SOMETHING TO PROVE
For Stan Winston Studio, John Turteltaub’s INSTINCT (1999), starring Anthony Hopkins as a renowned anthropologist who lives among a family of gorillas, was more than just another creature effects assignment… it was a chance to prove, once and for all, that the studio’s artists took a back seat to no one in their ability to create utterly believable gorillas.
Pictured above: A trio of Stan Winston Studio mountain gorillas created for INSTINCT.
CREATING A FAMILY OF MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
The gorilla family originally included a silverback, a young black-back male and three females — all of which would be realized by performers in suits and animatronic heads — as well as an infant, which would be built as a puppet.
Pictured above: Left - Jason Matthews sculpts the toddler mountain gorilla. Right - Stan Winston & gorilla hair dept. supervisor Stuart Artingstall discuss the toddler gorilla hair work.
VERNE TROYER JOINS THE TROOP
As shooting neared, the filmmakers decided to add a toddler to the gorilla family, to be performed by diminutive actor Verne Troyer, a relative unknown at the time, who would later gain celebrity as ‘Mini-Me’ in Mike Myers’ AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999). “Because Verne was so small,” recalled lead toddler gorilla artist Jason Matthews, “I would actually carry him on my shoulders through the jungle where we were shooting. We could just step over a ten-inch root on the ground; but that was a big deal for Verne. I spent most of my time on that shoot taking care of Verne and puppeteering the toddler gorilla head.”
Picture above: Stan Winston and crew watch Verne Troyer put their gorilla suit through its paces.
A TRIP TO UGANDA
Prior to starting the design and build for INSTINCT, Stan Winston joined Turteltaub and the film’s producers on a trip to Uganda to see real mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Winston returned with videotaped footage of the gorillas, which his artists and technicians used as a bible in creating their characters. “This was going to be art replicating life,” said Winston. “It was very important to me to pick up on every subtle nuance of the mountain gorillas as I saw them in Uganda.”
Pictured above: Actor Verne Troyer tests out the toddler gorilla arm extensions and muscle suit.
COMMITTED TO REALISM
Winston’s commitment to verisimilitude extended to gorilla performance, as well. When performers were cast, Winston and gorilla choreographer Peter Elliott had them carefully study and re-create the gorilla behaviors exhibited in the video footage.
Pictured above: Verne Troyer in the near-complete gorilla suit during a test fitting at SWS.
THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT
The Winston gorillas in Instinct were so authentic, few people viewing the film ever realized that the animals were not real. “One of the greatest compliments I got from a friend,” said SWS gorilla artist Paul Mejias, “was when he said: ‘I saw INSTINCT. Which were the real gorillas and which were yours?’ That said it all.”
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