Tuesday, June 17, 2008

R.I.P.: The other Stan the Man.

I don't have anything really important to add to the greatly deserved praise pouring out of the Internet for the late Stan Winston. Obits in all-pro outlets like the NYTimes and fan tributes, like the fond farewells at Arbogast on Film and Final Girl, among others, will tell you all you need know about his long and enviable career.

With your indulgence, I would like the chance to throw in a personal memory. When I was a little kid, I only read two kinds of books. One of them was a trade paperback (though this was well before such collections were the industry norm) of superhero team-ups in the Mighty Marvel Manner. I read that over and over until the front cover fell off, the spine broke, and I lost a couple pages of a titanic struggle between Thor and the Silver Surfer – a battle I remember taking place in, of all places, Thor's dining room.

The only other printed pages that could hold my interest were in non-fiction books about dinosaurs. I was pretty young, so we're talking about pretty basic stuff here. Mostly these books had some cool pictures of fighting dinos. There was always the obligatory size-comparison picture: some child in clothes two decades too old standing next to various giant lizards. Usually the child and the dinosaurs were in a row, as if they were in some unimaginable police line-up: "Number 5, please approach the mirror and roar."

I never became a paleontologist or anything. I was interested in living, fighting dinosaurs. The idea of galumphing about the globe looking for fossilized remains seemed pretty lame by comparison. Perhaps I lacked the requisite imagination for it. Perhaps I simply don't possess a scientific mind. Anyhow: dino obsession was a crucial part of my childhood that remained strictly a childhood thing.

This connects to the career of Stan Winston, of course, through Jurassic Park. Winston did all the live-action dinosaurs for all three of flicks that currently make up the franchise. This includes the animatronic Spinosaur: a multi-story, 12-ton monster that holds the record for being the largest animatronic ever built.

I saw Jurassic Park in Washington D.C., on an enormous screen in a classic theater called the Uptown. It was opening night and the theater was packed. I remember the thrill that went down my spine when the first dinosaurs, a couple of grazing brontosaurs, appeared on the screen. I was instantly transported back to my youth when the only things I really cared about were comic book heroics and the lives of the long-dead thunder lizards. I was, for a couple of hours, a little boy again. Though I've seen the film several times since, as well as its sequels, I never get tired of the watching the dinosaurs.

Thanks Stan. You did good work.


Frederick said...

Enjoyed your personal tribute to Stan. I did one of my own this morning, and like you, the way he touched our lives in a personal way is what I focused on. Because that's what really counts, what his work meant to each of us, and the memories associated with it.

I have also added your site to my list of links. Hope you drop by for a visit sometime.


Anonymous said...

Seems my earlier comment was misplaced once this entry came out.

spacejack said...

That's funny, we also used to have an old movie theatre called the Uptown, which was at that time one of the bigger venues to see blockbusters like JP at.

While a lot of the CGI was jaw-droppingly realistic for the time, the scene with the t-rex eye looking in the car, pupil constricting in the flashlight beam totally sold the mechanical models for me.

In the second one, I remember the scene where they're carrying the baby t-rex, and its movement looked freakishly realistic.

According to the making-of documentaries on the DVD set I've got, they were originally going to do everything with animatronics and stop motion, without any CGI until a tech demo convinced Spielberg that the technology was ready.

Apparently a lot of the traditional modelers and animators were quite threatened by this (not surprising), but as it turned out, they were still the best skilled at animation and their skills translated quite well. (And even then, only about 2 minutes of computer generated animation ended up in the first movie.)