The man who terrified and amazed movie goers perhaps more than any other in the past thirty years, Stan Winston, died on Sunday at the age of 62. The cause was multiple myeloma, a disease he struggled with for seven years.
Winston was the genius behind the creatures in Aliens (1986), which featured the fearsome, 9 foot tall alien queen, for which he won his first Oscar in visual effects. He also did visual effects and makeup for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) and Jurassic Park (1993), and created the towering alien for Predator (1987). Most recently he created the live action suit for Iron Man.
Though he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, Winston soon discovered his true calling when he did a three year apprenticeship in makeup at Walt Disney Studios that he completed in 1972.
Gale Ann Hurd, a producer of The Incredible Hulk who worked with Winston on The Terminator (1984), stated, “Stan’s unique ability was to bring unique, non-human characters to life, so that the audience accepted them as living, breathing beings. Stan was also, simply put, the nicest man in the business.”
Hurd and director James Cameron had initially approached makeup giant Dick Smith to do the makeup for Terminator, but he refused them and recommended Winston instead. “One day you’ll thank me,” he told them.
Other effects gurus like Phil Tippett, the stop-motion master behind the Star Wars films who shared an Oscar with Winston for Jurassic Park, expressed remorse, saying, “Stan contributed to some of the greatest -- fantastic movie characters in motion picture history.” He added, “His loss is a great one and he will be missed.”
For my part, Winston inspired me and a generation of young people to pursue filmmaking and visual effects. He lifted the ceiling off of what were believed to be the limits of costumes, makeup, prosthetics, puppetry and animatronics. He was one of the last descendants of greats like Dick Smith, Rick Baker and Ray Harryhausen who created spectacular monsters, aliens and dinosaurs without the aid of computer generated imagery. For Winston every creature that populated his films existed in front of the camera as fellow actors in the stories he told. There was never a need for an actor to feign horror at blank space that would months later become a CG visual: he gave them reasons to be afraid as the cameras rolled.
More than that, Stan Winston gave all of us reasons to continue going to the movies. He consistently thrilled, amazed and terrified us every time we stepped into one of his worlds, and for this we will miss him now that he has stepped out of ours.