Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Two days after Stan Winston passed we at AICN were contacted by Shane Mahan and Lindsay Macgowan, two of Stan Winston’s partners in Stan Winston Studios. They had read the initial report and obituary that I wrote and were following along with our tribute as stories about Mr. Winston came in. It turns out they wanted to talk to one of us in order to give their thoughts of Stan, share some memories and let all of you in on what will happen with Stan Winston Studios from here on out. I think that’s about all the introduction this thing needs. Let’s get to it!
Quint: My condolences of course go out to you guys. This has hit the fan community really hard, but we only know Stan through his work.
Shane Mahan: Right.
Quint: I can only imagine that it is hitting you two even harder, especially now getting all of these tributes together, just getting a glimpse of what he was like as a person. It seems to be not just a huge artistic loss, but a great personal loss as well.
Shane Mahan: That is absolutely true. The fact of the matter is that we have had some time to prepare for this, because we have known for a long while about his condition. We kept it to ourselves at his request, but its not pleasant, but it’s something that isn’t as shocking. Of course, you always hope for some sort of miracle that suggests otherwise and certainly Stan would never give into the fact that he was ill.
Quint: What are some of your impressions of him as a person? What was your first meeting? You go back with him way back to the TERMINATOR days, right?
Shane Mahan: You have to understand that I suppose that there are the multiple levels of… you know it’s hard actually, because I haven’t really thought about this, so I really don’t have any preparation for this… When I first moved to Hollywood to do what I do, I don’t think it was an accident that I eventually met Stan. It’s sort of a pilgrimage to get to Hollywood when you are younger and Stan was among the three or four great people that were on my list to try to eventually work with. Dick Smith was in New York, so that was out of the question. So there was Rick Baker and there was Rob Bottin and there was Stan. I had gone to school and had gone to various facilities and met various people, so by the time I actually had an interview to potentially work with Stan, it was kind of a milestone just to get inside the place to see him. That was for the TERMINATOR and when I first met him, he was very intimidating. His place was very clean and organized and very professional, as opposed to certain shops around town that had a haphazard quality to them. The contrast was very, very different and the quality of work looked different, so I knew it was a place I really wanted to be. So once I got through the initial trauma of having him look at my portfolio, he was like “Well great, can you start Monday?” I said “I’m sorry… exscuse me?What?” I thought he was telling me to get out, because in my head it sounded like “Get out of here, you are crap,” but he was saying “Can you start Monday?” and I said “Yeah!” He says, “Well, I’ve got this little job coming up and it might take four to six months to do,” so I was like “Uh, I’m happy to do it.” He initially hired me for that four to six month period of time and that turned into twenty-five years. I was just one of the artists that came on during TERMINATOR. Tom Woodruff and John Rosengrant had worked with me at another facility and I recommended them as well.They were both extremely talented and we worked well together.Then Richard Landon come along to help do mechanics and the team was sort of established. What was great about Stan is that he knew a good working team and he tried to keep it together, so at the end of Terminator, he found work for us to do, because he didn’t want us to go off to other places and he would continuously do that. He would make up work and say “Why don’t we paint the studio?” “Why don’t we build some cabinets?” He was always trying to figure out ways to improve the studio and make things more interesting, but he really stressed, and what I really loved about being in the environment was that he was really an artist that stressed the excellence of art and character into a creature. In many ways, and I am just speaking for myself, that was like extending another level of film school, because I got to work with Stan Winston and Jim Cameron on the turning point film for both of those men. … THE TERMINATOR was the face that launched a thousand ships for all of us.
Quint: I got together with a friend last night and we popped in the Blu Ray TERMINATOR disc and watched it. We just kept commenting, because we had seen TERMINATOR thousands of times, we are geeks so of course we have, but were just watching it and commenting especially at the end with the endoskeleton section, the chase in the factory. Just looking at it, a lot of the stop motion stuff looked very Harryhausen and we were talking about that and I was like “Well, it’s not just that. There are moments in there where you can almost see an influence of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS between Michael Biehn and the Terminator,” but it’s not just in the process of getting it done. It’s like Harryhausen and Winston had the same dedication to character in the creatures and the endoskeleton had its own character and its own mannerisms were very much as a performer and not just a creature.
Shane Mahan: It was important and I think it was perfectly crafted that it had to be an extension of what Arnold brought to the character before he turns into a cyborg. Stan really stressed the fact that we would study Arnold’s walk. We would study how he turned his head and Arnold in turn would study how the animatronic moved, so that they felt like there was a connective tissue between the two things. Originally, I believe there was supposed to be a lot more stop motion animation sequences and I don’t know if you know this or not, but originally Dick Smith was approached to do the film, but he had to turn it down and he recommended Stan. So everything kind of happens for a reason and Stan then suggested after reading the script to Jim “Why don’t we build as much of the full size endo as possible and just do it live and get as much in camera as we can?” Durring this time the film shut down for a while and we redid some shots for Manimal, Then Terminator jumped back to life and from that point on we just hit the ground running. I t was just a bunch of young madmen,,,… myself and John and Tom ,Richard, Brian Wade and a few others… we all had something to prove. We really had something to prove, because we all thought “This is a golden opportunity to work on something special,” because the script was not just good,,it was great. and Cameron was amazing from the start with all of his own artwork. I really admired that. He wasn’t the kind of director who came in and said “Well how are we going to do this…?” He came from a special effects background, so he had very clear ideas how to accomplish shots for what was essentially a very low budget movie. It was like 6.5 million dollars back then. You can’t do much at all with that kind of money for a theatrical film these days, but it was a great experience and it just progressed and progressed and progressed and the team stayed together and then went to England to do ALIENS. We had a special screening of TERMINATOR and Universal Studios. I think they had a screening room… I believe it was Universal Studios. It might have actually been on the Fox lot. I don’t remember exactly, but I do know it was a special screening, because the film hadn’t come out yet and we were leaving to Montreal to do a film and Gordon Carroll was there and Jim was there and they were watching the film to see if Jim would be a good person to direct the sequel to ALIEN. There was kind of this great moment where I was watching this truly behind the scenes,,, deep in the bowels of the pit thing going on where they were sizing Jim up to see if he could actually do a sequel to a great movie and it seemed to go very well. and as the producers walked out, Jim looked at us and he said “How would you boys like to go to England and do Aliens?” I said “Count me in!”
Quint: Definitely! It was funny, speaking of ALIENS, Harry and I were talking earlier today about just the reaction that we are getting from the tribute that is on the site. It’s incredible and we just keep finding ourselves talking to each other about Stan’s work and iconography that he has made and that of course led to us talking about how he transformed HR Giger’s design and if you look at the ALIEN series past the second film, every single installment jumps off of Stan’s design. It’s not Giger’s Alien, as much as it is everything jumping off what you guys did on the sequel.
Shane Mahan: Here is an interesting point of trivia that I don’t know if people know, but we originally made… because a lot of what works well, and this is just my personal take on it, but what works well on movies is the chemistry of the people who are making the films. Jim and Stan would bring up, in a productive way, bring out the best in each other and sort of trying to out do each other with ideas and I think that’s like with rock musicians that are pushing each other to make a great rock song, you know what I mean? You have to kind of keep pushing and pushing until you create something. It’s never a mistake. If there’s a success of something, there’s usually a lot of thought behind it, a lot of months at work chipping away at the bricks. Jim had a fairly good idea of what he wanted the queen to be and he knew he had to introduce the queen, because there was something that was laying the eggs, so “what is that thing?” The surprise was the queen, so the queen was this massive undertaking that we thought we could do and it wasn’t even a fact of “If” we could do it. With Stan, it was always “How do we do it?” through lots of testing and lots of inspiration and lots of… in those days it was just a lot of hands on sculpting with maquette development and sketches and things like that and the warrior aliens originally had a clear dome at the top of their head that was supposed to go on that looked like the first Alien, where you could kind of see through. We built it and it looked beautiful. We built it in England and we put it all together and thought it looked great and then Jim said “Take the dome off. Those are going to come off and fall or maybe break during all of the stunts.” We were like “No, you can’t!” He had us remove it and that became its own look there for a long time, sort of a more streamlined thing, but it was originally meant to have that piece on it. I think someplace we have photos of it. We all loved the first movie. We wanted to… almost to a fault… where we were trying to replicate it so much and Jim would say “No, let’s make it our own thing! It’s got to be kind of its own creature” and we finally got the concept and what he was trying to do.
Quint: I like that the alien in the first film is definitely… it feels in the same family of course, but it’s not the same thing. Giger’s much more humanoid and having that one have the skull... It almost feels like it fits into that first movie world a little bit more, since it was more about a suspense, kind of stalker thriller.
Shane Mahan: We had to design the suit to do a lot more action… here’s a great moment, our shop used to be on Parthenia street and Stan says “ Look, there’s a big crate coming from London, about the size of a coffin and when it comes in, we have got to take a look at what is inside.” We didn’t quite know what he was talking about, but what it was, was Fox had sent us the original suit… one of the suits of the alien and we uncrated it and of course the horrible smell of decaying rubber and sweat and all of that came pouring out, but there at the bottom of this thing were all of the components to what Giger had built. It was ratty and a bit torn up, but it was like “There it is! There’s the monster right there!” It was astonishing. We laid it out on a table and put all of the pieces together and just sat back and looked at it and it’s like “Oh my god, there it is!” It was definitely an inspiration, but it was its own creation. Stan and Jim were really trying to design the queen and having a friendly kind of competition as to who came up with the coolest ideas.
Quint: You made mention of the rock song aspect and that’s right. If you look at the Beatles’ best stuff and it was always the collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. I still think to this day you look at the work on JURASSIC PARK and looking at the digital effect side, what really sells that is just how well Spielberg and Stan and Murren and Tippet and how they were able to combine all of these different tools in a way to bring these creatures to life and that’s why I think looking at Stan’s practical work and how he was able to meld it… One of my favorite shots is a shot of the T-Rex and you see Stan’s practical head through the window and the head goes out of frame and then you see the Rex walking away.