Its rare when I can look back on something in my life and realize that a whole aspect of who I currently am stems from a single incident, which is why I tend to cherish memories that remain so vivid in my head that I can attribute aspects of my personality to them. 

My father had set me in front of the television and could barely contain a chuckle as he told me that I’d love the movie he was putting into the VCR.  Watching old films with my father was my favorite “not with friends” past time around the age of five.  The tape my father put in this time was entitled An American Werewolf in London

I had nightmares for months.  Nightmares aren’t something that I normally experience so I was effected by them even moreso than I think I would’ve been.  I couldn’t get werewolves off of my brain.  My fear of the creatures eventually became a love for them as I grew older.  An American Werewolf in London remains one of my favorites (especially now that I’m old enough to realize its a comedy).  And, like most people that have seen the film, my favorite scene (the reason for my nightmares) was the incredible practical special effects masterpiece of the werewolf transformation.  At a tender, young age this small sequence of cinema secured a place in my heart reserved for not only horror, but for special effects and monster make-up.

Rick Baker had the best job in the world as far as I was concerned.  Later in life, my high school years, a friend and I would create our own creatures lab for halloween costumes, home movies, and practical jokes.  I’ve been to horror conventions, fulfilled some dreams by meeting some practical effects/make-up heroes (Tom Savini being the most notable).  I’ve also had many arguments with various people in my life that CG effects aren’t what the future of films should hold to, as I’m more in favor of a practical and CG blend.

This last issue, the future of effects in film and how practical effects are handled in a CG world, is one that Stan Winston was constantly redefining.  He continued to do exactly what I wanted to happen as practical and CG effects blended to make something believable appear on the screen.

That’s what it all boils down to in the effects world (at least to the viewer).  Does this look real?  There’s plenty of things in new cinema that just don’t look like they could exist off the screen (Episodes 1-3 Star Wars aliens, Ang Lee’s Hulk, even the aliens in Indy 4), and some potentially better films had their quality compromised.  Stan Winston didn’t work that way.  Quality wasn’t compromised on anything he did.  I can remember watching Aliens, T2, Jurassic Park, and Predator.  I can remember thinking that any of the fantastic creatures in those films looked real enough to actually exist somewhere, to step off the screen.  I can put any of the movies in my DVD player today, and my thoughts on the creatures haven’t changed. 

I thanked the movie gods when I heard Stan Winston was doing Iron Man.  Stark’s been my favorite superhero for a rather long time, and more than anything I wanted the movie to be done well.  I wanted the suit to look spectacular.  I wanted the suit to look real.  I knew that if the armor came off as too cartoonish that the movie would fail, but I also knew that Stan Winston would do it right.  I wasn’t wrong.

The news of his death struck a chord deep within me.  I never met him.  But, I feel that part of me knew Stan Winston because I knew his creatures.  His characters.  As an artist, I realize that everything an artist creates carries along with it a piece of that artist.  My childhood, my imagination, and my adult life has been filled by the art of Stan Winston.  His career has had as much of an effect on me as the first time I settled down to watch that werewolf flick all those years ago.

Hollywood will never be the same.  I’m sure that the special effects industry won’t.  He’s left behind a legacy with the people he’s mentored and his studio.  They’ll carry the torch, I’m sure.   I just hope that other people will continue to remember just what it was that Stan did so well.  I hope that practical effects aren’t forgotton, that I can continue to believe what I’m seeing on the silver screen.

I hope there are other fans out there that feel the same way I do, who were just as touched by Stan Winston’s works.  I hope he’s not forgotton anytime soon.

Rest in Piece, Stan.
Your Fan,
Brad Witzel