The Fourth of July weekend is soon upon us! Summer movie season is in full swing, with special effects extravaganzas dominating at the box office as per usual. So today, inspired by a toy collection that recently came through our doors, we’re paying homage to a man who helped define the look of the modern summer blockbuster. The one and only special effects wizard, makeup artist, and onetime aspiring toy mogul Stan Winston!
Reason One: Stan Winston Designed Legends
We’re pretty sure that even people who have never seen any of the six terminator movies know what the T-800 looks like. Ok, sure, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but we mean the robotic endoskeleton. Well, that was one of Stan Winston’s earliest blockbuster designs. He quickly followed it up with another James Cameron collab, the Alien Queen from Aliens. For Tim Burton, Winston would design both Edward Scissorhands’ scissor hands AND the makeup for Danny DeVito’s mutant version of The Penguin. His studio also supplied The Penguin’s penguins, which is amusing because realistic robot penguins is absolutely something The Penguin would own.
But perhaps his most iconic creation was also one of his fastest. The film Predator began shooting with a monster costume designed by Boss Film Studios. It was a nifty look, but totally impractical for the film’s jungle shoot. At the 11th hour, Stan Winston was hired to create a brand new design (with some uncredited input from airline seatmate James Cameron, who suggested it have mandibles). What he and his studio delivered was the iconic Predator alien that is still wowing audiences to this day.
Reason Two: Stan Winston Brought Dinosaurs To Life
Stan Winston won his third Academy Award for his work with Stephen Spielberg on Jurassic Park. While that movie is, like Terminator 2: Judgement Day, popularly remembered for its pioneering work with CGI, the reality is that Stan Winston’s practical effects really sold it. When the T. Rex attacks the Land Rover in the rain, that was a gigantic Stan Winston Studio original animatronic. The raptors that menaced the kids in the kitchens? Those are puppets/suits created by The Stan Winston Studio. The sick Triceratops that Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler examine? Stan. Winston. Studio.
The practical effects that Stan Winston created for the original Jurassic Park continue to visually define the series to this day. Whether that means CGI models based on his designs or the continued use of gorgeous practical creatures, you can drive to your local multiplex right now and enjoy the spiritual continuation of Winston’s work in Jurassic World Dominion. Which, incidentally, is the best reason to watch Jurassic World Dominion.
Reason Three: Stan Winston’s Work Was Toyetic (For Kids AND Collectors)
Kenner went wild for Stan Winston’s sci-fi and fantasy designs in the 90s. They produced action figure lines based on Aliens, Predator, Batman Returns, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park. Typically, they mixed variations on Winston’s monster creations with heavily-armed adventurer heroes and missile-launching vehicles. These lines usually persisted on after the movies left theaters (if not always very long), with Winston’s work being the focal point.
And that’s just kids toys! In 1998, McFarlane Toys launched its Movie Maniacs line of action figures geared at the adult collector. It ran until 2004, producing seven waves of figures. And all but the last wave featured a Stan Winston creation. Heck, the second wave featured Pumpkinhead, the eponymous monster from Winston’s directorial debut! Kids and collectors alike wanted Winston’s monsters on their shelves. And he knew it.
Reason Four: Stan Winston Created His Own Toys
As the 21st century dawned, Stan Winston got a little tired of toy companies profiting off designs he created for other people. Therefore, he founded toy company Stan Winston Creatures in 2001. Their inaugural line was “Creature Features”, based on the HBO original movie series of the same name. Winston’s studio took the titles of five classic American International Pictures creature features and designed basically brand new monsters. These were then translated into hyper-detailed toys with unprecedented screen accuracy.
These were followed by four original lines in 2002. They were:
- The Realm of the Claw! Based on ideas Winston had been developing since the 70s, it featured warring humanoid cat gods. This was the first original toyline from Stan Winston Creatures and its middling success were unfortunately a taste of things to come.
- Extreme Gargoyles, five gruesome gargoyles harkening back to Winston’s first special effects gig.
- Blood Wolves, four different werewolves designed by different effects artists.
- Mutant Earth, chronicling the adventures of monster hunter Trakk on an Earth dominated by fearsome mutants.
Realm of the Claw and Mutant Earth shared a four issue combo mini-series from Image Comics. Therefore, they are the best defined settings from Stan Winston Creatures. While they were all presumably designed with movies or TV in mind, nothing materialized. None of the original lines sold all that well and the company folded after two slam-bang years of effort.
Stan Winston: Resident of Valhalla
Stan Winston kept working on blockbuster special effects for the rest of his life, though none achieved quite the same heights as his prime in the 80s & 90s. He died on June 15, 2008 at the age of 62. Among the last films he contributed to were Iron Man and James Cameron’s Avatar.
His designs continue to be major pop cultural forces to this day. In fact, the Terminator and Predator franchises have more than doubled in size since his passing. Overlooked in their day, the Stan Winston Creatures figures have become sought-after collector’s items – Realm of the Claw lasted less than a week in our eBay store before being snapped up. What look like generic, turn of the century action figures to the untrained eye might just be part of a Hollywood legend’s legacy. That’s why you should let experts like Back to the Past look at toy collections before pricing them to move at the Garage Sale. You never know when something that you’ve never heard of is part of a blockbuster legacy.
And if you want a comment or quote on something we’ve written about, we’re always available! We can be found dang near everywhere as @b2pcollect.