A FAVOR FOR A FRIEND
Due to problems on set with the original creature suit created for Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended his old pal, Stan Winston, to design and build an all-new Predator. "I met with John McTiernan and Joel Silver and we talked about the Predator," 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."
Pictured above: The original Stan Winston Studio Predator suit. 6 weeks to make an icon.
NO TIME TO FAIL
Time was excruciatingly short for the 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." Winston 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."
THIS IS GOING TO KILL US
With all the other work going on at Stan Winston Studio at the time, crewmembers wondered why Winston would take on this additional job. "I remember when Stan came in and told us what he was planning for Predator, " said 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?'
BUT IT'S GOING TO BE A GREAT MOVIE
And 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 told him that Predator was going to be great, which shows his good judgement of material."
Click the player above to watch highlights from the Predator FX Crew 25th Year Reunion
Inspiration for the Predator design came from a piece of artwork in Joel Silver's office, a painting of a Rastafarian warrior. "I saw that and I thought it was a great starting concept for the Predator," Winston said. "I stared drawing and designing 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. Jim suddenly said, 'You know, I've always wanted to see something with mandibles.' And I said, 'Hmmm, that's an interesting idea.' And I stared 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: Stan Winston's original PREDATOR design.
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,'" 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. 'Man in a suit' only denotes the technology that got you that. As long as it doesn't look like a man in a suit, it doesn't matter if that's the technology that got you there."
KEVIN PETER HALL - FROM BIGFOOT TO PREDATOR
Kevin Peter Hall, the seven-foot-four-inch actor who had portrayed the Big Foot character of Harry in Harry and the Hendersons (1987), performed in the Predator suit, which featured a mechanical head, with moving tusks and madibles, 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.
Stan Winston's PREDATOR set crew. Pictured left to right: Shane Mahan, Steve Wang, Stan Winston (crouching), Brian Simpson, Kevin Peter Hall (as Predator), Shannon Shea, Richard Landon & Matt Rose
Despite its inauspicious beginning as a 911 call and a favor for a friend, Predator remains one of the shows and characters of which Winston is most proud. "The Predator is an iconic character," Winston said, "as well known and loved 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 Stan Winston Studio are so memorable is because they are not about the technology. We use higher technologies where they need to be used; but we don't used them for their own sake. 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.
Predator fan art by Dan Luvisi: http://fav.me/d105jnj