Stan Winston Creatures
Whether the man himself is familiar, you are familiar with Stan Winston and his work. If you've seen Jurassic Park, Terminator 2 or Aliens (and that should pretty much cover just about anyone reading this) you've seen the work. And that work was not only an important part of making those films a success, it also raised the bar for what was expected in movie creatures. Now Stan Winston has a new arena to enter, but one that is as familiar as movies - toys.
Our audience with the wizard behind such memorable creatures took place in the conference room (also know as the 'holy expletive deleted' room). As we waited for Stan to grab a drink and speak with his sculptors we could feel the eyes on us around the room. While a large table is central to the space, around it are mirrored walls that are filled with full size mock-ups of some of the most famous movie monsters around. In one corner a doppleganger of Arnold as a battle-damaged Terminator, in another Pumpkinhead's namesake, and another a replica of Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat along with the ashen remains of Claudia and her nanny, and to finish the square there stands the Predator. A gap was apparent on one wall due to the Terminator exoskeleton that was seen at the San Diego Comic Con, and above the walls were still more creatures. A group of evil gorillas from Congo (along with a full size male silverback that was placed lower), characters from Tank Girl and an Alien that is posed as if in mid-attack. Among the larger models there were plenty of smaller editions, with scenes of dinosaur attacks and a full-scale battle between the soldiers and Gorgonites from Small Soldiers.
To see the conference room online: go to www.stanwinstonstudio.com, click on "behind the scenes," then on "studio tour," and then on "display room."
While we were ogling the scenery, Stan Winston himself burst in the door with a Krameresque fumble (which seemed quite practiced) and sat down at the table so we could begin. Just as we started to talk Stan interrupted, and with a gleam in his eye he got up and grabbed one of the smaller statues from the feet of Pumpkinhead. He walked over to the phone, and after a short search he found who he was looking for. A minute later a young man entered the room and Stan, seemingly communicating nearly telepathically, said to him "this is the look I was thinking, but combined with this" as he pointed to one of the Gorgonites on the table to the side. Immediately the connection is made, the idea is communicated and off he went to make that new creation a reality. Then Stan walked back over and sat down as nonchalant as can be and said "Now we can start."
One thing to be said for talking to Stan is that he usually stays ahead of the conversation so you can spend you time listening rather than asking more questions. Stan came to Hollywood to be an actor, "And I'm still waiting for someone to discover me to get my big break!" he added wryly. While most wannabe actors and actresses wait tables or find other work while they wait, Stan had a different idea.
"Once I got to Hollywood while I was waiting to be discovered and made into a big star I decided I would find work besides the usual jobs, so I began a make-up apprenticeship at Disney. I kept working in the make-up business (winning his first Emmy for 1972's 'Gargoyles' telefilm) and I've been there ever since."
With all the successes both in special effects and in producing and directing his own material, why would someone want to venture into toys? It wasn't a matter of a new frontier to conquer but more the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.
"I've always been a fan of comic books and superheroes and I've always wanted to work on things related to that. And some of the toy versions of our characters just haven't been as nice as I wanted them to be. Plus I have the best toys around," Stan said as he indicated the room filled with all the work he's done in films. "Now I want to share this with other people."
Horgg the Dismantler from Mutant Earth
Stan's love of superheroes began years ago with such classic heroes as Spider-Man, Superman, Batman and the Fantastic Four. No he's ready to add some new heroes to their ranks and this manifests itself prominently in Trakk, a character introduced in Mutant Earth. Trakk is a hero who appears in different eras of time and will be appearing again in the fifth series Blood Wolves.
Stan had been trying for years to make toys, but he always go the same answer from toy companies and friends alike. "You'll never be able to do them the way you want to do them. They can't be done that way is what I've been told, and for years I listened to it. Then about ten years ago a young man came on the scene who was told the same thing but chose to ignore it."
The man was Todd McFarlane, and after being unwilling to compromise with other toy companies he decided to strike out on his own to make the toys he wanted his way. What was a risky gamble at the time has transformed the world of toys for the better and made Todd a nearly household name. McFarlane Toys has influenced every one and every company in the toy industry, including Stan Winston Creatures.
"I became aware of Todd about ten years ago, but it wasn't until maybe five years ago that I really started paying attention. He was told the same things I was, but went ahead and made what he wanted his way. And he's still doing it, against the wisdom of everyone else."
But does Stan see Todd as competition? "Todd is an inspiration to me, in showing me what could be done. We get along great and he even interviewed me for his radio show at the San Diego Comic Con. We've made a conscious effort not to copy what they are doing so our toys will be different."
To distinguish Stan Winston Creatures from any other toy line isn't an easy task, but they've managed to come up with a variety of ways to set them apart. They include trading cards or CD-ROM's and link to content on the website that details the creators and creation with exclusive content. All of the lines are not based on established characters but are all new concepts (with the exception of the first series - Creature Features). And all the figures are sculpted by some of the best sculptors around - those working at Stan Winston Studios. Stan Winston Creatures also gives unprecedented credit to the artists working behind the scenes.
The first series of figures included CD-ROM's that had exclusive content based on the characters from that series, but this feature was changed to a trading card and a code that could be used to unlock content on the official site. The content included on the discs and the website set a new standard for creator credit and attention in the world of toys. Each character has a video that has short interviews with Stan and the toy sculptor about the character and toy. Additionally, there is information on the other work of the sculptor, on the other toys in the line and the concept for that series of figures. The figures after the first series have high quality trading cards depicting each character in action on special miniature sets that were built solely to show off the toys.
Evilution Demon from Creature Features and
Sabyr from Realm of the Claw
After the first series of toys (Creature Features) each line will have all new characters created by Stan Winston and his staff that haven't been seen before. This runs counter to many trends in toys as many are based on either popular movies and television shows, or other franchise properties. Each line has a consistent theme within it and comic books have been created to help describe the world of those characters. Plans call for films in the future, which will feature many of the characters and worlds created for the toys, as a sort of reverse marketing.
The sculptors for the toys are not toy sculptors by trade, but some of the wizards who create many of the creatures and make-up effects at Stan Winston Studios. While the names of the sculptors aren't familiar, their work will be instantly familiar if you've seen Jurassic Park, The Terminator, Galaxy Quest, Predator, or any of a slew of films that Stan Winston Studios has worked on.
One trend that will hopefully catch on through the industry is the attention and credit given to the people who are creating the toys. There are some toys that do list credit for sculptors and creators on the market, but none has spent the time and money to actually put the sculptor and their other work into the hands of the consumer. Via the behind the scenes videos that can be accessed through the website (and on the CD-ROM's for the first series figures), there is information, pictures and interviews with the sculptor.
The Cost of Being Different
"I've seen the comments and reviews of the toys, and they've all been complimentary but they all seem to say nearly the same thing. They all say the sculpting and paint work is great and they are all positive, but they all talk about one issue - the price," Stan relates.
The figures all retail for $14.99 each, but the price isn't that high to pad anyone's pocket. The expenses for the figures and their development have added up along the way. Stan explains:
"There are a lot of reasons for the higher price, more than just high quality. We made an effort to make the toys large, and they are bigger than most other figures on the market. The larger size means we can add more detail, but it also means a higher production cost.
"The behind the scenes videos are also costly to make. We take the time to make them professionally, with the same standards, as you would see in a movie's behind the scenes show. I've been involved with many of these features for movies, so I know how to do them right. We have to film them, edit them, create some computer animation and then tie it all together, and this costs more money.
"We also create large dioramas to photograph the figures against for the trading cards. We apply the same attention to these as we would when working on a film, so the miniature sets have to very detailed. This also costs time and money to create.
"The level of sculpting and paint applications on the figures is extremely high, higher than what you see in any other toys. We have the best sculptors here and they have worked hard to create the best figures possible, which are truly works of art in their own right. There are a high number of paint applications on each figure, and maintaining the level of quality and having that many applications all adds cost as well."
All these factors add up to higher costs, but there have been compromises along the way with the figures.
"We have had to make some changes as we've working on the line and some of them have been driven by costs. We wanted to have really elaborate bases on some of the figures, but they either wound up being too big or too expensive to add in. The first series had CD-ROM's but we decided to put the content online and use the savings from leaving out the discs to add more articulation with Realm of the Claw.
"We also considered making the figures at a smaller scale to cut down on costs, though the down side is that you lose some of the detail on the figures. That's something we may still consider in the future, but we want to keep everything at the same scale and level of quality.
"I think that the consumers can tell when they are getting a high quality toy and that they also want higher quality toys. The success of McFarlane shows that people can tell the difference and that they care, which is contrary to what many people had told me before when I wanted to get involved with toys."
Is the extra quality worth it? Stan certainly thinks so.
"In the end it has to be made to the highest quality and it has to look fantastic, because that's the only way I know how to work. And every toy has my name on it, so I want them to reflect the same level of quality I would place in any movie work we do. Only the best is acceptable."
We'd like to thank Stan Winston for his time and help in preparing this feature. For more information on some of the figures that are available at retail right now, please read the RTM Spotlights on Evilution Demon from Creature Features, Sabyr from Realm of the Claw and Horgg the Dismantler from Mutant Earth. There are also pictures of future Stan Winston Creatures figures in our coverage of Wizard World Chicago and the San Diego Comic Con.
|Coming soon: this PRO-File will continue later in 2002, with a look at the Extreme Gargoyles action figures and the effects artists who sculpted them.|
This article was posted in October 2002, after a visit to the Stan Winston Studio in August 2002. The photographs of Stan Winston and the Stan Winston Creatures logo are courtesy of and copyright Stan Winston Creatures. Used with permission.