”I don’t do special effects!” says Stan Winston, the puppetmaster responsible for orchestrating a full-scale monster mash in Jurassic Park. Even though his 22,000-square-foot studio in Van Nuys, Calif., looks like the workshop for some high-tech Gepetto — it even includes a hall of horrors a la Madame Tussaud’s, displaying models of such Winston creations as the Aliens Alien, the Terminator Terminator, and Jurassic Park‘s raptor — Winston, 47, insists he’s more than just a veteran cinematic trickster.
”I create characters using puppetry, which is all about performance, performance, performance,” he says, launching into an impassioned defense of the special brand of wire-and-latex acting he has pioneered. ”The dinosaurs we created for Jurassic Park are real. We created characters for them. The brachiosaur is a much gentler beast than the velociraptor. One is a piranha, the other’s a cow. The triceratops is a much gentler character — someone you care about — than a 9,000-pound Tyrannosaurus rex who could swallow you in a bite. Their performance, their body language, how they do what they do, determines their character.”
Character formation has long been on Winston’s mind. He originally intended to be an actor, but after studying painting and sculpture at the University of Virginia, he made his first stop in Hollywood at the makeup department of Walt Disney Studios, where he began an apprenticeship in 1969. ”I always wanted to create characters,” he says. ”I thought I was going to do it as an actor, but while waiting for a break, I got sidetracked and became successful creating characters as a make-up artist.”
Since winning an Emmy in 1974, for the prosthetics he and Rick Baker used to turn Cicely Tyson into a 110-year-old woman in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Winston has designed more and more fantastic transformations. They range from such semihuman mutants as Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands in 1990’s movie of the same name and Danny DeVito’s Penguin in last year’s Batman Returns, to inhuman monsters like the alien Predator (in 1987’s Predator) and the android Terminator (for the 1984 original and the 1991 sequel, winning makeup and visual-effects Oscars for the latter). But, he insists, ”I always come from a basis of reality, and then stretch that reality into the world of fantasy.”
Winston’s trompes l’oeil are not easily accomplished. Elaborate remote-controlled puppets like the 14-foot mother alien in Aliens took more than a dozen technicians to operate. ”I want to create puppets that you don’t know are puppets,” he says of the particular twilight zone in which he operates. Jurassic‘s dinosaurs were even more complicated and collaborative. In the forest sequences, for example, Winston created the 15-foot brachiosaur head and neck that gives a surprise wake-up call to Dr. Grant and the two children in his charge. Industrial Light & Magic computer graphic whiz Dennis Muren provided the moment in which the brachy sneezes, while dinosaur supervisor Phil Tippett made sure the puppet’s movements and the computer-created kerchoo matched. ”The techniques are so invisible and seamless, you shouldn’t be able to tell where one stops and the other starts,” says Winston.
After spending most of the last two years bringing the prehistoric to life, Winston is returning to supernatural fantasy for his next project, The Crying Game director Neil Jordan’s film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire, scheduled for release next summer. Since Winston’s work always begins with pencil drawings before moving to clay models, prosthetics, and puppets, his team of sketch artists is already creating elaborate renderings of the vampire Lestat in his many transformations. ”It will be an elegant, awesome piece,” he promises. ”My job is to assist Neil in bringing audiences, for the first time in history, real vampires. The audience should never be thinking whether it’s makeup or an effect. We can’t allow that. We’re talking about reality. I’ve got to give you the most real absurd you’ve ever seen, or the most absurd real you’ve ever seen, but somehow the reality has to be there.”