Stan Winston: Oscar-winning special-effects artist on 'Jurassic Park' and 'Aliens'

Stan Winston was a master make-up and special-effects artist, responsible for some of the most memorable characters in fantasy cinema, notably the liquid metal cyborg assassin of Terminator 2, the enormous dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and the 14-foot alien queen of Aliens. He also created the high-tech armoured suits worn by Robert Downey Jnr in the recent hit Iron Man.

Other inventions included the bizarre hands of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands and the vampires of Interview with a Vampire (1994), and for Jurassic Park 3 (2001) he introduced a pair of imposing new characters, the Pteranodon and the Spinosaurus, which were among the largest animatronic creatures ever built for a motion picture. The New Yorker magazine described Winston as "almost single-handedly elevating the craft of creature-making from the somewhat comic man-in-a-rubber-suit monsters of the 1950s and the 1960s, to animatronics – electronically animated, part robot, part puppet creatures that have terrified millions of movie-goers".

One of Winston's most remarkable skills was his ability to blend animatronics and physically created effects seamlessly with the latest computer-graphics imagery. The first special-effects artist to receive a star on Hollywood Boulevard, he won four Oscars – two of which came for Terminator 2 – and was nominated for six more. In 1972, he established his own studio and once compared the talent therein to "the finest painters, sculptors and artists of the Renaissance".

Born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1946, Winston developed a love of drawing and puppetry, and studied painting and sculpture at the University of Virginia, graduating in 1968. With the ambition of becoming an actor, he worked as a stand-up comedian, although in 1969 he began a three-year make-up apprenticeship at the Walt Disney Studio, regarding it initially as "a day job". (His son, Matt, was to have more success as an actor, playing Temporal Agent Daniels in the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise.)

Winston's talent for creating characters through make-up quickly became apparent, and in 1972 he won an Emmy for his work on the television horror movie Gargoyles. He won five more Emmy nominations over the next six years, sharing an award with Rick Baker for ageing Cicely Tyson from 19 years old to 110 in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).

For the movie WC Fields and Me (1976), Winston won praise for his remarkable transformation of Rod Steiger into the famed comedian Fields, whose bulbous nose was his trademark. His vivid imagination while working as make-up designer on The Wiz (1978), which included Michael Jackson as a colourful scarecrow, was considered one of the redeeming features in an otherwise overblown musical.

Winston's creation of two robots who fall in love in Heartbeeps (1981) won him his first Oscar nomination, and he created some frightening effects for John Carpenter's The Thing in 1982. But the film that truly established him (and its director James Cameron) was The Terminator (1984) – starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – a production that was immediately recognised as a classic futuristic adventure. It fulfilled Winston's own criteria that a strong storyline was the most important element of screen fantasy. "It's not about technology," he said. "It's about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that's beyond what you would expect."

Cameron described Winston as "a kid that never grew up, whose dreams were writ large on the screens of the world." Winston worked with Cameron again on Aliens in 1986, with his versatile extraterrestrials winning him his first Oscar for Best Visual Effects. He teamed up with Schwarzenegger again for Predator (1987) in which he created an extraterrestrial assassin who stalks the brawny star. "The entertainment industry has lost a genius," said Schwarzenegger this week, "and I have lost one of my best friends."

In 1988, Winston directed a movie himself. Pumpkinhead, in which a farmer unleashes a demon on the "city folks" who invade his backwoods domain, won Winston the "Best First Time Director" award at the Paris Film Festival, but he directed only one more movie, 1990's genial A Gnome Named Gnorm. The same year, he devised the unique shear-like hands of the title character in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), included an original and hauntingly sinister liquid-metal killer with whom Schwarzenegger battled, winning Winston Oscars for both visual effects and make-up.

For Burton's Batman Returns (1992), he created Danny DeVito's truly nasty Penguin and an increasingly gothic Gotham City, after which he won his fourth Oscar for his impressive dinosaurs, including a two-storey tall Tyrannosaurus Rex, in Stephen Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993). Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) brought Winston his final Oscar nomination for special-effects that included an eerily stuffed walking and talking teddy bear.

Other films which benefited from Winston's talent included Mousehunt (1997), Galaxy Quest (1999), Pearl Harbour (2001) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) as well as the current hit Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In 2001, he produced five films for the HBO television series Creature Features, a tribute to the low-budget horror films of the 1950s, using the titles of such American releases as Earth vs. the Spider, How to Make a Monster and Teenage Caveman, but with entirely different plots to the originals.

Winston's schedule for the future included further instalments of both Terminator and Jurassic Park, and he had done preparatory work on two of next year's most anticipated cinematic releases: James Cameron's Avatar and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man, acknowledged the help he received from Winston, stating: "He was the king of integrating practical effects with CGI, never losing his relevance in an ever changing industry."

Tom Vallance

Stanley Winston, make-up and special-effects artist: born Arlington, Virginia 7 April 1946; married (one son, one daughter); died Malibu, California 15 June 2008.

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