Monday, June 16, 2008

Stan Winston: 1946 - 2008

One of my most memorable cinematic experiences as a youngster came in 1993, when I sat down to watch Steven Spielberg's
Jurassic Park, and for two hours I was completely convinced that impossible things were taking place right in front of me. It was the wizardry of Spielberg, of course, that made me believe in the long-extinct creatures rampaging across the screen, but he couldn't have done it without the work of another great film magician, whose fingerprints can be found on some of the most innovative and ingenious pictures of the past twenty years. Stan Winston, who died today at the age of 62 from multiple myeloma, was a brilliant visual effects and makeup artist who created monsters, robots and aliens that have proved remarkably durable against the passage of time.

He worked on many great films, but my favourite examples of his craft came in his collaborations with James Cameron. He created The Terminator and helped Cameron produce the stunning effects that made the sequel such a groundbreaking feature, while some of his best work came in Cameron's 1986 masterpiece
Aliens. Remember those hordes of beasts closing in on Ripley and her crew? And that climactic showdown between the lead character and the alien queen herself? If a film like Aliens were made today it would be easy to imagine these elements being completely CGI-d, but that would risk losing the expressiveness, depth and tactility that Winston's creations possessed. Aliens won Winston one of his four Oscars, with the others coming for Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 (which earned him two statuettes). He was also nominated for his unforgettable makeup work on Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, while just this year he was lending his expertise to Jon Favreau's Iron Man. Stan Winston once said "I don't do special effects. I do characters. I do creatures", and that was the beauty of his art.