As you’ll have no doubt heard by now, the great special effects man Stan Winston has passed away. The news comes as a shock, as Stan was still working away on a number of projects. Not too long ago, I remember his name being dropped as a claim of legitimacy upon the new Terminator film by the producers. Stan was, of course, the mastermind behind the Terminator effect, the man who made the Predator. He worked with Steven Spielberg on A.I and he basically was Jurassic Park, bringing the dinosaurs to life so realistically, without which there was no picture.
Winston spent his life working on monster movies and science fiction, entertaining the world with his creations. He was among that very small group of technical filmmakers who were familiar to a general audience. His landmark work on so many blockbuster films made his name on a credit list recognisable to any multiplex.
To me his most memorable work will be his contributions to The Thing and his wrangling of the creatures from Aliens. As a kid, both these films terrified and captivated me with their inventive special effects work, both believable and incredible, if that were possible. I knew what I was watching was not real, but it all seemed so seamless that I believed as I watched, as a dog sprouted tendrils or a man looked into an air vent swarming with cockroach style aliens surging toward him. Now, as an adult, I respect the effects even more. The artistry and technical wizardry in pulling them off is astounding. Plus, they still look fantastic, the way the light catches these puppets, how actors disguise themselves in these suits and react to one another in a biological way.
It seems fitting now to cast my mind back a few months to the release of Stan’s latest blockbuster, Iron Man. Reading audiences impressions online after the release, so many people were amazed by the special effects. But most tellingly of all, people weren’t sure about what was computer graphics and what was Stan Winston’s practical work. Some may say this is a compliment to the folks at ILM, but I think it says something of the regard in which audiences held Stan. People just have never been sure where the line ends with what magic Stan Winston could conjure.