- The Stan Winston School is an online school that teaches the art of Hollywood special effects and creature creation.
- The school is named after the late Stan Winston, who created the groundbreaking special effects on “Jurassic Park,” “The Terminator,” and “Aliens.”
- One of Winston’s last movies he worked on was “Iron Man.”
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Recognize these characters? These eyeballs? This face?
They’re all made by the same guy, Stan Winston, and there’s a way to learn exactly how he brought these practical-effects legends to life.
Practical effects often get overshadowed by CGI, which can do the seemingly impossible. One school, however, thinks that special effects are here to stay and is helping teach the craft to the next generation of artists.
The Stan Winston School is an online school based in Los Angeles, where a wide array of Hollywood special-effects artists have taught character creation to over 20,000 students since its founding.
Its online tutorials can be watched either live or at your convenience. Classes instruct viewers how to do everything from putting feathers on a fake bird, to making a mask, to creating a convincing monster.
Erich Grey Litoff: Online education allows you to have the tools at your hands to learn on your own time.
Narrator: The school’s named after this guy, Stan Winston, and his teachings and creations greatly influence everything about the school. He was one of Hollywood’s most legendary special-effects artists and a pioneer in the field.
The school was launched by his son, Matt Winston, and son-in-law, Erich Grey Litoff.
Matt Winston: One of Stan’s mantras was, do what you love, follow your passion, and success will come.
Narrator: Winston came to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actor. When that didn’t work out, he ended up in the world of special effects.
Even if you don’t know his name, you know his work.
Perhaps his proudest achievement was the “Jurassic Park” franchise, in which he built dinosaurs both big and small.
Grey Litoff: So, this would be one of the claws, screen-used claw from the T. rex in “Jurassic Park.”
Narrator: Along with his many groundbreaking effects, Winston also managed to film a lot of his work, which the school has in its archive and often posts online.
The school itself is filled with some of Winston’s classics. Stan’s influences show up in many of the things it builds for classes.
Grey Litoff: These are raptor eyes from the “Jurassic Park” series. These are hand-painted, clear resin on top of the painted eye, and, you can see, to give the illusion, there’s actually a little bit of depth between where the paint is and the urethane is on there.
Narrator: Teachers will show you how to make realistic fake eyeballs in class. Winston also built the metal arm for T-X in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
In one of the classes, beginners were taught how to build a very simple working mechanical arm.
Winston: Using just plumbing parts and stuff you could go find at the hardware store. Now, definitely, it’s very crude, but the principles can be applied to a much more advanced mechanical hand.
Narrator: And this silicone rod puppet, which looks a lot like this one that was designed for the movie “Small Soldiers.”
Grey Litoff: And now, with CGI technology, it’s easier than ever to remove the puppeteer, remove the rod.
Narrator: Sometimes, these old pieces are actually used in lessons. In one lesson, teachers use this moving tentacle, which runs on cables attached to a controller that was used to move and control the dinosaurs in one of the “Jurassic Park” movies.
The school emphasizes Stan’s philosophy for effects, especially that a lot of influences, even for sci-fi and fantasy puppets and effects, should be rooted in the real world and nature. It’s why “Predator” might have looked so real to you and also how, in “Instinct,” they were able to get away with a gorilla that was actually just an animatronic mask worn by a guy in a gorilla suit.
Another major lesson that a budding special-effects artist must learn: avoiding the uncanny valley, when something appears a little too frighteningly realistic.
Winston: If you actually have a puppet on set, physics is now working with you, and natural laws are now working with you. The same light is landing on the puppet as is on the actor, so that heightens the level of realism.
Narrator: The school’s also a means of teaching and preserving these methods. A lot of movie special effects, sadly, were made just for use on a given movie and didn’t have a long shelf life.
Winston: Oftentimes, the materials you need to use to make sure something is totally lifelike are very fragile. Back in the old days of props and effects and puppets, people didn’t really see a value beyond the filming of the movie, and so many of those things just disappeared or were thrown away. More and more, studios are taking great efforts to preserve these creations, and that’s fantastic for everyone because this really is Hollywood history, and it’s our duty and our honor to play our part in helping to preserve it.
Narrator: And even though movies today are seemingly dominated by CGI, practical effects aren’t going anywhere.
Stan Winston embraced CGI, and in movies he worked on, it often went hand in hand with practical effects. For instance, in “Jurassic Park,” in close-ups or any shots involving interactions with humans, the dinosaurs were usually puppets. For wider shots involving more movement, that was typically CGI.
Winston: He always believed that the job of an effects artist is to be invisible. You never want an audience to walk out of a theater going, “Great effects.” You want them to say, “Great story, great characters.” And if you could achieve that, you succeeded.
For the famous shot in “Jurassic Park” where the T. rex leans down and Lexi shines her flashlight into his eye and the pupil dilates, a special device was created to create that dilating action.
Many thanks to the Stan Winston School team for showing us around. Join here.