Stan Winston’s Legacy Celebrated at SIGGRAPH

Hundreds of fans of the late special effects legend Stan Winston filled the house at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles to pay tribute to his life and achievements last night. Part of SIGGRAPH 2008′s Studio Nights events, the tribute was presented by Sony Pictures Imageworks, and featured warm remembrances by director James Cameron who worked closely with Winston on Terminator 2, vfx supervisors Shane Mahan and John Nelson (Iron Man), and Winston’s son, actor Matt Winston. The panel was moderated by Cinefex magazine’s Jody Duncan who wrote the 2006 book, The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio. The evening also included a High-Def Blu-ray master of T2.

Sony Pictures Imageworks creative director, Oscar-winning vfx supervisor Ken Ralston, introduced the program and praised Winston’s ability to create so many memorable images on the big screen that stay with audiences forever.

Winston biographer Duncan pointed out that Winston’s achievements were featured in 30 out of 115 total issues of Cinefex. She shared an amusing anecdote about the time Winston created a bronze sculpture of Arnold Schwarzenegger chomping on a cigar as a 50th birthday gift for the actor. ‘Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria seemed surprised and told Stan, ‘I didn’t know you were an artist!’ and Stan told her, ‘Yeah! What did you think I was doing all these years?’

Matt Winston got a lot of laughs from the audience by sharing childhood memories of the many times his father scared the living daylight out of him by dressing up as ghouls and werewolves. ‘He got to practice on me,’ he said. ‘He made me up as a 90-year-old gnome one year for Halloween.’ Winston added that his father loved doing what he did. ‘He believed that life should be about pursuing what you love to do. It should be about play ‘ and despite all of his career achievements, he was also about keeping our family together.’

Mahan, who worked closely with Winston at Stan Winston Studio, praised Winston’s personal involvement in their numerous projects together, his eye for details and passionate energy. He told the audience that he and partners at the Winston Studio are forming a new studio which will be named Legacy Effects in honor of the late master’s legacy and lifelong achievements. The studio’s upcoming projects include Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, G.I. Joe and Cameron’s highly anticipated project, Avatar.

It was Oscar-winning director Cameron who painted some of the more intimate pictures of the Winston experience. He discussed the tight schedule for the seminal 1991 feature Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and how the film set a new standard for the way it featured a central CG character. ‘It was so critical to have some real tangible scenes to inform the CG,’ said Cameron. ‘Out of the film’s 150 effects shots, 43 were cutting-edge digital shots. There’s a certain charisma required to calm down the nervous directors and producers on a project like this, and Stan had it all. I call it the duck principle’calm on top and paddling like hell underneath!’

Cameron, who co-founded Digital Domain with Winston and Scott Ross in 1994, also raved about how Winston was able to balance his playful nature with his business side, and how he embraced digital effects along with creature works as they became the dominating force in the industry. ‘When he was scaring [his son] Matt, he was a seven-year-old kid, but he turned into a clan elder at board meetings and managed to get everyone in the room smiling,’ noted Cameron. ‘He never wanted to do something he had done before. My last conversation with him was two days before he died, and he sounded perky. We were reminiscing about the dragons we had slain together. He believed that it was so important to be the first, and to throw yourself at new projects one hundred percent. It should always be a gamble’studios hate to hear that, but it should never be a slam-dunk. I learned a lot of lessons from him for 25 years, and so happy to see so many people fill the room tonight to honor his life and legacy.’