What's Stan Winston Studio Doing On James Cameron's AVATAR?
Published at: Sept. 10, 2008, 5:09 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
I just returned from my first ever visit to Stan Winston Studio, where key artist Christopher Swift and model shop supervisor David Merritt gave a handful of online outlets an in-depth talkin' to about the design and creation of the Mark I, II and III suits for IRON MAN. It was amazing. I got to cower under the full-scale Iron Monger, marvel at a trio of unused models for HOWARD THE DUCK and tear up a little at the sight of A.I.'s Teddy sitting all by his lonesome in Stan's director's chair. And that's the thing: while Swift and Merritt were gracious, engaging guides, I regret that I never made it over to the studio while the master was still with us.
But as Swift and Merritt were quick to point out, Stan's influence lives on in their work, which you loved in IRON MAN and will soon see to some extent in James Cameron's AVATAR (due out December 18, 2009). After twenty minutes of talking IRON MAN (more on that next week), Swift began discussing the future of practical f/x in an increasingly digital world. That led to a question about the all-CG AVATAR, which yielded an interesting answer. Here's the exchange:
Chris Swift: Everybody loves practical. I mean, it just looks right and looks real. Even digital loves it because it makes their job easier. I think it'll be around for a while.
Beaks: We know you're working on Avatar with James Cameron, who's been leading the drive into digital filmmaking. But the fact that he's still integrating practical effects must be a [vindication].
Swift: Yeah... I worked, as well as Dave... heavily on doing design work and everything for AVATAR. Neither one of us can talk much about it (Laughter), but I will say this about it: obviously being a digital movie and going after it as a digital movie, we ended up doing a lot of practical f/x for it - and a lot of practical things that Jim didn't even know we were building. When Jim kind of brought us on board for that, it was the idea that we were brought on mostly as a design phase. And, look, Jim Cameron is Jim Cameron. He goes all the way back to being a special effects guy, so you can't fool him and you can't pull wool over his eyes. So if he's not getting it from one direction, he'll go another direction. Being a practical guy, he's not against a practical sense, so we ended up doing a lot of maquettes and... doing practical versions of sculptures of the characters. That's what he ended up being sold on, was those versions.
When CHUD's Devin Faraci asked if there were indeed practical elements on Cameron's sets, Merritt gently declined comment. We were told all further questions should be directed to John Rosengrant, who's serving as the "Character Effects Coordinator" on AVATAR. Interestingly, after we finished our tour, we learned that Rosengrant had gone to lunch. Damn.