Special-effects guru garnered four Oscars

Times Staff Writer

Stan Winston, the renowned makeup, creature- and visual-effects wizard whose memorable work on “Aliens,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Jurassic Park” earned him four Academy Awards, has died. He was 62.

Winston died of complications from multiple myeloma Sunday at his home in Malibu, said his son, actor Matt Winston.

“The entertainment industry has lost a genius and I lost one of my best friends,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, of “Terminator” fame, said in a statement Monday. “Stan’s work and four Oscars speak for themselves and will live on forever.”


In a nearly four-decade career that began on television in the early ‘70s, Winston earned five Emmy Award nominations and shared Emmys for his makeup on “Gargoyles” (1972) and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974), for which actress Cicely Tyson was aged into a 110-year-old woman.

Winston, who segued into the movies the same decade -- he was the special makeup designer on “The Wiz” -- became a seminal figure in special makeup effects and animatronics.

“Stan has been involved in landmark, blockbuster movies for decades,” J. Alan Scott, an animatronic effects supervisor at the Stan Winston Studio in Van Nuys, told The Times on Monday. “He was an innovator and a groundbreaker with new technology and new techniques for creating fantastical characters.”

Winston, as the New Yorker magazine described several years ago, was known for “almost single-handedly elevating the craft of creature making from the somewhat comic man-in-a-rubber-suit monsters of the 1950s and ‘60s to animatronics -- electronically animated, part-robot, part-puppet creatures that have terrified millions of moviegoers.”

Indeed, among the creations to come out of the Stan Winston Studio: the menacing, 14-foot-tall Alien Queen in “Aliens,” the extraterrestrial jungle creature in “Predator,” the futuristic cyborg assassins in the “Terminator” movies, and the life-size dinosaurs in the “ Jurassic Park” movies, which included a frightening life-size Tyrannosaurus rex.

Winston and his team also designed and created the makeup and the scissors and blade appendages for “Edward Scissorhands.”

Among his other film credits are “Interview With the Vampire,” “Lost World,” “Batman Returns” and “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.”

He shared Oscars for best effects, visual effects for “Aliens” (1986) and “Jurassic Park” (1993) and shared Oscars for best effects, visual effects and for best makeup for “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991).

More recently, Winston and his team created the crystal skeletons for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and the character suits for the superhero Iron Man and the 10-foot-tall super-villain the Iron Monger in “Iron Man.”

“He was a giant in the industry of practical visual effects,” Jon Favreau, director of “Iron Man,” told The Times on Monday.

Favreau, who first worked with Winston on the 2005 film “Zathura: A Space Adventure,” said he was “lucky to have him work on my first effects film and then to be there for ‘Iron Man,’ which is clearly an important moment in my career, and Stan’s contribution to the success of that film is unquestionable.”

Noting that Winston “went from being a hero of mine to somebody who was a mentor,” Favreau added that “while he was definitely a legend in the industry, he never lost his childlike enthusiasm.”

Steven Spielberg, who worked with Winston on numerous films, said in a statement: “Stan was a fearless and courageous artist/inventor, and for many projects, I rode his cutting edge from teddy bears to aliens to dinosaurs. My world would not have been the same without Stan.

“What I will miss most is his easy laugh every time he said to me, ‘Nothing is impossible.’ ”

For Winston, his job was to get the audience “involved” with the characters he and his colleagues created.

“We use the tools and techniques of special effects to create characters for films,” he told the Orange County Register in 1997.

“Special effects, by themselves, don’t mean diddly squat in a movie. If the characters I created can’t perform, can’t act and aren’t interesting, it just isn’t going to work. It doesn’t matter how good the technique is if you have not created interesting characters.”

Jody Duncan, author of the 2006 book “The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio,” said Winston “brought a lot of class and respect to the art form of creating makeup and creature effects for movies.

“No. 1, he ran a beautiful and clean and high-class shop,” Duncan told The Times. “Instead of it being something done in a dirty warehouse somewhere, he created a beautiful place. Another thing he did was he campaigned for makeup artists to be recognized both in credits and financially. They just became more prominent, partly through his efforts.”

And, she said, “he did almost a one-man campaign to create a makeup-effects category for the Academy Awards. It used to be they’d give one out every once in a while as a special thing. He went on talk shows, he wrote letters to the editor -- he did all kinds of things to get that to happen.”

Born April 7, 1946, in Arlington, Va., Winston as a child developed an interest in drawing, puppetry and classic horror films. He graduated from the fine arts and drama programs of the University of Virginia in 1968.

After heading to Hollywood in 1969 with a dream of an acting career that was quickly dashed, he entered a three-year makeup apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios and launched Stan Winston Studio in the garage of his Northridge home in 1972.

Stan Winston Studio, which now has a staff of about 50, has contributed characters and effects to more than 75 feature films, several music videos and numerous commercials, including those featuring the Aflac duck, the Budweiser frogs and lizards, and Burger King’s king.

The energetic Winston was always looking to the next project.

“The audience expects more each time, but I expect more than they do,” he told the Washington Times in 1992. “It’s very important -- so that I don’t get bored -- that I do more the next time than I did the last. It has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with wanting to be dazzled and excited.”

“If I can dazzle myself, I’m pretty sure I can dazzle you.”

Winston’s illness kept him out of the studio for some time, but colleagues said the company plans to stay in business and current projects will continue.

In addition to his son Matt, Winston is survived by his wife, Karen; his daughter, Debbie; his brother, Ronnie; and four grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research in West Hollywood, Free Arts for Abused Children in Los Angeles, or United States Fund for UNICEF in New York.



Times staff writer Chris Lee contributed to this article.