A leading figure in modern movie special effects, Stan Winston once described himself as a character designer rather than a makeup effects technician. His Stan Winston Studio crafted some of modern cinema's most fantastic figures - from animatronic Terminators to computer-generated dinosaurs roaming modern-day Earth - Winston was in a class above the competition. Best know for his collaboration with director James Cameron, Winston was responsible for creating the unforgettable xenomorphs in "Aliens" (1986), as well as the 14-foot tall Alien Queen. On both "The Terminator" (1984) and its lavish sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), Winston worked to bring Cameron's vision of the iconic endoskeleton to life. In a similar vein, he designed the alien hunter in "Predator" (1987) and "Predator 2" (1990), while working with director Tim Burton on Johnny Depp's sharp-fingered appendages in "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and Danny DeVito's grotesque Penguin makeup in "Batman Returns" (1992). Winston employed a crack team of painters, sculptors and other artists and craftsmen which he favorably compared to the masters of the Renaissance. In short, Winston not only was at the top of his craft, he singlehandedly resurrected Hollywood from its reliance on campy man-in-the-rubber suits from the 1950s and 1960s to full-blown, life-sized animatronic puppets that both terrified and enthralled moviegoers for generations.
Born Apr. 7, 1946 in Richmond, VA, Winston was raised in a business-oriented household, thanks to his parents working in the garment industry. When he was a teenager, Winston wrote and directed 8mm movies, feeding his artistic drive. Meanwhile, his parents wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer and were delighted when he entered the University of Virginia with intentions of becoming a dentist. But after two years, Winston failed to suppress his creative impulses any longer and became an art major. He graduated with his degree in drama and fine arts in 1968, then moved to Los Angeles with thoughts of becoming a movie star; an idea he later admitted, was a futile effort from the start. After struggling to find acting work, Winston took an internship at Walt Disney Studios, where he learned the art of theatrical makeup. He completed 6,000 hours in the apprenticeship program before leaving Disney in 1972 to start his own company, Stan Winston Studio. Winston made his makeup debut with the made-for-television movie, "Gargoyles" (CBS, 1972), which earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.
Winston had achieved success right from the gate. He followed his Emmy Award win with another statue for his work on the period drama, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (CBS, 1974). After doing the makeup on the acclaimed miniseries, "Roots" (ABC, 1977), Winston made his feature debut applying metallic makeup on the Tin Man and the flying monkeys in "The Wiz" (1978). By the 1980s, Winston had established himself one of the preeminent makeup artists in the business. But his later specialty for creature effects was still a couple of years off. In 1981, he was nominated for his first Academy Award for his makeup on the comedy, "Heartbeeps" (1981), then had his first effects design credit on the horror flick, "Parasite" (1982), which he followed by performing the panther and hawk transformations on the mercifully short-lived action series, "Manimal" (NBC, 1983-84). Following the design work he performed on the music video for "Mr. Roboto" by Styx, Winston took a life-altering leap forward with his next project, "The Terminator" (1983). Because director James Cameron wanted the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to slowly reveal his metallic skeleton over the course of the movie, Winston was forced to be creative because CGI did not exist and stop motion felt campy. In the end, he built a life-size animatronic endoskeleton that revolutionized creature effects.
With one fell swoop, Winston became Hollywood's go-to guy for creature effects. His next collaboration with Cameron, "Aliens" (1986), earned him further acclaim - and one of his creations - the cover of Time magazine. Scenes involving the Alien Queen were the most difficult to film. Average-sized aliens popping out of walls was one thing; a 14-foot Alien Queen towering above the film's heroine, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was quite another. So important was the climatic showdown between the human mother and the alien mother that a life-sized mock-up was created by Winston's company in the States to see how it would operate. Once the testing was complete, the crew working on the Queen flew to England where the film was being shot and began work creating the final version. The towering monster was operated using a mixture of puppeteers, control rods, hydraulics, cables, and a crane above to support it. Two puppeteers were inside the suit operating its arms, and 16 were required to move it. All the effort paid off, as Winston and company earned an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Winston later cited his work on the frightening classic as his personal favorite.
He next made the unforgettable creature in "Predator" (1987), an alien being that lands on Earth and begins to hunt down a team of mercenary soldiers performing a rescue mission in the jungles of Central America. With a second unit director credit on "The Terminator" under his belt, Winston eventually made the transition to directing his own films, starting with "Pumpkinhead" (1988), a horror fantasy about a grocery store owner (Lance Henriksen) who calls upon a demon to exact revenge on a group of bikers responsible for the hit-and-run death of his son. A flop at the box office, "Pumpkinhead" did achieve cult status once it appeared on video shelves. After designing the creature effects for the underwater horror flick "Leviathan" (1989) and earning an Oscar nod for making a Gothic-stylized Pinocchio in Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), Winston won two Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Special Effects Makeup on "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), on which he drastically improved on the metallic endoskeleton from the first film.
Despite his revolutionary work with puppets and animatronics, Winston sensed a shift in the winds and realized that the future of special effects would be in computer graphics and animation, especially after watching the morphing process from "T2" receive so much attention. He promptly joined forces with James Cameron and Scott Ross to form Digital Domain, a predominant computer effects company that was second only to George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic. Meanwhile, Winston tried his hand at directing his second feature, "The Adventures of a Gnome Named Gnorm" (1993), a comedic fantasy about an eccentric detective (Anthony Michael Hall) who teams up with a gnome to solve a murder. Unfortunately, the project went straight-to-video. Despite two failed directing efforts, Winston continued to excel in creature effects, winning his fourth Academy Award for his visual effects on "Jurassic Park" (1993). With a stunning array of computer-animated effects, Winston again broke new ground and brought to life Velociraptors, Triceratops and, most incredibly, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex. While much of the film was CGI dinosaurs, he also utilized virtually life-size dinosaur puppets whenever possible, which he knew would help add realism to the film. He next designed the striking vampire makeup on "Interview with the Vampire" (1994), before trying to revamp his directing career by serving as the second unit director on "Congo" (1995) and helming the Michael Jackson short "Ghosts" (1996).
Winston returned to the visual effects world, reuniting with Steven Spielberg on the sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). As was typical for his sequel work, Winston refused to rest on his laurels and instead surpassed his original designs for the live-action dinosaurs, once again earning an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. He remained busy over the next several years, creating the character effects for "Instinct" (1999) and serving as Special Effects Supervisor on the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "End of Days" (1999) and the space comedy "Galaxy Quest" (1999). In the new millennium, Winston performed the special effects for a trio of blockbusters: the WWII drama "Pearl Harbor" (2001), the sequel "Jurassic Park III" (2001) and the Spielberg-directed "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001). For the latter, Winston and his team were charged with the creation of the walking and talking stuffed bear, Teddy, whose facial features and vocalizations were eerily human-like. Winston earned his tenth career Academy Award nomination for this achievement. Winston then oversaw the animatronics and supervised the makeup effects for the long-awaited sequel "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines" (2003), which depicted the first female Terminator (Kristanna Loken).
In 2001, Winston was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow and has been considered incurable, though doctors have been successful putting the disease into remission with chemotherapy and other treatments. Despite the discouraging diagnosis, Winston maintained a vibrant work schedule. He was responsible for the creature, makeup and animatronic effects on Burton's "Big Fish" (2003), while contributing specialized mechanical effects for Jon Favreau's "Zathura" (2005) and Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" (2005). He continued his specialty with animatronics on "Constantine" (2005) and "The Shaggy Dog" (2006), while supplying the geese and pig effects for the live-action version of "Charlotte's Web" (2006). His company put together the iron suits for "Iron Man" (2008), director Favreau's surprisingly deft take on the Marvel comic.
But "Iron Man" would turn out to be one of his last films. On June 15, 2008, Winston succumbed to his cancer after a seven-year battle, reportedly dying peacefully in his Malibu home surrounded by his family. The movie-making world was devastated, with everyone from directors Frank Darabont, Favreau and, of course, good friend Cameron paying tribute, as well as stars who had benefited from Winston's unique vision, like Terminator-turned-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, Winston was in the process of transforming his studio into the Winston Effects Group, while performing work on "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins" (2009) and Cameron's long-awaited return to feature directing after over a decade, with "Avatar" (2009). Winston was 62 years old.