Monster Maker Interview with Legendary, Award Winning Makeup Effects Designer, SHANE MAHAN.

Shane Mahan, Oscar nominated, 25-year SWS Supervisor and Co-Founder of Legacy Effects, tells his side of it. New MONSTER MAKER INTERVIEW!

May 21, 2013


- By David Sanger

CLICK on the video above to watch the FULL Monster Maker Interview

Today's Monster Maker Interview features Academy Award nominee and winner of Greenville High School's "Outstanding Mold Maker" certificate, Shane Mahan. Shane started his career at Stan Winston Studio just as James Cameron and Stan Winston began a partnership that would span 4 features and 25 years pushing the technology of creature creation and visual effects further than anyone had ever gone before. Through it all, Shane was there. In this exclusive interview for the Stan Winston School, Shane looks back on the decisions and momentous films that led the Stan Winston Studio and later Legacy Effects -- the shop he co-founded with Stan Winston alumni, John Rosengrant, Lindsay Macgowan and Alan Scott -- to create some of the most astounding and iconic character effects and creatures ever captured on film. 

Pictured above: Early days with the Stan Winston Studio team; from left: Stan Winston, Shane Mahan (sunglasses), John Rosengrant and Tom Woodruff, Jr.


From an early age, mesmerized by the covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines he kept hidden in his schoolbooks, Shane knew that monsters would be his future. “I had a definite fascination with...I didn't really know what it was at the time... if it had a monster or a creature in it, I was fascinated by it.” Practicing first with clay and eventually with making molds, Shane knew early on that somehow, this would be his path. "I really had no alternative in life,” he claims in his interview, “I can either y'know, bag groceries or I can be an artist. I didn't think of anything else, that was really the drift and the way to go.”

Pictured above: Special effects makeup artist Shane Mahan transforms Danny DeVito into "The Penguin" for Tim Burton's BATMAN RETURNS. 


Shane’s introduction to Stan Winston was less than auspicious. Delivering a mold to Stan’s shop, he saw the master sculpting what he took at first to be a new take on the Jason Vorhees character from Friday the 13th. Suggesting as much, Stan gave Shane a withering gaze and dismissed him without comment, returning to what turned out to be a mask for Maximillian Schell as the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA from the 1983 TV movie.

On his father’s advice, the next time Shane met Stan at an official job interview, Shane reluctantly wore a suit jacket and put his portfolio in a briefcase—this in an age where everyone in Hollywood “looked like Sid Vicious.” Stan apparently didn’t connect the well-dressed youth with the horror film fan he’d met previously since Shane got hired. Years later Stan would say, “The only reason I hired you is because you wore a suit and a tie.” 

Pictured above: Shane Mahan preps the iconic Terminator endoskull for molding at Stan Winston Studio.


The job was to be “up to 6 months including build & shoot” for a little robot movie. Well, the little robot movie turned out to be THE TERMINATOR and Shane ended up as one of Stan’s most valued senior artists for the next twenty-five years!

Pictured above: Shane Mahan wears the walking-rig for the reveal of the endoskeleton animatronic puppet in James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR.


At a screening of THE TERMINATOR, Shane learned that his next project was to be another collaboration with James Cameron. “After the screening, Jim said, ‘Well, how would you guys like to go to England and do Aliens?’ and I was like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’…You realize you're, on the inside, like I'd gone from this ridiculous outsider, stepping over bums going to school and taking buses to being on the inside of a major screening to get another major film. I thought, ‘This is a highlight.’ That's like a moment to remember. You've made it kid, you're on the inside scoop.”

The long hours and pressure of making ALIENS cemented the core Stan Winston Studio team. The team jelled, and the studio was, as Shane puts it, “a new entity of Stan, he was way up there now, like, WAY up there in terms of a different kind of effects artist. And that’s when we really realized this is a team. This is a home.”

Pictured above: Shane Mahan (far left) with a team of sculptors including Alec Gillis and John Rosengrant, working on the Alien Queen maquette for James Cameron's ALIENS.


At Stan Winston Studio, Shane forged deep relationships with some of Hollywood’s A-list filmmakers, as he devoted his talents to the long list of projects he created, designed, coordinated, or supervised effects for, including such classics as BATMAN RETURNS, TERMINATOR 2, PREDATOR, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, JURASSIC PARK, and BIG FISH. In 2001, Shane’s diverse talents and skills earned him the title of Co-Producer on HBO’s CREATURE FEATURES where he not only designed and coordinated the character and creature effects, but also lent his experience and vast knowledge of classic horror films to produce and enhance the series.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan (in black cowl) prepares to puppeteer the T-1000 blade arm in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan sculpts JURASSIC PARK's Dilophosaurus aka Spitter at SWS.


Having worked with the legendary Stan Winston for over two decades, it seemed fitting that Shane, along with John Rosengrant, Lindsay Macgowan and Alan Scott, would carry the torch of practical/makeup effects to lead the industry into the next generation of filmmaking by founding Legacy Effects after Stan’s passing in 2008. Within months of Legacy Effects opening their doors, Shane was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects for leading the Stan Winston Studio IRON MAN team.

Pictured above: IRON MAN's Iron Monger suit gets finishing touches from Shane Mahan & Model Shop coordinator Dave Merritt.


“Ten years ago, I was told by many people that this particular branch of our work would probably not exist…it seemed quite scary, it could possibly be like that…For us to be able to maintain, to have a place for people to do work and to carry on doing what they do is what makes me most proud.”

Shane pursues each project with a commitment to artistic excellence and enthusiasm unrivaled in the industry. Legacy Effects’ recent work includes a continuing relationship with Marvel Studios on IRON MAN 2, THOR, AVENGERS & IRON MAN 3 as well as continued and new relationships with established filmmakers on projects as wide ranging as Jon Favreau’s COWBOYS & ALIENS, REAL STEEL, TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP and the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro film, PACIFIC RIM.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan & John Rosengrant sculpt the hero Predator suit for PREDATOR 2. 


Shane’s advice to monster enthusiasts starts with having a willingness to take risks, “You have got to be willing to fall flat on your face and be broke as hell and not expect much from anybody. If you can get through that, and you can pick yourself up, and you can actually produce stuff that you like and hopefully be successful with it, then you're good.”

Pictured above: At SWS, Shane Mahan guides Jon Favreau through a progress review for ZATHURA.


When Shane talks about the way the first team members began to gravitate to Stan’s and collaborate on projects that would reshape not only the way effects were produced in films, but also inform the imaginations of an entire generation, he notes how these outcast artists from various backgrounds recognized something special in each other. “We all have the same tastes in things, the same kind of drive. Everybody is a little different, everyone has their own personality, but as a chocolate sundae, you've got to have a bunch of flavors to it. It has to work like that.”

Pictured above: Shane Mahan sculpts a likeness head based on actor Robert Patrick for the film TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. 

For the Stan Winston Studio, and now Legacy Effects, Shane Mahan's talent as a sculptor, creature designer, animatronics supervisor, shop coordinator and leader, surely serves as the cherry on top!

- David Sanger

For the EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW simply click the player at the top of the page.

More from SHANE MAHAN:

Artist Bio Page HERE.

For the Legacy Effects website, click HERE.

SCRIPT BREAKDOWN FOR CREATURES - Stan Winston School lesson with Shane Mahan


JURASSIC PARK's T-Rex - Sculpting a Full-Size Dinosaur

Real IRON MAN suit. Real Performance.

IRON MAN - Making the Mark I "Cave Escape" Suit

BATMAN RETURNS - Creating the Penguin


Stan Winston School LIVE at the University of Virginia

ALIENS - Building the Full-Size Alien Queen

PUMPKINHEAD - The Making of Stan Winston's Demon of Vengeance