T-1s.

On the first movie, we did some subtle makeup effects, to show little bits of metal under the skin.  The second movie, we showed some more metal under the skin, using some puppet heads to be able to see some of the depth of the endo under his skin and revealed like a kneecap and part of his body.

In this movie, we wanted to go beyond anything that’s been seen in either of the first two movies.  So, we’re gonna completely, completely reveal the endo under him.  So we went to design it – we design on the computer now.  We designed Arnold at the end of the  movie with most of his face left, but with his entire endo skull revealed, part of the neck and half of his body.

To do that, we used what we learned when we designed the robots for Spielberg’s AI.  One of the robots we designed was the “Nanny,” where we show a complete face, but reveal that behind that face is completely a machine.  And the method we used was:  drawing it on pencil and paper, creating an animatronic puppet, creating a prosthetic makeup that showed the edge of where the skin ended, using blue cloth to cover the rest of her head, then removing her head with CGI.

We used the exact same technique for T-3, but with Arnold’s character, we took it further than we ever did with AI.

I felt the most challenging job, however, was designing the T-X.  The T-X is supposed the be more advanced and more powerful than Arnold, but be able to fit within the body of a female.  What we did, was we used advanced technology to design it.  When we built the original endo for the first movie – the design was Jim Cameron’s – we used pencil and paper, clay and sculpture, carving and molds, and created the endoskeleton completely free-hand. 

The T-X, on the other hand, was designed completely on a computer.  That’s the reason she’s as perfect as she is.  Same artistic talent.  We can now design her in three dimension and make the designs perfect.

So we scanned Kristanna’s body and then designed the T-X from that scan.  We able to know that it would function correctly and fit Kristanna’s body before we sent the design up to ILM, who created the CG performance of her. 

All of the subtle details came from artistic instinct.  T-X’s black chrome look, for example, came from when I was standing on my deck and lighting my cigar.  I noticed the black chrome butane lighter in my hand and said, “that’s it.”  I took my lighter and went to my guys and said “That’s it: black chrome.”  It’s more, advanced, more evil and scarier.

We combined CGI and live action effects, with makeup, animatronics, etc.  When you have live action effects in a scene, it raises the bar for the CGI artists.  They now have to match the realistic look of what’s there on the set.  It becomes seamless.

In terms of the T-1, the very first Terminator. They’re the precursors to Arnold’s Terminator, precursors to the bipeds. They drove on tank-like treads, had heads with eyes of lights, gatling guns, etc.  I looked at the script and said, “we can build this robot.”  We’ll build the whole damn thing.  There is not one frame of CGI when it comes to the T-1s in this movie.  Because of the advancement of our robotic technology and the ability to design a machine in a computer, we were able to design it based on concept art from the production design department. 

With Terminator 1, we pretended to build robots. With Terminator 2, we pretended to build robots, this time utilizing new CGI technology.  With Terminator 3, we built actual robots.

It’s more than ironic – and a little bit scary, given the subject matter of the film – that we were able to build actual robots for it.

Were you at all resistant to using CG when it first emerged?

Not at all. I’ve never been resistant to any new tool. I started a CG company – I founded Digital Domain with James Cameron and Scott Ross.  It’s a great tool, an important tool. I’ve never been afraid of CG because I’m not about technique, I’m about characters.  Whatever technique I need to create the most believable performance is what I’ll use.  A mistake that many people make is: falling in love with a technology and only using that technology.  It’s very limiting to a filmmaker, it’s obvious to an audience, and it’s never the best way to go.

The best use of CGI is seamlessly blending it with the real thing. If you can do it real, you do it real. If you can’t make a performance happen live, then you use CG.  It’s why Jurassic Park worked so well and Godzilla didn’t. There’s a character there that can work with an actor. 

I started out as an actor, so I have a great respect for what they do.  Any great actor will tell you that 50% of acting is reacting.  If you feel that actors are important to telling stories – which I do – then you give the actors the tools they need to act with. If you can do it live, do it live.

In Terminator 3, the T-800s in the flashback are completely CG.  There’s no reason for it not to be CG, because there are no humans in the scene. And the T-800s rock!

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More T3 interviews next week!! See below...

Interview 1: Kristanna Loken
Interview 2: Stan Winston
Interview 3: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Interview 4: Nick Stahl/Claire Danes
Interview 5: Jonathan Mostow

Source: JoBlo.com

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