Stan Winston has won awards and praise for his innovative creature work, and has been doing so for two decades. Now he continues the Terminator tradition by working on his third Terminator film. In between his producing projects and creature work, you think he’d have no time for a family, but you’d be wrong, as he discloses to PAUL FISCHER.
So what is the difference between doing a huge movie like this and a small one like Wrong Turn?
It’s a good question. Truly, there is no difference. The body of work is sometimes different and the quantity of work. But for me, my job is creating characters for film. Whatever that film is, it’s not about special effects and it’s not about the techniques. We use whatever techniques necessary to help create the characters that are required in the screenplay to come to life. Whether that is as simple as make-up, n animatronics, a puppet, a robot or CGI, whatever the technology, it’s what we use. I look at every job as important as the next. The size of the job isn’t it. The challenge often times is doing what you have to do within the parameters, the budgetary parameters you have to work within and the time parameters.
Do you also know that more people are going to see this than wrong turn?
Sure I know that more people are going to see this than Wrong Turn, but it doesn’t make one more important than the other. You have to understand that rightly or wrongly, I consider myself an artist and I consider the work that we do art. In helping to tell stories by creating these characters. I came out as an actor. I am not a technician. I am techno-ignorant, but I love creating characters and telling wonderful stories. Thinking of myself as an artist doesn’t allow me to think of size having to do with importance. It’s the job that’s important, the story is important. Terminator 3 is extremely important to me. Not because of it’s size, because it’s the job. And my job is to do the very best I can at what is given to me to do. In the case of Terminator 3, I had a very important job. It was to do something with Arnold beyond what we have seen before. It was to create and design a new Terminator, the TX, which was going to be female; had to be more powerful than Arnold, had to be more advanced than Arnold, had to be able to kick his butt and had to fit inside the body of Kristana Loken. And you had to believe, looking at that design, that it was that far advanced. We also had to create the first Terminator, the T1’s, which were actually, when after reading the script and realizing that they were not bi-peds, that they were going to roll on tank treads. In reading it, I could say to the director we could build these robots. We’ll create these robots because of these advances in technology. In Terminator 1, we pretended to build robots. In Terminator 2 we pretended to build robots. In Terminator 3, we built robots. The T1’s are robots.
So is it much more of a luxury now that technology has changed when working on T3, looking at T1 or T2?
No, it’s a different challenge. I wouldn’t consider it a luxury. When we did T1, what we did was far advanced from anything that anybody had seen in movies then. We took technologies that were there. Performance technologies that were created by Jim Henson and the Muppets, and created the Terminator as a puppet, as a full sized organic puppet, and it was the first time that anybody had seen something that life size, using animatronics for the head and neck, to be able to operate it. We broke ground with Terminator 1. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Terminator 2, we broke ground. We didn’t have the CG technology that had been developed in the Abyss with Jim Cameron, but it was the first time in motion picture history that a character was created by seamlessly blending CGI technology, and robots, and animatronics the way they were developed in T2. It never had been done before and it broke ground. We didn’t have the robotic technology that we have today because of the Jurassic Park series when we were doing T2. Now we have advanced our robotic technology, our computer technology, everything. The reason we were able to design the TX as a more advanced robot is we used more advanced tools to design her. When the fist Terminator was built, which was designed by Jim Cameron, you’re talking about pencil and paper, you’re talking about clay sculpture, you’re talking about carving, and you’re talking about making moulds. TX is developed and designed on a computer. We were able to use the same artists. Same drawing skills, painting skills and sculpting skills but the tool is a more advanced tool, so she can be designed to be a more perfect character. Completely symmetrical, we can spin her around to make sure that she’s designed from every angle perfectly. We can make sure that every joint is going to work in the computer because we know that in fact once we’ve finished designing her, we’re going to be shipping that design off to ILM. They’re going to have to bring her to life using CG, and a lot of it. Therefore, the design has to function.
What role did Kristana play in developing the TX?
She developed that character. Kristana Loken created the TX. I would like to think that the vision of what was under her skin helped her with it, but the fact of the matter is that Kristana Loken is the TX as Robert Patrick was the T-1000. It’s the great character that she created on the screen that makes you stay with the endo-skeleton of her at the end, because it’s her.
When you get to do a body mould of an actress like Kristana, is there any sense of pleasure having a beautiful actress come into your studio?
Well there’s a sense of pleasure just being around Kristana, but in the case of Kristana and her body, we scanned her body to actually use as a template for building her endo-skeleton that had to fit inside her body.
Was she naked on your table or anything like that for hours?
No, well not for the body scanning part of it anyway. (Laughs)
Well that’s a quote. Were you involved in the bubble time travelling effect?
No. Again, I repeat this so hopefully it gets down deep. I don’t do special effects. I do characters. I do creatures. I came out as an actor. I’m a painter and a sculpture and an artist. Everything about my being is creating characters that tell stories in films. Three characters that I was a part of the process with. Arnold, at the end of this film, we designed a look of him that is beyond anything that you’ve seen in the previous Terminator movies. We literally took half his body off. We exposed the entire endo-skeleton. We designed to see a whole arm, a whole leg, part of its body, knowing the technique we would use would be a combination of Arnold, prosthetic effects, CGI and puppet animatronics. And in fact the moment Arnold steps out of that helicopter, that character is a combination of Arnold, prosthetic effects, CGI and animatronics. We also built an entire puppet of him that is actually seen in some shots.
How does the process as an artist differ working someone like James Cameron, who as you’ve already said is a very hands on director and someone like Jonathon Mostow, who had never done a film of this kind?
There’s a huge difference between every director that I’ve ever worked with, and you’re talking about a good range of directors right there. A director like James Cameron is cursed with a vision. He knows how to do it all. He’s a phenomenal artist. He draws, he imagines, he writes the entire screenplay. He knows how everything is that he wants to have done. A director like Tim Burton will give you a stick figure cartoon of the character, and you have to realize it in the real world. So there was a stick figure cartoon character of Edward Scissorhands that was given to me and we had to realize it and bring it to reality. Make it a real character. A director, and I’ll talk about one that I think is probably the best director in the world because of his body of work and his range, is Steven Spielberg. Steven Spielberg wants to see what you have to give him. He wants you to draw, wants you to paint, wants you to sculpt, he wants you to be the artist. He wants to give you input and wants to be able to choose. That’s how Jonathon works. So there’s the method of be an artist, give me options and I’ll make the choice. There’s the method of Tim Burton, here’s a little something of what I see and there’s a method of someone like Jim Cameron, who is an artist, and will go, this is what I want.
Which one do you prefer to work with?
I prefer working with great directors and everyone that I’ve mentioned to you is a great director. I’ve obviously loved working with Jim Cameron because of how demanding and how brilliant he is. I’ve done many films with Jim. started a digital company with him. He’s a close friend and he’s a brilliant director. I am in awe of Steven Spielberg. I’ve done a few films with Steven, and the man has the greatest body and range of work of any filmmaker ever alive. From Jaws to E.T., from Close Encounters to Raiders of the Lost Ark. From Schindlers List to Jurassic Park in the same year. The body and the range of his mind is unparalleled by any director ever living. I’ve now worked with another wonderful director. It’s the first time I’ve worked with Jonathon Mostow and I think he did a really wonderful job with Terminator 3. I look at this movie and I go, my goodness, he really did it. I was terrified after coming off T2, after having worked on the series, what difficult shoes to follow. I think Jonathon did a brilliant job. I think the performances are great. Most importantly, on top of it all, Arnold is back. He’s back strong. To watch him and go, the Terminator is back, and there’s no compromise whatsoever. It’s really cool. For me, this movie for Stan Winston, was a huge win.
What have been your favourite characters that you created?
That’s like asking me who my favourite child is. I can’t do it. You know, I’m very humbled by it all. I walk in my studio every day and I’m surrounded by the Terminator, the Queen Alien, the Predator, dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and Edward Scissorhands. I go wow, this is the coolest thing I’ve even seen and I say it humbly because I don’t lay ownership to any of those characters. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been in the mix. I’ve worked with brilliant directors who have had amazing imaginations. I’ve worked with brilliant artists, technical geniuses and phenomenal artists who have helped make all that stuff happen. Know that these artists are the renaissance artists of the 21st century. In the days of Michelangelo, the artists worked for the Churches, in today’s world, they work in our industry. I’ve just been very lucky to be in that mix. I don’t have a favourite.
What other challenges lie ahead of you? What are you working on?
My studio is doing Big Fish with Tim Burton. It’s a wonderful story and we’ve done some wonderful work for it. There’s a small horror movie that I produced that’s out right now called Wrong Turn. Which I think is a terrifying movie. I love it. I think it’s the scariest movie that I’ve seen in twenty years. The script was one of the scariest scripts that I’ve ever read. It’s like a throwback to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance, and that’s an era that I come from. I have two comic books series that are out and that are developing screenplays based on them. I’ve got a toy company. My production company has about twenty projects in production, pre-production or in-development. I’ve started, as of last year, SW Digital, under my roof. Other than that, I’m not doing anything.
Are there going to be more of the Showtime Creature Feature?
No. There was talk of it, but it never happened. It was a very successful series. Those projects were very important to me, and those were 3.5 million dollar budgets each, but my heart and creative energy was as much into that as into anything I do.
With all the things that you’re doing, how do you have time for your family?
I make time for my family. There’s nothing more important to me in my life than my family, and nothing will ever take over. I believe that’s why the work shows as well as it is because my work is not a sacrifice. My work is a joy. I’m not sacrificing my family for my work. I go in and I love what I do. I love nothing more than my family, and now grand kids. Wow, hard to believe because I’m like 36 years old! (Laughs)
How many grand kids?
I have two grand kids. My son and daughter-in-law gave me a grand son two years ago. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a grand son a year ago.
So with all this prolific work, do you find yourself turning the TV. and see something you did, and you say to yourself, boy I wish I could have had another million dollars to work on that, or another two hours, or an extra two weeks?
No, the reason I don’t is because that would be outside the envelope, and part of the motion picture business is being as creative as you can within the envelope you’re given. Being fiscally responsible. As an artist for arts sake, I have my own sculptures that I do for myself that I can spend as much time as I want on. Part of the creative challenge of this business, is to go, you know what, I’ve got this much money and this much time to do this job. I will do the best I can within those parameters. That’s what being a professional is. That’s not art for art’s sake. This is the motion picture business. If you only do stuff that you have all the time and money to do, you would never work in this business. Part of the job is to go, I did a really good job considering the time and budget. Was the stuff in Terminator 1 as good as the stuff in Terminator 3? It is for when it was done. It is for the budget it had. It was a 6.5 million dollar movie and it was done twenty years ago. So, no, absolutely not. There are jobs that I look at and I go I just failed. I was creatively on the wrong path. I wish I had not made that choice, but not because of money or time. It’s just because I made the wrong choice.
If you had the opportunity, which effects would you do over again?
There was a particular gorilla design that I did in a movie called Congo. I learned on that. It was a very important movie for me because it was the first big gorilla movie that I had done. The next thing that I did was a movie called Instinct, with Anthony Hopkins, which I think was the best gorillas I’ve ever scene on film, and I could never have done that movie if I had not made mistakes on Congo. My mistakes, whether anybody else sees them or not, I go, you know what, this could have been more real, I could have done this differently. You learn.
What medium do you work in for your own personal sculptures?
I sculpt in clay. I sculpt in plasticine. I finish them in bronze. A sculpture I just finished is of my son, who’s an actor. You’ve probably have seen him in About Schmidt. He’s the one who took Jack Nicholson’s job. He was the guy at the beginning. That’s Matt Winston. I’ve done Rod Steiger. I’ve done Arnold. I gave him, as his 50th birthday present, a bronze of him with a cigar in his mouth. I do my art for art’s sake on my own time. I spend as much time as I want on it because it’s art for art’s sake and it’s not for a dollar. It’s not with business parameters.
TERMINATOR 3 OPENS ON JULY 2