PREDATOR 30th Anniversary! Revisit PREDATOR Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio


PREDATOR 30th Anniversary! Revisit PREDATOR Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio

Predator 30th Anniversary Celebration

This year marks the 30th anniversary of John McTiernan’s landmark sci-fi movie, Predator. Let's celebrate by revisiting Predator behind the scenes at Stan Winston Studio.

The fall of 1986 through early winter of 1987 was a particularly busy period for Stan Winston Studio, which was consumed with not only designing and building the creature effects and makeups for The Monster Squad but was also in early preproduction for Pumpkinhead, which would be Stan Winston’s directorial debut. The workload became even heavier when Stan took on an emergency project, largely as a favor to a friend. It started with a call from Joel Silver, the producer of a film that was then in production, called Predator (1987).

Pictured above: Original Predator screening, Lyric Theater, 42nd Street, New York, 1987.

The Story 

The action/sci-fi/horror film, directed by John McTiernan, was about a military rescue unit, led by Major Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), on a mission to retrieve allies captured in the jungles of Latin America. In the course of their mission, they encounter an alien predator, an extraterrestrial big game hunter, capable of sophisticated camouflage that renders it invisible.

The original suit

John McTiernan had been in the middle of his location shoot in Mexico when production had come to a halt, due to problems with the alien creature suit that had been built by Boss Film Studios. Although Boss had objected to the creature design signed off on by John McTiernan and Joel Silver - recognizing that its execution would be problematic - the company had delivered it, as contracted. As Boss had predicted, the design, which looked spectacular in maquette form, was nearly impossible to realize as a full-size suit worn by a performer.

Pictured above: Design Maquette for the "Original" Predator.

Leg extensions and a third leg joint indicated in the maquette prevented the performer from walking on his own two legs. Instead, he had to be put inside a harness and hung from wires mounted to an overhead boom arm, with puppet legs extending below him. The time-consuming setup was particularly impractical in the dense Mexican jungle. “The basic problem,” said SWS Predator team member & co-founder of Legacy Effects, Shane Mahan, “was that they were on location in a jungle, with no controlled soundstages and sets, and they needed a creature that could climb and fight and walk through water and everything else you see in the film. The original suit just didn’t fit the action requirements.”

Pictured above: The "Original" Predator suit by Boss Film Studios.

Award-winning Makeup FX artist Steve Johnson, who led the original Predator suit build for Boss, confirmed Mahan's take on things: "We have this meeting and we're sitting around a board table and it's the usual suspects. It's all of the executives. It's Joel Silver, the producer; it's John McTiernan, the director. With great pomp and ceremony, McTiernan comes in and slams down a bunch of designs that have already been done by a production designer, and they were awful."

Pictured above: Mechanical sketches for the Boss Films Predator.

"It was ahead of its time, let's put it that way," said Johnson. "But the head did suck. They said, 'Here's what we want you to make.' What they needed was a character with backward bent reptilian legs, extended arms and a head that was out here and they wanted to shoot on the muddy slopes of Mexico in the real jungles. It was virtually physically impossible to do. I told them it wouldn't work."

The "Original" Predator - Jean-Claude Van Damme

Adding to the problems, the suit had been built specifically for Jean-Claude Van Damme, a world karate champion.

"They wanted to just tell the guy to hop around like a frog," remembers Johnson. "And it was Jean-Claude Van Damme who had no idea what he was getting into. He was just off the boat from Brussels. He thought he was going to show his martial arts abilities to the world. So Jean-Claude comes in for his fittings. Remember the cloaking device? Beautiful effect in its day... we made a red version [of the suit] because red is the opposite of green on the color wheel. It had been shot against green in the jungle."

GIF above: Jean-Claude Van Damme in the red version of the suit on the set. 

"He didn't realize that he was just kind of a stuntman, right?" said Steve. "We get him out there for the first shot and he's just seething. We got him back in at lunch and you could see his eyes through the rubber muscles of the neck and he's like, 'I hate this head. I hate it. I hate it. Hate it.'"

Pictured above: Carl Weathers (wearing a prosthetic arm stump) with Jean-Claude Van Damme (wearing the "Original" Predator arm).

PREDATOR - Original Suit with Jean-Claude Van Damme:

A FAVOR FOR A FRIEND

When the failure of the first Predator suit halted production, Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended his old pal from The Terminator, Stan Winston, to design and build an all-new Predator. “I met with John McTiernan and Joel Silver and we talked about the Predator,” Stan Winston recalled. “My feeling from reading the script was that the Predator had to be a real character, rather than a generic creature. He needed to be a very specific character - and that’s what we came up with.”

NO TIME TO FAIL

Time was excruciatingly short for the Stan Winston crew to deliver its new Predator. “There was a lot of pressure to get this done, because production was waiting for the new character so they could start shooting again,” Stan said. “And there was additional pressure because somebody else had already failed. We didn’t want to be their ‘strike two’. Not only that, we’d been recommended by Arnold, who was a dear friend, and we didn’t want to let him down.”

Pictured above: Sculpting Predator's feet at Stan Winston Studio.

Pictured above: (Left & Middle) Steve Wang sculpts muscle definition into the SWS Predator suit. (Right) Shane Mahan & John Rosengrant work on the Predator suit sculpture at Stan Winston Studio.

THIS IS GOING TO KILL US

With all the other work in the studio at the time, crewmembers wondered why Stan Winston would take on this additional job.

Pictured above:  A soon to be sleep-deprived Steve Wang works on design concepts for the Predator suit at Stan Winston Studio.

“I remember when Stan came in and told us what he was planning for Predator,” said SWS veteran and co-founder of Amalgamated Dynamics, Alec Gillis. “He said, ‘And the bad news is, we’ve only got six weeks to do it.’ We were all stunned, and we got a little confrontational with him. ‘Why are we doing this, Stan? This is going to kill us!’ We’d just heard that another shop had been given a year to build a similar type of thing, and we mentioned that to Stan. ‘Why can’t we get jobs like that?’"

Pictured above: The completed Predator body suit sculpture at Stan Winston Studio, ready for molding.

Pictured above: SWS Predator team member Matt Rose takes the Predator head sculpture from rough to ready for molding.

BUT IT'S GOING TO BE A GREAT MOVIE

Looking back, Alec Gillis recalls a turning point in crew morale when Stan said: ‘Listen, guys. I will never strap a production with a one-year build schedule. That’s not fair to them. These people are trying to make movies, and they are trying to do it in a timely fashion. I’m always going to be as flexible and accommodating of that as I can be.’ And we said: ‘Okay, but why this? Why Predator?’ And he said, ‘Because this is going to be a great movie.’ He was doing it as a favor to Arnold, partly. But his instincts also told him that Predator was going to be great, which shows his good judgment of material.”

Pictured above: Predator crew member Michiko Tagawa works on the Predator head matrix mold at Stan Winston Studio.

Not everyone at the shop shared Winston’s high opinion of the Predator project. “There were just a few of us working on Predator,” recalled SWS Predator team member and co-founder of KNB EFX, Howard Berger, “while everyone else was working on The Monster Squad. The attitude at the shop was that those of us on Predator were on the ‘bastard’ show, and that The Monster Squad was the really cool show to be on. We were the redheaded stepchildren of the studio at that time. But, hey, heard of The Monster Squad lately? Seen any ‘The Monster Squad versus Alien’ sequels? It’s understandable why everybody was excited about The Monster Squad; but even though the movie did attract a cult following it wasn't a massive hit, while Predator turned out to be phenomenal.”

Pictured above: Steve Wang airbrushes various parts of the Predator suit.

Pictured above: The finished shoulder cannon sculpture at Stan Winston Studio.

Pictured above: SWS team members work on the Predator mask, cannon, & suit. 

Pictured above: Predator's arm blades, complete and ready for installation.

INSPIRATIONS

The inspiration for the Predator design came from a piece of artwork in Joel Silver’s office, a painting of an otherworldly Rastafarian warrior. “I saw that and I thought it was a great starting concept for the Predator,” Stan Winston said. “I started drawing and redesigning this alien character with quills that in silhouette would look like dreadlocks. During this same period of time, Aliens had come out, and Jim Cameron and I were flying to Japan to participate in a symposium about the movie. We were sitting next to each other on the plane, and I was sketching and drawing the Predator."

Pictured above: An early Predator sketch by Stan Winston.

Jim suddenly said, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to see something with mandibles.’ And I said, ‘Hmm, that’s an interesting idea.’ And I started drawing the now-famous mandibles of the Predator. So, between the Rastafarian painting in Joel Silver’s office and the mandible idea from Jim Cameron, I came up with ‘Stan Winston’s Predator’. And I take complete credit for it, even though I had nothing to do with it, obviously!”

Pictured above: A series of Predator designs, rendered by Stan Winston. The last sketch most closely resembles the final creature.

SOMETIMES A MAN IN A SUIT IS ALL YOU NEED

The final design featured an insectoid head and tusks extending from the mandibles, but was otherwise basically humanoid in physiology, enabling it to be portrayed by a performer in a suit, who could walk unassisted by wires or harnesses. It was a low-tech approach, but, in this instance, the best solution to a specific set of problems. “Often you’ll hear filmmakers say, ‘Let’s do something that doesn’t look like a man in a suit,’” Stan Winston commented. “I’ve said it myself, in fact. ‘Let’s do something more high-tech, not a man in a suit.’ But a man in a suit works just fine as long as you connect the character’s mythology as humanoid, as an alien man.

Pictured above: Two views of the Predator design maquette at SWS.

Added Stan Winston, "‘Man in a suit’ only denotes the technology that got you there. As long as it doesn’t look like a man in a suit, it doesn’t matter if that’s the technology you use to get there.”

KEVIN PETER HALL - FROM BIGFOOT TO PREDATOR

Kevin Peter Hall, the seven-foot-four-inch actor who had portrayed the titular Big Foot character in Harry and the Hendersons (1987), performed in the Predator suit, which featured a mechanical head, with moving tusks and mandibles, and a fully animatronic face. Stan Winston Studio crews worked seven days a week to produce multiple suits and heads within their short build schedule.

Pictured above: Kevin Peter Hall performs two legendary characters, Harry from Harry and the Hendersons and Predator's alien hunter.

Pictured above: Stan Winston Studio crew life-cast Kevin Peter Hall.

Pictured above: An early test fitting of the Predator head and suit on Kevin Peter Hall, prior to installation of dreadlocks.

Pictured above: Kevin Peter Hall wears his Predator contact lenses during a test fitting at Stan Winston Studio.

Pictured above: Team Predator at Stan Winston Studio.

The Road to Mexico

In February 1987, with the new Stan Winston Studio Predator suit completed, the production company assembled in Palenque, a Mexican archeological site located just north of the Guatemalan border, to shoot the one-on-one battle between Dutch and the Predator.

Pictured above: During a break from the Predator shoot, Predator suit performer Kevin Peter Hall, and SWS team members Shane Mahan, Richard Landon, Matt Rose, Steve Wang and Shannon Shea explore the Mayan ruins in Palenque, Mexico.

Shane Mahan accompanied the production, as did SWS mechanical designer Richard Landon. “It was all very exciting,” Mahan recalled, “but also a bit scary, because we were thrust into a film that had been going on for months beforehand. We got down there, and what was meant to be two and a half weeks of reshoots ended up being nearly three months of reshoots! It went on and on.”

Pictured above: Part of the Predator team in Mexico (from left to right): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Brian Simpson, Kevin Peter Hall, Shannon Shea, Matt Rose, Richard Landon, and Steve Wang.

"Frogs! Frogs!"

The hardships of the location were many. Gunfire from Guatemalan rebels could be heard at night, and poisonous snakes often invaded the production camp. Working extremely long and hard days and nights in these conditions, Stan Winston’s crew found release in practical jokes. “The hotel where we were staying in Mexico was right at the edge of a forest,” Richard Landon recalled, “and on the lawn were hundreds of frogs hopping out of that forest. So some of us went down and gathered up a bunch of these frogs - which were huge, half a loaf of bread in size - and filled the shower stall in Stan’s room with them. Then we hid and stood back to hear what would happen. When Stan got back to his room, after a couple of minutes we could hear him yelling: ‘Frogs! Frogs! There’re frogs in my room! Who put frogs in my room?’ And we stuck our heads in, all innocently, asking, ‘Stan, what happened?’ He said: ‘Somebody put frogs in my room - and I know who did it! Arnold!’"

Pictured above: Arnold Schwarzenegger with a snake in the Mexican jungle on the set of Predator. 

"Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stan were always playing practical jokes on each other," continued Landon. "So, of course, Stan assumed Arnold had put the frogs in his room. He told us to help him gather up the frogs, and we put them in Arnold’s room. What we didn’t realize was that Arnold’s wife, Maria Shriver, was visiting that weekend. And Arnold didn’t find the frogs - Maria did. And she wasn’t happy.” For years, Winston continued to believe Schwarzenegger had initiated the ‘frog incident’ - and that was how he told the story when he appeared on the Arsenio Hall late-night talk show one night. It wasn’t until the following night when, appearing on the same show, Schwarzenegger swore his innocence before a television audience of millions, that Shane Mahan finally confessed, and Winston learned that his own crewmembers had been the culprits. “I never knew it wasn’t Arnold,” Winston said, “because, from the day it happened, we never spoke of it! I kept waiting for him to bring it up, and he kept waiting for me to bring it up - and neither of us ever did. And that’s why the truth didn’t come out until years later.”

Pictured above: SWS team Brian Simpson, Shane Mahan, Steve Wang and local crew members assist suit performer Kevin Peter Hall prior to shooting the iconic shot of Predator rising out of the water.

Shooting Continues

Several weeks of greenscreen shooting on a stage in Los Angeles followed the three-month shoot in Mexico, enabling the filmmakers to pick up some of the more difficult Predator action shots in the controlled environment of a stage, then composite those elements into location plates. Howard Berger was assigned the job of taking the Predator suits and heads home after each day of greenscreen filming to dry them out.

Pictured above: SWS crew members Howard Berger and Shannon Shea touch up the Predator before a take.

“We’d peel the suit off Kevin Peter Hall every night,” said Berger, “and I’d throw it into the back of my truck and drive home. And every once in a while, I’d think: ‘I’m driving around with the Predator! Hey, anybody want to see what I have in the back of my car?’ I remember hanging the suits up in the bathroom of my tiny apartment, with a little dehumidifier in there to dry out these disgusting, smelly, sweaty suits every night.”

Pictured above: Howard Berger and Brian Simpson suiting up actor Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator.

Despite its inauspicious beginning as a 911 call and a favor to a friend, Predator remains one of the shows and characters of which Stan Winston is most proud.

Pictured above: Team Predator in Mexico.

“The Predator is an iconic character,” Stan said, “as well known and loved a character in science fiction film history as any character out there. And he’s basically a man in a suit. I think one of the reasons that the characters that have come out of this studio are so memorable is because they are not about the technology."

Pictured above: One of the Predator stunt heads on the set.

"We use higher technologies where they need to be used, but we don’t use them for their own sake," said Winston. "Predator was a perfect example of that philosophy. We could do it with a low-tech tool, so we used a low-tech tool. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a great deal of technology that went into the Predator, as well. But we combined all of the tricks - high-tech and low-tech - to create this organic Predator character.”

Pictured above: Completed Predator heads, with and without the Bio-Mask.

Pictured above: Kevin Peter Hall on a break between takes.

Those ‘tricks’ referred to by Winston included optical techniques to create the Predator’s camouflage effect, executed by visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek and an effects team from R/Greenberg Associates, working with images of a performer wearing a special red version of the suit Stan Winston Studio had built for that specific purpose.

Pictured above: The special red version of the Predator suit on set.

Academy Award nomination

When it came time to recognize Predator with an Academy Award nomination, the combination of techniques used had the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officials scratching their heads, unsure as to which category the Predator belonged. The mechanical features of the character’s head suggested the makeup effects category; but, due to the camouflage effect, there was a visual effects aspect to the character, as well. Ultimately, Winston was nominated for an Oscar for Predator in the visual effects category - just as he had been for Aliens - but he and his co-nominees lost to the effects team from Innerspace(1987). Illustrating just how confused the Academy was over this new blending of special effects, makeup and visual effects technologies, the same year that it categorized the Predator creature as a visual effect, it honored Rick Baker with an Oscar in the makeup category for his work on Harry and the Hendersons - despite the fact that Harry had been achieved in exactly the same way that the Predator had, with a performer wearing a suit and a mechanical head. In fact, the same actor, Kevin Peter Hall, had performed in both suits!

Pictured above: Initially, the mask design was a mechanical interpretation of the creature’s face. To avoid giving away the look of the creature too early in the film, Stan Winston Studio changed the mask design to a simpler, more ‘tribal’ look. The mask on the left was later used in Predator 2.

Pictured above: Stan Winston and Matt Rose finish suiting up Kevin Peter Hall in Palenque, Mexico.

Pictured above: Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator on the set in Mexico. 

“The concepts were identical,” Winston said, “and yet, Rick was nominated in makeup and I was nominated in visual effects. What that points out, I think, is that there is really no way to categorize what we do. No one form of technology defines the characters that we’ve developed over the years. What is it? Is it makeup? Is it special effects? Is it visual effects? Sometimes it is all of the above. Whatever best serves that character, that’s what we use. Our starting point has always been to ask ourselves, ‘Who is this character?’ And, once we figure that out, we decide the best way to create the character, whether it is through makeup or animatronics or, now, even computer technology - or a combination of those."

The Making of Predator. Courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment:

Fans Around The World

Since PREDATOR’s 1987 release, the dreadlocked alien hunter has gone on to become a multimedia icon, inspiring a film franchise, video games, toys, collectibles, comic books and fan groups worldwide like our friends at The Hunter's Lair, who pay homage to their favorite sci-fi character by building and wearing screen-worthy Predator suits, complete with custom weapons and armor. 

PREDATOR'S FX CREW REUNITES AFTER 25 YEARS

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Predator’s original theatrical release, we were asked by Eliot Brodsky to help put together a “Stan Winston Predator Crew” reunion panel at Monsterpalooza 2012, to finally give the guys a chance to share their experiences working on the movie.

Most of the original team were able to make it, including Steve Wang, Matt Rose, Shannon Shea, Richard Landon & Dave Kindlon. The room was packed with Predator fans eager to see the FX wizards who helped Stan create an icon. The hour discussion flew by and for those of you who couldn't attend, we're happy to share these videos with you. 

Predator 25 Year Reunion - Stan Winston's Predator FX Team at Monsterpalooza - Spring 2012:

- Blog assembled by Balázs Földesi with selections from The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio by Jody Duncan

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