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Quint talks with Stan Winston Studios' Shane Mahan and Lindsay Macgowan about Stan, his films and the future of the Studios

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Two days after Stan Winston passed we at AICN were contacted by Shane Mahan and Lindsay Macgowan, two of Stan Winston’s partners in Stan Winston Studios. They had read the initial report and obituary that I wrote and were following along with our tribute as stories about Mr. Winston came in. It turns out they wanted to talk to one of us in order to give their thoughts of Stan, share some memories and let all of you in on what will happen with Stan Winston Studios from here on out. I think that’s about all the introduction this thing needs. Let’s get to it!

Quint: My condolences of course go out to you guys. This has hit the fan community really hard, but we only know Stan through his work.

Shane Mahan: Right.

Quint: I can only imagine that it is hitting you two even harder, especially now getting all of these tributes together, just getting a glimpse of what he was like as a person. It seems to be not just a huge artistic loss, but a great personal loss as well.

Shane Mahan: That is absolutely true. The fact of the matter is that we have had some time to prepare for this, because we have known for a long while about his condition. We kept it to ourselves at his request, but its not pleasant, but it’s something that isn’t as shocking. Of course, you always hope for some sort of miracle that suggests otherwise and certainly Stan would never give into the fact that he was ill.

Quint: What are some of your impressions of him as a person? What was your first meeting? You go back with him way back to the TERMINATOR days, right?

Shane Mahan: You have to understand that I suppose that there are the multiple levels of… you know it’s hard actually, because I haven’t really thought about this, so I really don’t have any preparation for this… When I first moved to Hollywood to do what I do, I don’t think it was an accident that I eventually met Stan. It’s sort of a pilgrimage to get to Hollywood when you are younger and Stan was among the three or four great people that were on my list to try to eventually work with. Dick Smith was in New York, so that was out of the question. So there was Rick Baker and there was Rob Bottin and there was Stan. I had gone to school and had gone to various facilities and met various people, so by the time I actually had an interview to potentially work with Stan, it was kind of a milestone just to get inside the place to see him. That was for the TERMINATOR and when I first met him, he was very intimidating. His place was very clean and organized and very professional, as opposed to certain shops around town that had a haphazard quality to them. The contrast was very, very different and the quality of work looked different, so I knew it was a place I really wanted to be. So once I got through the initial trauma of having him look at my portfolio, he was like “Well great, can you start Monday?” I said “I’m sorry… exscuse me?What?” I thought he was telling me to get out, because in my head it sounded like “Get out of here, you are crap,” but he was saying “Can you start Monday?” and I said “Yeah!” He says, “Well, I’ve got this little job coming up and it might take four to six months to do,” so I was like “Uh, I’m happy to do it.” He initially hired me for that four to six month period of time and that turned into twenty-five years. I was just one of the artists that came on during TERMINATOR. Tom Woodruff and John Rosengrant had worked with me at another facility and I recommended them as well.They were both extremely talented and we worked well together.Then Richard Landon come along to help do mechanics and the team was sort of established. What was great about Stan is that he knew a good working team and he tried to keep it together, so at the end of Terminator, he found work for us to do, because he didn’t want us to go off to other places and he would continuously do that. He would make up work and say “Why don’t we paint the studio?” “Why don’t we build some cabinets?” He was always trying to figure out ways to improve the studio and make things more interesting, but he really stressed, and what I really loved about being in the environment was that he was really an artist that stressed the excellence of art and character into a creature. In many ways, and I am just speaking for myself, that was like extending another level of film school, because I got to work with Stan Winston and Jim Cameron on the turning point film for both of those men. … THE TERMINATOR was the face that launched a thousand ships for all of us.

Quint: I got together with a friend last night and we popped in the Blu Ray TERMINATOR disc and watched it. We just kept commenting, because we had seen TERMINATOR thousands of times, we are geeks so of course we have, but were just watching it and commenting especially at the end with the endoskeleton section, the chase in the factory. Just looking at it, a lot of the stop motion stuff looked very Harryhausen and we were talking about that and I was like “Well, it’s not just that. There are moments in there where you can almost see an influence of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS between Michael Biehn and the Terminator,” but it’s not just in the process of getting it done. It’s like Harryhausen and Winston had the same dedication to character in the creatures and the endoskeleton had its own character and its own mannerisms were very much as a performer and not just a creature.

Shane Mahan: It was important and I think it was perfectly crafted that it had to be an extension of what Arnold brought to the character before he turns into a cyborg. Stan really stressed the fact that we would study Arnold’s walk. We would study how he turned his head and Arnold in turn would study how the animatronic moved, so that they felt like there was a connective tissue between the two things. Originally, I believe there was supposed to be a lot more stop motion animation sequences and I don’t know if you know this or not, but originally Dick Smith was approached to do the film, but he had to turn it down and he recommended Stan. So everything kind of happens for a reason and Stan then suggested after reading the script to Jim “Why don’t we build as much of the full size endo as possible and just do it live and get as much in camera as we can?” Durring this time the film shut down for a while and we redid some shots for Manimal, Then Terminator jumped back to life and from that point on we just hit the ground running. I t was just a bunch of young madmen,,,… myself and John and Tom ,Richard, Brian Wade and a few others… we all had something to prove. We really had something to prove, because we all thought “This is a golden opportunity to work on something special,” because the script was not just good,,it was great. and Cameron was amazing from the start with all of his own artwork. I really admired that. He wasn’t the kind of director who came in and said “Well how are we going to do this…?” He came from a special effects background, so he had very clear ideas how to accomplish shots for what was essentially a very low budget movie. It was like 6.5 million dollars back then. You can’t do much at all with that kind of money for a theatrical film these days, but it was a great experience and it just progressed and progressed and progressed and the team stayed together and then went to England to do ALIENS. We had a special screening of TERMINATOR and Universal Studios. I think they had a screening room… I believe it was Universal Studios. It might have actually been on the Fox lot. I don’t remember exactly, but I do know it was a special screening, because the film hadn’t come out yet and we were leaving to Montreal to do a film and Gordon Carroll was there and Jim was there and they were watching the film to see if Jim would be a good person to direct the sequel to ALIEN. There was kind of this great moment where I was watching this truly behind the scenes,,, deep in the bowels of the pit thing going on where they were sizing Jim up to see if he could actually do a sequel to a great movie and it seemed to go very well. and as the producers walked out, Jim looked at us and he said “How would you boys like to go to England and do Aliens?” I said “Count me in!”

Quint: Definitely! It was funny, speaking of ALIENS, Harry and I were talking earlier today about just the reaction that we are getting from the tribute that is on the site. It’s incredible and we just keep finding ourselves talking to each other about Stan’s work and iconography that he has made and that of course led to us talking about how he transformed HR Giger’s design and if you look at the ALIEN series past the second film, every single installment jumps off of Stan’s design. It’s not Giger’s Alien, as much as it is everything jumping off what you guys did on the sequel.

Shane Mahan: Here is an interesting point of trivia that I don’t know if people know, but we originally made… because a lot of what works well, and this is just my personal take on it, but what works well on movies is the chemistry of the people who are making the films. Jim and Stan would bring up, in a productive way, bring out the best in each other and sort of trying to out do each other with ideas and I think that’s like with rock musicians that are pushing each other to make a great rock song, you know what I mean? You have to kind of keep pushing and pushing until you create something. It’s never a mistake. If there’s a success of something, there’s usually a lot of thought behind it, a lot of months at work chipping away at the bricks. Jim had a fairly good idea of what he wanted the queen to be and he knew he had to introduce the queen, because there was something that was laying the eggs, so “what is that thing?” The surprise was the queen, so the queen was this massive undertaking that we thought we could do and it wasn’t even a fact of “If” we could do it. With Stan, it was always “How do we do it?” through lots of testing and lots of inspiration and lots of… in those days it was just a lot of hands on sculpting with maquette development and sketches and things like that and the warrior aliens originally had a clear dome at the top of their head that was supposed to go on that looked like the first Alien, where you could kind of see through. We built it and it looked beautiful. We built it in England and we put it all together and thought it looked great and then Jim said “Take the dome off. Those are going to come off and fall or maybe break during all of the stunts.” We were like “No, you can’t!” He had us remove it and that became its own look there for a long time, sort of a more streamlined thing, but it was originally meant to have that piece on it. I think someplace we have photos of it. We all loved the first movie. We wanted to… almost to a fault… where we were trying to replicate it so much and Jim would say “No, let’s make it our own thing! It’s got to be kind of its own creature” and we finally got the concept and what he was trying to do.

Quint: I like that the alien in the first film is definitely… it feels in the same family of course, but it’s not the same thing. Giger’s much more humanoid and having that one have the skull... It almost feels like it fits into that first movie world a little bit more, since it was more about a suspense, kind of stalker thriller.

Shane Mahan: We had to design the suit to do a lot more action… here’s a great moment, our shop used to be on Parthenia street and Stan says “ Look, there’s a big crate coming from London, about the size of a coffin and when it comes in, we have got to take a look at what is inside.” We didn’t quite know what he was talking about, but what it was, was Fox had sent us the original suit… one of the suits of the alien and we uncrated it and of course the horrible smell of decaying rubber and sweat and all of that came pouring out, but there at the bottom of this thing were all of the components to what Giger had built. It was ratty and a bit torn up, but it was like “There it is! There’s the monster right there!” It was astonishing. We laid it out on a table and put all of the pieces together and just sat back and looked at it and it’s like “Oh my god, there it is!” It was definitely an inspiration, but it was its own creation. Stan and Jim were really trying to design the queen and having a friendly kind of competition as to who came up with the coolest ideas.

Quint: You made mention of the rock song aspect and that’s right. If you look at the Beatles’ best stuff and it was always the collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. I still think to this day you look at the work on JURASSIC PARK and looking at the digital effect side, what really sells that is just how well Spielberg and Stan and Murren and Tippet and how they were able to combine all of these different tools in a way to bring these creatures to life and that’s why I think looking at Stan’s practical work and how he was able to meld it… One of my favorite shots is a shot of the T-Rex and you see Stan’s practical head through the window and the head goes out of frame and then you see the Rex walking away.

Shane Mahan: Absolutely. I’m quite sure that was Stevens shot invention ,,,I’m positive that it was his idea.
Quint: Yeah, definitely.

Shande Mahan: You couldn’t have done ALIENS without doing TERMINATOR. It’s been a stepping stone and a progressive learning thing and that’s what Stan was best at. He would never back down from a challenge or say “We can’t do this.” We would always brainstorm up in the office or where ever we were for weeks sometimes and then we would have to do budgets and hit those marks and deadlines. The problem with some modern films is that certain types of producers and directors don’t want to take the time on set to work out those parameters like with the shot that you just described where you have a live action piece and then it turns into a digital piece. Many still do though and it can still be rewarding . Jon Favreau is one of the current best … There are a lot of directors that do a lot of really creative work. I’m just paraphrasing them to our general experience and why JURASSIC PARK works well is because no one had done it before. No one had done it before and therefore digital dinosaurs and digital creatures melding with animatronics was something new, because originally it was going to be Phil Tippet doing Go Motion. All of the animation sequences were going to be go motion, which were beautiful. We all were big fans of Phil and we thought that was the way to go, until we saw the digital tests and then you are kind of like “Well, that’s that…” and the first film is, I believe the facts are 70% live, 30% digital and it’s a total of fourteen minutes of screen time of dinosaurs if you add it up, but it feels like a whole movie full of them.

Quint: It really does.

Shane Mahan: That’s a testament of Steven and his great story telling ability to go and like what he learned from JAWS was to hold back or “don’t spill the beans too soon” and he just took these great ingredients and then added a whole knew level. I think one of the astonishing things about JURASSIC PARK is that T-Rex attack scene. There’s no music in that scene. It’s just sound effects and I think that’s what makes it feel really believable.

Quint: Yeah, the sound work is great.

Shane Mahan: It’s just people screaming and crunching metal!

Quint: And thuds and the sound of the rain.

Shane Mahan: I’m going to let you speak to Lindsay now for a moment.

Quint: Sure.

Shane Mahan: Here’s Lindsay Macgowan.

Lindsay Macgowan: Hello.

Quint: Hey, so I guess we should probably get your impressions of Stan, too. How did you come to meet him?

Lindsay Macgowan: I met Stan way back on ALIENS. I was fortunate that the prior movie I had worked on was a movie called LEGEND.

Quint: With Bottin, right?

Lindsay Macgowan: Yeah. The guy who was the head of the British make up crew on Legend was Peter Robb-King, and he was doing Sigourney’s makeup on ALIENS. I was actually at the London College of Fashion doing the makeup course there at the time, and needed some work experience for the course, so I went to meet Peter and he said “You know what? Stan’s here, so why don’t you go down and see him on set?” So I went down on set. He was shooting second unit stuff and when he had a moment he came over and looked at the work that I had done and said “OK, well can you start tomorrow?” That’s what I did and I was only supposed to have like two weeks worth of work experience, and of course about a month went by when I had to say “Stan, I actually have to get back to college, because I was only supposed to be here for two weeks” and he said “Well, whenever you can make it here, just come on back,” so I would go to college in the morning and then I took off in the afternoon to go back to the studio and then work until whenever we were finished that night and did it that way.

Quint: Were you studying to have a career in this industry or were you studying something else?

Lindsay Macgowan: I was studying to do makeup, so that was my first kind of love, doing makeup and prosthetics, and then after ALIENS happened, I worked with the Hensons Creature Shop, because Steve Norrington at the time had been working on ALIENS and then he started working for the Hensons, and that’s how I started working there. During that period of time I also kept in touch with Stan and he invited me to work on this movie here in America, so eventually I came and lived here and I’ve been working with Stan ever since ALIENS. The first few years was kind of on and off, because I was going back and forth to England, but then I think the last movie I did in England was BABE and then I came over permanently here at that point.

Quint: So you were pretty green at that point when you joined up with Stan.

Lindsay Macgowan: I had only done one movie.

Quint: What was his interaction with you like? I’ve heard stories of him, even though he could do everything if he wanted to, that he would step back and let everybody form as a group.

Lindsay Macgowan: Yeah, he was always someone that pulled the best out of you and even though you knew that he could do all of the work, he would let you have the opportunity to take the work as far as you could, and then he would give you creative instruction on how you could improve what you were doing. He was always very, very supportive of the artists, but yet pushing them to try to do the best work that they could. He was great and I can only say good things about that. He really helped push me to be a better artist.

Quint: Do you have any specific memories of Stan working with you on a specific project or a specific character or creature?

Lindsay Macgowan: Yeah, I guess A.I. I think A.I. was probably the toughest movie we have ever done and Alan Scott and myself were heading that up for the studio, and we worked on that movie for well over a year, working on the designs of Teddy and then the robots and then the actual shooting of the movie. It was just one of those movies where you were really trying to do things that hadn’t been done before, and it was just a very tough shoot. I think that the work that we did on that movie is some of the best work that we have done, but Stan, even under pressure, really tried to make sure that the performance was the most important thing that we did and we would work on it. We would rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and video what we were doing and then we would go and take it to show Steven, and then we would get feedback from Steven and then sometimes we would do something that he hadn’t asked for, but we would video it anyways to show him, and he would say “That’s better than what I had originally wanted! Let’s do that!” Yeah, I guess A.I. was the toughest thing I ever did, but I think it’s also one of the proudest things that I ever did with Stan, just because we were on set every day on that movie together and he was always just there to back us all up and make sure that we got the best work we could.

Quint: Teddy’s an incredible creation. That’s something that stands out, I think, to everybody who has seen it, even people who aren’t fans of the movie. I have talked to a lot of people that are all over the map on the film, from it being the best movie ever to the other end, but I think no matter what your opinion is, Teddy is completely effective as a character and as I was mentioning with Shane, I think a lot of that has to do with Stan’s kind of Harryhausen-ish edict of every single thing has to have a soul. You can see that in even his soulless creations where you look at the T800 which wouldn’t have a soul, but it has character in every bit of movement it makes and that’s something that I think a lot of people kind of ignore. I think people go for the cool and not for thinking “Hey the TERMINATOR was cool… the aliens are cool… let’s do that!” and not understand why they were cool.

Lindsay Macgowan: I agree. I think that a lot of Teddy’s character comes out of Stan, because he would literally be there standing right next to us saying things like “Tilt the head this way…”, or just being our kind of acting coach on the day, and so Teddy’s performance was as much Stan as it was the puppeteers that were actually doing the radio controls and the rods. It was one of those magical times where everybody was thinking along the same lines and I think that comes through in the movie.

Quint: The reaction that we are getting from the tributes and everything on the site has been overwhelming...

Lindsay Macgowan: I have to say it has been really nice for all of us. It has kind of helped lift our spirits to see how many people have said such nice things about Stan. These first few days where we’ve had to make calls to people has been quite difficult emotionally, and it’s been for all of us here, quite traumatic to call people up who we don’t immediately know and explain to them what was happening, and so just seeing the feedback on your site and other places, it’s just really lifted our spirits up quite a bit to see how well loved the man was. It’s very much appreciated by all of us here at the studio. The fans, too. The fans of the movies, they saw the movies and loved the movies and they can understand how much of his heart and soul he put into the work. If anything, I’d like to say thank you to the fans for Stan and on behalf of everybody here at the studio and his family.

Quint: I’ll make sure to pass it along, but it just goes to show that so many people were impacted by his work and I think a lot of the worry is that his legacy was going to go with him and I think that’s one thing that I’m really interested to talk with you guys about and where you guys go from here as Stan Winston Studios.

Lindsay Macgowan: Can I put you on speaker phone, so that way Shane and I can both talk?

Quint: Please.

Lindsay Macgowan: So the studio is going to continue. We are not stopping, because as we said in an announcement that went out yesterday, that before Stan passed away, we had been talking for quite a long time, a number of years actually, about becoming partners with him. Now of course, the plan has slightly changed, but we are continuing the studio with his blessing. It’s now going to be called The Winston Effects Group that will be a partnership between Shane, John Rosengrant, Alan Scott, and myself.

Quint: Great. You guys I assume will be continuing with the same kind of dedication obviously that Stan would have imposed.

Lindsay Macgowan: Absolutely. The sort of work that we have done in the past, we have absolutely every intention of…

Shane Mahan: I actually wanted to start slacking off a bit, but the boys won’t let me.

[Everyone Laughs]

Shane Mahan: The thing is, is that in actual fact, Stan has been out of the pressure pot of filming for some time now… When he got ill obviously, I think A.I. was the last time he had been on set under work requirements .We have been doing all the things he used to do anyway and he wanted to… You know, he didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t be a part of great projects anymore. It’s a very hard thing to admit your own mortality and give up something that you love to do, but he also wanted to have a legacy of work and the great artists and look, there are great artists all around the world, but we really feel like we are lucky. The team that is here at the studio, which is sometimes up to a hundred people, depending on how many projects are happening at once, There are tremendous artists that are here and so it’s a very creative hub and there’s no reason to have it stop.

Quint: Definitely. I remember when ILM closed up it’s practical effects division, it just felt like there are only a few shining examples of practical effects work left and I think that that is still incredibly important to film. Some of the comments for people were like “Great, now that Stan is gone that means that CG is really going to overtake filmmaking as that tool.”

Shane Mahan: You are always going to have different levels of the participation of what types of effects are in them. When you have big blockbuster movies, obviously larger portions of the budget are going to go to visual effects, just naturally. All we can do is contribute to what grounds and makes those visual effects seem more realistic, and do what we can to make that leap. The commercial world, on the other hand, relies almost entirely on physical effects and you would be surprised at how many really creative directors in the commercial world that prefer and like to do things in camera still, which is a nice thing to have. Phil Joanu is one of them. We work with him a lot and he does a lot of things… he loves to do in camera effects. It’s really a matter of still just being able to help producers and directors tell great stories. We are never going to be gluttons for punishment and take on more than we know we can do. I couldn’t make an Iron Man really fly. I wouldn’t even try to, but the construction and the building and sort of setting the…

Lindsay Macgowan: The reality of it.

Shane Mahan: Yeah, you ground it in the reality and just coming up with the initial construction, because that stuff is still really valuable.

Lindsay Macgowan: We have all been taught by Stan, and to try and do something that wouldn’t honor the work that we had done in the past, it’s just not something that we would do. We are completely committed to continuing doing as much ground breaking work as Stan had done in the past and we will continue doing it.

Shane Mahan: I don’t know exactly what the next technical groundbreaking technique will be. I think digital is going to be here for a long while before something else takes and makes that as obsolete as Go Motion. I think it has a bit more staying power, but what is essential is great stories, great screenplays, and great direction. It’s not just the spectacle; effects have to be in something that makes sense and has a good story for it to work. It doesn’t work to have a really great story with really bad effects in it and it doesn’t work to have really great special effects in a bad story. It’s still a collaborative effort between filmmakers and people, like how Jim and Stan worked together. It was a great experience, but it’s hard to sum up… I guess the point of this was to sum up Stan’s life and this place really was his life. It’s difficult for us to talk about him in the past tense, because we are sitting at his empty desk up here. He was always behind it laughing and giggling like a little kid and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet to tell you the truth.

Quint: Considering that he was quite a genius with animatronics, you can’t give us any hope that he has built another version of himself before he went?

Shane Mahan: (laughs) We have joked about that for years, like if he could just have a robot of him just sitting at a desk that just nods occasionally or like he’s on the phone talking to somebody, but you know, boy… I guess if you stay with someone long enough, this is bound to happen, I suppose, and I don’t know how else to express the personal loss myself and all of the people here are going to feel, because he was always somebody you could go to if you had a problem with not even film related stuff. He was a very understanding guy.

Quint: I think the best thing you guys can do is just keep his memory alive. He has inspired, just as much as he was inspired by Harryhausen and I’m sure Willis O’Brien and Jack Pierce... His work and what you guys have done with him in collaboration has already inspired the next generation, so I think the best thing you guys can do is what it sounds like you are doing already and that is just keeping his legacy going and keeping his values and his attention to detail and character and effects work alive in the studio.

Shane Mahan: Ironically John Rosengrant is off in Albuquerque right now doing TERMINATOR 4. It kind of goes right back to what started it all and it was important for us to do that movie, because we felt like we helped to create that myth.

Quint: The TERMINATOR movie, without you guys on board… It would be like them doing THE HOBBIT without Weta.

Shane Mahan: Absolutely. Certain things feel like they should go to certain…

Quint: Well, you are part of the identity of the universe.

Shane Mahan: Yeah and then I think we have a personal attachment to certain things. Some things are just a job and we do our best with it, but some things are like your children and you just want them to go to the right place.

Quint: You want to protect the babies, yeah.

Shane Mahan: That’s certainly true. Who knows what will happen with any future JURASSIC PARK films, if there are any, but all we can hope for is to think the best work that we are going to do is somewhere down the road.

Quint: I think that’s all we can ask for as fans of his work and what he brought to the art form. I guess that is about all I’ve got, unless there is anything you guys want to add.

Shane Mahan: Just again, it’s been really nice to hear from the fans. We make these movies for people that like movies, because we love them. We are just the lucky guys that actually get to do them. It’s nice to see the talkback. It has been really tremendous to see how much people appreciated the work.

Quint: If you are familiar with Talkback, it’s really a rare thing and takes somebody that has had as big of an impact as Stan did to bring Talkback into this completely 100% positive light.

Shane Mahan: Yeah, they can be quite cynical.

Quint: It can be, yeah.

Shane Mahan: It’s nice to see kind words.

Quint: Definitely and thank you guys so much for sitting and talking to me. I know that it probably was not something that you guys were looking forward to talking about the passing of somebody who has been so close to you.

Shane Mahan: It would be wrong not to.

Lindsay Macgowan: Thank you so much. I think we can both speak for the entire shop when we say that this site has moved everyone with the tributes that have come in from all over the world, and we‘d like to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts about Stan and his influence on them.

Shane Mahan: Thanks so much.

Quint: Thank you guys!

Shane Mahan: We have never met Harry, but tell him we said “Hello.”

Quint: I’ll pass it along. Thank you guys.

There you have it, squirts. It’s been a hell of a week for everybody, from those in the industry to those obsessed with watching it. I hope this puts a nice topper to the Stan Winston Tribute we’ve run for the past week. My best to Shane, Lindsay and the rest of those doing their best to keep Stan’s teachings in practice and his spirit alive and well in their continuing work. -Quint

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