Stan Winston has been one of the heavy weights in makeup effects and creature creation over the last 15 years, winning a number of Oscars and co-creating such memorable characters as The Terminator, the alien hunter in Predator, and the live action dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and its two sequels. His work on Aliens remains one of the best examples of special effects creativity today.
"Aliens was an incredible challenge for a number of reasons," says Winston. "Number one: working with Cameron is a challenge in itself. Since The Terminator we had been very close friends, but he is not an easy person to please; he is very specific. Number two: Alien is one of my favorite horror films of all time. It was a perfect film. Everything about it was memorable. It was the horror film of the decade. So how can you do anything but lose trying to do a sequel to a classic film? Well, the answer to how it was going to be different and/or better than Alien was Jim Cameron. I knew he was going to do something special. If it had been any other director there is a good chance I would not have done the film."
Winston and his team of 40 reworked the original Alien design created by H.R. Giger, and produced up to a dozen alien warriors as well as the fourteen foot high Alien Queen. "What we had to do was be honest to the first film, to recreate the original characters so the audience did not feel cheated, and also give them the ability to preform more, so you could extend their character. In the first film, when you saw a face-hugger it was just something on a person's face which was then thrown away. In Aliens we had face-huggers running all over the place, having to act. We stayed legitimate to the original concept, but finessed the sculpture a little bit. That's how we improved on the original. Each of our characters did more. We developed the suits for the alien warriors so that the actors wearing them could perform more action than in the original."
The Alien Queen was based on a design of Cameron's, which Winston was so impressed by that he
constructed to the director's exact specifications. The Queen utilised a concept similar to the one
Winston had used for the Martian drones in the 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. "I had shown
Jim the concept of the reverse 'body' with the little person strapped on to another guy's back I had
come up with on Invaders. Whether that triggered his imagination to having two people inside the
Queen, I couldn't really say. But I was working on that when Jim came to me. His concept was, 'Let's
put two people inside a suit and fly them on a crane to make a Queen work.' In one breath I said,
'You're out of your mind.' In the next, I said, 'Yeah, it'll probably work,' because Jim wouldn't have
thought of it otherwise, because that's who he is.
"We made a rough mock-up of the Queen using black foam core and plastic garbage bags, and
suspended our stuntmen inside it. For the big arms we used ski pole extensions and attached them to
some creature hands I had developed for another project. We set this thing up in our parking lot to see
if it was going to work--and it did. There was a lot of fine tuning to be done, but the basic concept was
"We made a rough mock-up of the Queen using black foam core and plastic garbage bags, and suspended our stuntmen inside it. For the big arms we used ski pole extensions and attached them to some creature hands I had developed for another project. We set this thing up in our parking lot to see if it was going to work--and it did. There was a lot of fine tuning to be done, but the basic concept was good."
On set, it took 14 puppeteers to operate the Queen, in addition to the two lucky enough to be inside it. "Somebody described it as an anorexic dinosaur," remembers Cameron. "Which I suppose is inevitable, but it's not what I had in mind. In fact, I wanted specifically not to suggest a dinosaur concept. For me, the Queen is a blend of what Giger does with what I wanted to do, which was to create something that was big and powerful and terrifying and fast and very female. Hideous and beautiful at the same time, like a black widow spider."
Cameron and Winston's collaboration paid off in spades, winning the Oscar for special effects (which Winston shared with Robert Skotak, John Richardson and Suzanne Benson), and stunning audiences and critics alike. The next time these two men worked together was on 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with similarly successful results. *