I remember very clearly the first time a movie scared the pants off of me. It was 1986’s Aliens; I was a freshman in high school, and by my own estimation way too old to be scare-the-pants-off-able. But something about the sheer creepiness of the effects, the horrible magnificence of the alien “queen,” made me want to scurry under my seat.
Aliens earned Stan Winston his first Oscar. But the visual effects genius, who succumbed to multiple myeloma yesterday at the age of 62, hardly stopped at outer-space shenanigans. Though Winston majored in painting and sculpture in college, and went to Hollywood with dreams of making it as a actor, he found more work on the other side of the lens. In the early ’80s, he set up his own studio and worked with James Cameron on the surprise box-office hit The Terminator (1984). The success of that film lead to a fruitful partnership between the two men — notably, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) — and he and Cameron went on to found the renowned F/X shop Digital Domain.
Over the course of his career, Winston earned four Oscars (including two for the makeup and visual effects in T2 and another for the groundbreaking dinosaurs of 1993’s Jurassic Park) and multiple nominations — impressive in any category. His other work includes (but is hardly limited to) Predator (1987), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Pearl Harbor (2001), Iron Man (2008), and several other films currently in production. (A project-by-project gallery of his fantastic creations is here.)
Most of us wouldn’t have recognized Stan Winston on the street, and that reinforces the notion that sometimes the truly vital players are not the ones whose faces you see stretched 30 feet tall on the silver screen, or their names lit up in lights. But for those who care about the art of special effects — and Winston most definitely considered himself an artist — a vital part of the picture is gone missing.