Dissecting Stan Winston!

"People who are afraid to go to horror movies are generally afraid their whole lives. People say to me, 'Do you have nightmares?' I never have nightmares! And I go to movies and see the most bizarre things in the world, and go... Wow that is really sick, how fun is that! And I don't have to carry it around. I think that's very healthy." --- STAN WINSTON

It's damn hard to believe it's been just over 8 years since we lost an absolute titan of movie makeup and VXF - Mr. Stan Winston. The guy was and will forever be, to his profession, a goddamn legend. There's no other way to parse it. I mean, most makeup and SFX cats tally hundreds of credits over their career, but with Stan, quality ruled well over quantity, and the result is his contribution to some of the most memorable genre joints of all time. With roughly 40 credits in each department, Winston created such iconic visuals in THE THING, THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, PERDATOR, THE MONSTER SQUAD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, T-2: JUDGMENT DAY, JURASSIC PARK, A.I., IRON MAN, AVATAR - and those are just the mega-movie-marvels, three of which won Oscars (ALIENS, T-2 & JURASSIC PARK). Don't forget smaller but equally effective flicks like THE ISLAND, THE HAND, THE VINDICATOR, INVADERS FROM MARS, LEVIATHAN, on and on. And that doesn't even include uncredited work on stuff like FRIDAY THE 13TH II & FIRDAY THE 13TH III. Burton, Cameron, Spielberg...Winston was their guy!

So, with the 30th anniversary of ALIENS squarely in sight, we thought what better way to pay tribute to the film than by looking back at the wondrous career of Mr. Stan Winston, a man whose body left this Earth far too soon, yet whose work will live on ad infinitum through its timeless popularity. Sound good? Here goes a respectful postmortem autopsy on the greatly unparalleled work of one Stan Winston!



You can honestly hurl a dart at the litany of movies above, and chances are, you'll pin a qualified candidate for most impressive makeup and SFX among Winston's 40 year film canon. Dude was that talented. His work is that monumental. But since he struck such a fecund medium between himself and director James Cameron, and because the 30th anniversary of ALIENS is now upon us, how could we not wholeheartedly fete the revolutionary SFX work he put forth in said 1986 classic? After-all, it's almost an impossible task to design and execute movie FX that do not date, do not degrade, but actually hold up and grow stronger over time. ALIENS certainly applies, as its gargantuan Alien Queen design still holds up as one of the all time paragons of terrifying grand-scale villains. It hasn't aged or lost its teeth one iota, which is no doubt a testament to Cameron's unwavering vision, but also the trust he had in Winston to get the job done. In the present time of cartoonish CGI, the practical animatronic work in ALIENS has actually grown scarier over time.

And it isn't only the giant animatronics we're talking about, what about the army of Alien drones? The fluidity of the face-huggers? It's all high-caliber work on its own, made all the more frightening when juxtaposed to what Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger achieved in the original...a slower, more plodding man-in-a-suit style monster. By upping the size, number and pace of the ALIENS in the sequel - all realized by Winston and his FX team - the result speaks for itself. Simply put, ALIENS is one of the few sequels to ever match if not surpass the intensity of its predecessor. And a large part of that is a direct result of Winston's capabilities.


In fact, along those lines, the same argument can be made for the Cameron-Winston collaboration that took place only 5 years later, via T-2: JUDGMENT DAY. Think of how stiff, rigid and mechanical the original TERMINATOR was. Now think of the sequel and how fluid, literally, the T-1000 was...a mercurial liquid-metal alloy design that not only appeared leaps and bounds more futuristic than the original, but one that actually holds up incredibly well to this day, 25 years later. Again, this is a true testament to Winston's VFX acumen and how sturdily durable his designs have been from the outset. These movies have become undisputed classics in no small part due to the ageless makeup and FX Winston so wonderfully conceived of and actuated. I do wonder how the next few AVATAR flicks will look without the splendid contributions of Stan the man!


You have to start somewhere, right? Right on. Winston isn't immune from the process of growing from a struggling tyro to an industry titan. So, going back to the 70s and early 80s, one can easily cite such low-budget throwaway B-movies like DRACULA'S DOG, PARASITE, DR. BLACK MR. HYDE, THE EXTERMINATOR, and a slew of others. Or if you really want to go for throat, a movie he directed called A GNOME NAMED GNORM. Yikes! But truth be told, it wasn't the FX in these movies that proved to be their undoing, on the contrary, they are actually some of the best aspects of them overall. Thing is, they tend to lack the lasting vision of such heralded directors Winston would work with later on in his career. Not to insult anyone, but Albert Band is no James Cameron. To be fair, few are. To be fairer, even fewer are akin to Winston's talent. Chances are, if a certain project he worked on didn't live up to your standard, it was the fault of the writer or director, not the FX or makeup. To our minds, Winston always held up his end of the bargain, regardless of the overall quality of the flick in question. The work speaks for itself!



Animatronics. Winston was at the absolute forefront of the form. Machines that move mechanically, that was Winston's forte. His developed the nascent technology and saw it bloom to the highest order imaginable. In his own words, Winston once said about the trailblazing FX of THE TERMINATOR:

" It was the first time that anybody had seen something that life size, using animatronics for the head and neck, to be able to operate it. We broke ground with The Terminator (1984). Nobody had ever seen anything like it."

It's true, that film broke new ground technologically. But think about the leaps and bounds the form took by the time Winston made A.I. with Spielberg in 2001. He perfected the craft, witnessing the birth and evolution of animatronics as a means of technological performance. In fact, Winston was on record claiming that, of all the films he worked on over his illustrious career, A.I. was the most ambitious. What else do you expect though from a project originated by Stanley Kubrick...one Spielberg no doubt wanted to posthumously honor. The animatronic sequences in that film are so fluid, so seamless and so far along from what he did two decades prior in TERMINATOR that there's no wonder why Winston is only the second FX man in the history of Hollywood to receive his own star on the Walk of Fame. Deserving indeed!



The thing about being associated with such ultra-popular mega-franchises like ALIENS, TERMINATOR, PREDATOR and the like, is that your smaller projects tend to be twice as hard to spot. But let's not kid ourselves, Winston's smaller films feature some fantastic makeup and FX standouts. Oliver Stone's THE HAND for instance, or Gary Sherman's DEAD & BURIED? Or how about the rapey invisible ghost in THE ENTITY? Those are three solid horror flicks right there that are made infinitely more appreciable by the contributions of Winston. What about the STARMAN transformation in the change-of-pace John Carpenter movie? Yup, that was Stan! Hell, if you really want to dig deep, we suggest seeking out a movie called MANSION OF THE DOOMED from 1976. It's essentially a FRANKENSTEIN/EYES WITHOUT A FACE lovechild about a demented doctor plucking out eyeballs of various victims in order to find a right match for his recently rendered blind daughter. Sick shite!


Really, there's no end to the studded jewelry of low-budget Winston. But if we had to single out a couple of flicks on which to speak at greater length, flicks that still don't get the kind of love and adoration they deserve, we'd elect Samuel Fuller's WHITE DOG and Winston's own directorial debut, PUMPKINHEAD!

Controversial filmmaker Samuel Fuller is one of the most priapically macho of all. Peckinpah style. So when he made a vicious, unapologetic horror flick about a rabid WHITE DOG that's been trained by its owners to attack only black strangers, you can see why eyebrows were warily raised. The flick didn't even see the light of day, as the NAACP boycotted the film while still in production to the tune of forcing Paramount to essentially bury the release and shelve the film deep in a vault of shame somewhere. But you know what? Hard subjects require hard films, and though Fuller was from a bygone era, the movie hardly promotes a racist agenda. But like all good movies, it forces discourse. But before we bury the lead, the prosthesis shown in the film, in 1982 no less, is nothing short of astounding. And that was all due to Stan Winston and his early days of less-is-more ingenuity. The violence in the flick is unflinching, yet looks so goddamn real that it's hard to believe any prosthetics were used at all. But they were, and expertly employed by Winston in only his 4th SFX credit. Impressive, right?!


Equally admirable is the little known fact that Winston made his directorial debut with the FX-driven PUMPKINHEAD, a movie that, despite its spotty release in 1988, has grown into quite the cult favorite. I know I adore this flick a great deal, in no small part thanks to Winston's arresting visuals and slightly offbeat directorial style. The movie almost has a weird, Bava-esque sensibility. Here's the thing though, Winston was so busy with every aspect of production that he actually let another crew do the makeup and SFX altogether. To us, that's the sign of a true egoless pro. No hang-ups, no proprietary complex, no dick swinging...Winston must have been so secure in his own FX abilities that he never for a second felt threatened by letting another crew, no doubt less experienced, work in his sandbox. That's honest collaboration right there, and likely one of the reasons the movie, regardless of budget, has stood the test of time among hardened horror fans everywhere.



While it's obvious Winston's workload has been retired, his legacy not only lives on through his filmography, it also persists through his son Matt Winston's tributary academy. How many of you know about the Stan Winston School of Character Arts? Well, it's a real thing, created by Matt Winston as a way to pay forward the inspiration his father struck in so many upcoming artists. Properly named, as Stan was once quoted as saying,

"I don't do special effects. I do characters. I do creatures."

And that seems precisely what his son Matt intends to honor with said academy. To create characters through technological art, not as mere image augmentation that's cool or pretty to look at. Such esteemed teachers as Howard Berger (KNB), Lance Anderson, the Chido Brothers and more are all part of the Stan Winston faculty. It's an awesome way to pay tribute to his father and keep the world of makeup and SFX alive and well. For more info on SWSCA, click HERE!



It's been 8 years since Stan Winston's passing, and the industry we feel has noticeably suffered since. I know James Cameron must feel a bit lost, if not odd, about how to proceed in the AVATAR universe without his right-hand man at his side. But as we've shown above, nothing can efface the 4 decade career Winston left behind at the all too young age of 62. Whether it's the biggest movie franchises of all - the TERMINATORS, ALIENS, PREDATORS, JURASSIC PARKS, etc. - or the smaller fan favorites of THE ISLAND, THE HAND, DEAD & BURIED, THE THING, WHITE DOG, FRIDAY THE 13TH II & III, THE ENTITY, PUMPKINHEAD, all the way to his final credit in 2010s SHUTTER ISLAND...as far as makeup and SFX, no one has ever done it better. Just ask Burton, Cameron, Scorsese and Spielberg...Stan Winston will forever be missed, but his work never forgotten!

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite Stan Winston monster?
Source: AITH



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