My colleague Stan Winston has passed away.
Stan and I did one film together, the 1986 remake of “Invaders From Mars.” His team built the Martian Drones that I had designed. We both worked on the design of the Martian Supreme Intelligence for that movie; it was Stan’s people who designed and fabricated this creature as it finally appeared in the film.
The Martian Drone was based upon something Rick Baker had told me he’d always wanted to do. Rick said that whenever you see a guy-in-a-suit creature, you can always tell it’s a guy in a suit because of the human configuration inside that suit. We all know how and where knees and elbows bend in a human. Rick asked, what if you designed a creature suit to be worn backwards? The knees of that suit would be bending the wrong way for a human, fooling or a least confusing the audience.
I took that idea and ran with it, presenting it to Tobe Hooper at an early informal pre-production meeting at Tobe’s home. Stan was there as well. Tobe OK’ed the backwards suit idea and look on the spot. I gave xerox copies of the Drone design to Tobe and Stan.
After the picture came out I got a surreal call from Stan. He was irate. He had just read an article on “Invaders” in Starlog or Fangoria in which I talked about how I had designed the Martian Drone.
“I DESIGNED the Martian Drone!” screamed Stan. I could scarcely believe my ears. Fortunately, I found Stan’s claim pretty hilarious. I walked him through the sequence of events in the suit design. He wouldn’t budge.
“BUT I DESIGNED IT!” he shouted.
“If you don’t believe me, then you should ask Tobe about it,” I replied.
“I did,” said Stan.
“Well, what did Tobe say?”
“He said he recalled when you brought in the design and gave it to me.” Stan paused. “BUT I DESIGNED IT!”
I just shook my head, hung up the phone and laughed. I was the recipient of another surreal Hollywood story, one of many.
Years later, Stan was working for a friend of mine, the talented producer-director Steve Miner. Steve had thrown a huge party at his place to celebrate the release of his latest film. I was invited. I ran into Stan at the party. He was neither angry nor overly friendly with me. I think he was really happy about the way in which his career was progressing.
Several more years later I was working on the lot at Universal. Steven Spielberg had hired me to design the first three flagship gaming clubs (for Seattle, WA, Ontario, CA, and Tempe AZ) of his called GameWorks. It was a joint project between DreamWorks SKG, Universal and Sega games. Steven was simultaneously directing Jurassic Park.
I had several friends at Stan Winston Studios. They sneaked me in on a Saturday to see all of the dinosaur work they were doing for Jurassic Park. A lot of it, as we all now know, was pretty amazing. His shop gave me new respect for Stan. It was state-of-the-art in terms of having the safest, most healthy working conditions for his employees of any facility I had ever seen. There were huge fans in the ceiling that immediately sucked all of the noxious and hazardous fumes out of the work areas. There was even a small gym on the premises. It was quite impressive; I cut Stan a lot of slack after seeing all of that.
Months later, I was still working at Universal (I worked on the GameWorks project for about two years). I happened to run into Stan. He was very enthusiastic and extremely gracious. He asked if I had time to see what they were doing on Jurassic Park. He whisked me past security and took me onto Steven’s closed set. Stan was like a man transformed. He exhibited not an ounce of jealousy or animosity towards me. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I think he saw me as an empathetic colleague who had fought and gone through many of the same or similar battles one gets thrown into working in the film business at our elevated level. I was no longer a threat; instead, I was one of the very few guys he could relate to, a fellow film warrior who perhaps knew and understood what he had gone through because I had been through it myself.
The tour was wonderful. Stan was rightfully proud of what his JP crew had created.
We’ve been warm and friendly to each other ever since that moment, giving each other advice and sharing film biz tips. I’m gonna miss him.
The lesson to be taken home here is that people can change for the better. I know the last thirty some years of my life has included my own struggle not to be an asshole. For whatever reasons, I haven’t always been successful. I wince at the memories of some of the stuff I’ve done or said to both friends and strangers. For me, the battle is never over, although my batting average in the last decade or so I like to think has been pretty good. It takes just as much energy to be nice to someone as it does to be nasty — so why not be nice?
Peace To Stan; Peace to You All…