THE PROTEGE BECOMES THE MASTER
- By David Sanger
CLICK on the video above to watch the FULL Monster Maker Interview
Today's Monster Maker interview features Academy Award nominated Character Creator, & Co-Founder of Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant. John talks about his journey from aspiring creature effects artist allowed to hang out for several precious hours at Stan Winston Studio--after a kind, but unsuccessful interview with the master, Stan Winston--to his rise to become one of Stan's most valued and dependable artists.
John's work on nearly every major iconic creature character of the late 20th and early 21st century is simply astonishing and in this humble career-spanning interview you will have a unique window into how he got to be the go-to guy for the most succesful movies of all time.
Pictured above: Behind Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan, young turks on set of THE TERMINATOR.
FROM LA TO L.A.
After majoring in Fine Arts at Louisiana State University, John Rosengrant relocated to Los Angeles and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, in 1983 he joined character effects maestro, Stan Winston. For over two decades John played a pivotal role at Stan Winston Studio, helping to create iconic characters and groundbreaking effects. John honed his craft working on diverse projects ranging from the entire TERMINATOR series, the JURASSIC PARK series, ALIENS, PREDATOR 1-2, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, all the way to the state-of-the-art Hybrid Special Character Effects in AVATAR.
Pictured above: John Rosengrant sculpting the 1/5th scale maquette of the Alien Queen body for ALIENS.
According to John, "Where this light bulb went off to where I wanted to make this career first was in high school when I thought, 'This would be a neat thing.'" Though his parents and teachers were cautious about John pursuing a career in Hollywood, telling him, 'Maybe you should think about commercial art.' As John says, "I think they were trying to be helpful."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant working on his MONSTER SQUAD character - The Wolfman.
STAN WINSTON STUDIO
As luck would have it, John had an "in" to Stan Winston, though it didn't get him that far...at first. "My uncle...actually was Stan Winston’s attorney. He set up a meeting for me with Stan and I thought, 'Oh, my God. This is incredible. How much better can this get?' I had my portfolio and it was the most exciting day of my life, an inspiring day. Nothing happened. I didn’t get hired. Stan looked at my book. I went in there. He flipped through it maybe in about two minutes. He said, 'This is great. This looks like my work when I was first starting out. I don’t have any work. Why don’t you have a look around and take your time.'
Pictured above: On a break during the filming of THE TERMINATOR with Stan WInston: Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant and Tom Woodruff Jr.
John turned that "look around the shop" to his advantage, spending as much time as possible and seeing how he needed to up his game in order to perform at the level Stan Winston required. The next time Stan had the opportunity to hire an artist, John was ready and, sure enough, he got hired...and never left. John says, "I felt like, even though I’m the lowest paid man on the totem pole, it’s like--I was in heaven."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant airbrushing the head for PREDATOR 2.
"I found what I always wanted to do," says John. "And it wasn’t a job for me. It was a career. It was a profession. I wasn’t looking at the clock going, 'Oops, it’s five o’clock or 5:30. See ya!' It was a passion for me and I think Stan recognized that, and I think Stan saw my skills broaden. One time he needed a sketch of something and I said that I can draw, and he didn’t know that about me."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant & the SWS team help suit up actors in dive suits for LEVIATHAN.
A MAN OF MANY TALENTS
Though John started out painting and drawing, he came to Stan's originally from his work as a makeup artist at M.E.L (Makeup Effects Lab). Over the years, he showed his prowess firstly as a painter and later as an accomplished sculptor. And finally, as when he donned a Dive Suit for a big moment in LEVIATHAN, he became the man IN the suit as a performer. According to John, "We had created these dive suits. For some reason one of the Italian stunt guys said, 'There’s no way I can walk up that ramp wearing that dive suit.' I was pretty close to the same size as the guy that was in it, and he kept insisting it can’t be done. I just went to Stan and said, 'Stan, I can do that all day long. That is nothing.' So they put me in the suit and I walk up, did the shot...I’m sure I pissed off many people by doing it, but it was one of those moments of like, 'I know the suit we built is totally capable of doing this.'"
Pictured above: Life-casting Linda Hamilton for TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day.
The list of films John was involved with for the Stan Winston Studio reads like a list of the top genre films of the 80's, 90's and beyond. "The films that we had the opportunity to be part of are so ground-breaking. I mean starting with the first TERMINATOR, following that up with ALIENS. All of these were such 'wow' moments, just incredible."
Pictured above: On set of TERMINATOR 2. John Rosengrant watches James Cameron directing Linda Hamilton & Robert Patrick.
And then came JURASSIC PARK. "I mean giant wow moment there too, getting to work with such an iconic film maker, Steven Spielberg, and dinosaurs, something that we all grew up loving... Okay, we’re going to have a 16,000 lb, 36-foot long T-Rex hydraulically operated and moving on a set, along with Raptors and Brachiosaurus heads and Spitters and God knows. It was just crazy."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant rehearses inside the Raptor "Walking Rig" for JURASSIC PARK.
As the industry changed, Stan Winston Studio changed to adapt with it. Doing more cyberscanning, integrating more digital effects into the design and execution of practical effects as computers became more powerful. And the more time John spent with Stan Winston Studio, the more responsiblility he took on. He ended up as the supervisor on many of Stan Winston Studio's largest projects.
Pictured above: John Rosengrant on set with Stan Winston Studio's LARGEST creation... The Spinosaurus for JURASSIC PARK III.
John's advice for aspiring artists is as critical to hear as it is wise: "Obviously you need to hone your skills to the best they can be...You need to have that skill set and you need to strive to be the best you can be. It has to be a fire and a desire inside that is driving you that you are critical and you are pushing yourself. Because no one is going to hand you anything, in any of these artistic endeavors, whether you’re a painter, sculptor, dancer, actor. You have to be out there. You’ve got to sell yourself and you’ve got to sell it."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant applies The Penguin prothetics to Danny DeVito for BATMAN RETURNS.
John's reminiscences about Stan will inspire the artist in all of you. "As an artist," John says, "whatever you’re working on is an extension of yourself. It’s part of why we do this. Musicians write a song or play. Artists paint or draw, or sculpt or create. When that’s put out there, they want that acceptance and they want people to go, 'Wow, that’s cool.' Getting that affirmation from Stan was important because I wanted to grow as an artist, but then you knew that you were on that path to succeeding."
Pictured above: John Rosengrant & John Cherevka paint a Na'vi reference piece for AVATAR at SWS.
Jon Landau, the producer of AVATAR and TITANIC, the two most successful films in cinema history, has said that, "John's talents and passion have earned him the respect of some of the world's most legendary filmmakers. We went to them [SWS] exactly because they had the John Rosengrants of the world."
Pictured above: Stan Winston & John Rosengrant share one of a million laughs over the years while applying the FDR makeup on John Voight for PEARL HARBOR.
Following Stan’s untimely passing in 2008, John, along with his esteemed SWS colleagues Alan Scott, Shane Mahan, and Lindsay Macgowan founded Legacy Effects, continuing on in Stan’s great tradition of artistry and innovation. Some of John’s recent projects include JOHN CARTER OF MARS, REAL STEEL, TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN, TOTAL RECALL and the upcoming ROBOCOP. "After we lost Stan," says John, "there was no question in our mind that we needed to carry on. For ourselves, for Stan, for the crew and the team that grew into that big family that was Stan Winston Studio... was now going to become Legacy Effects. We were not done. Stan never wanted us to be done and there was no way that we were. At that point in time we became Legacy Effects, Stan’s legacy carrying on just as he wanted it to do. I think he’d be very proud of us today."
We think so too.
- David Sanger
For the EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW simply click the player at the top of the page.
More from John Rosengrant:
Artist Bio Page HERE
LEGACY EFFECTS Website
Real Steel's REAL ROBOTS - The Art of Legacy Effects
HYBRID CHARACTERS Stan Winston School lesson: