"Posts For Behind the Scenes"

Terminator 2 Disaster: James Cameron bashes "Arnold" T-800 Puppet to Bits

Terminator 2 Disaster: James Cameron bashes "Arnold" T-800 Puppet to Bits


To break new ground, sometimes you need to break things. No one in the history of entertainment knows this better than James Cameron, whose commitment to "getting the shot" on Terminator 2: Judgment Day resulted in a near nightmare scenario for the Terminator Effects crew from Stan Winston Studio.

In this behind-the-scenes look at the Making of T2, SWS team member Andy Schoneberg recounts the night that Cameron bashed "Arnold's" head in, got the shot, and how the SWS robot builders scrambled to put him back together again in time for the next day's filming.



Video excerpt from the full Monster Maker Interview w/ Emmy Winner Andy Schoneberg.


More TERMINATOR BEHIND-THE-SCENES from Stan Winston School



THE TERMINATOR was my Film School - with FX Wiz Shane Mahan - SWSCA Cyborg Celebration

THE TERMINATOR was my Film School - with FX Wiz Shane Mahan - SWSCA Cyborg Celebration


THE TERMINATOR Effects Veteran Shane Mahan (Stan Winston Studio supervisor, co-owner Legacy Effects) shares memories of working with Stan Winston and James Cameron on the iconic film that started the unstoppable Terminator franchise. "Being so close with Jim and Stan and being in that sort of sphere, that was my film school," recalls Mahan. "The Terminator was like 8 years of concentrated film school, in one 5 month period... every lesson I've learned from that film, until today, has pretty much been retained."



Video excerpt from the full Monster Maker Interview w/Oscar nominee Shane Mahan includes exclusive behind-the-scenes imagery and video footage from the making of THE TERMINATOR.


More TERMINATOR BEHIND-THE-SCENES from Stan Winston School



The History Of Animatronics

The History Of Animatronics


Although true animatronic characters didn't really exist till the late 20th century, the real history of the technique begins with 17th century clock makers. Advanced mechanical clocks dating back to pre-Industrial Revolution France featured miniature animated characters that would emerge from a time-keeping device when it struck the hour. Like modern animatronics, the movements of these automatons were programmed using mechanical gears to coincide with specific hours. Later, sounds were introduced to attract attention, and clock makers used the characters to tell a story. 

The modern era of animatronics began in 1961, when Walt Disney started developing animatronics for entertainment and film. Disney and his "imagineers" created a 9-inch tall Dancing Man figurine. Though primitive by today's standards, the little man captured people's attention and got the animatronic ball rolling. Advances in robotics, programming, rapid-prototyping, surfacing materials and techniques make today's animatronic characters more lifelike than ever before. Movement and control of the animatronic figures can mimic natural life to an uncanny extent, tricking the eye. Thanks to animatronics, modern filmmakers can create creatures and characters that have physical presence and a palpable reality. And though advances in the digital arts allow today's filmmakers to depict astouding and impossible beings visually, there is still no comparison to having an animatronic. These characters exist in an unquestionable, substantial way. They can occupy the same space as the actors in a film and impact their environment more than any collection of pixels, however realistically rendered. They seem 'real' because they ARE real.


Pictured above: Review of animatronics world by Custom Entertainment Solutions (CES) Inc.

Though the adaptabilty and variations possible with digital animation has somewhat curtailed the use of animatronics in recent years, certain studios and filmmakers are starting to champion the technique once again. Thanks to institutions such as The Stan Winston School of Character Arts, the once arcane processes that had to be invented by genius mechanics are now widely available to anyone with an internet connection. Through lessons and behind-the-scenes case studies, the next generation of filmmakers can gain insight and learn character creation, including design, life-castingsculptingmold making and painting. Students not just in Hollywood but worldwide can learn and appreciate the art and technology of animatronics/mechanics and electronics. And these tutorials don't stop at making machines. Every aspect of physical character creation is covered: model makingspecial effects makeup, fabrication, lab working, hair working, and filmmaking as well. 

The artist/instructors at the SWSCA are the Renaissance artists of today. They are dedicated to teaching, promoting and fostering innovation in the arts and sciences of character creation. Through their work and lessons, they keep the legacy of practical effects alive so that it may continue to enhance the entertainment experience for us all. 

- Balázs Földesi

For more animatronics behind-the-scenes:

Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park 1-3 Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio.

Giant Robot befriends Little Girl at Comic-Con 2013

How to Make a Giant Creature - The Webseries

Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

A Zombie Dog, FX Filmmaking and Imagination - Making the Macabre World of Lavender Williams


Chestburster Behind-the-Scenes and Building Full-Size Alien Queen Puppet


Terminator 2 - An Interview with Stan Winston and Terminator 2 - The new T-800s,

Terminator 3 - The First Terminators and Terminator Salvation - T-600 Puppet Test


SMALL SOLDIERS - Creating the Ultimate Toys and Rehearsing a Puppet Battle


CONSTANTINE - Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE - "Lestat bites Rat" Test


INSTINCT - Gorilla Suit Test with Verne Troyer (aka Mini-Me)

SPIDER MAN - Green Goblin Makeup Test by Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

AVATAR: Species of Pandora - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio - Part One

AVATAR: Species of Pandora - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio - Part One

by Balázs Földesi 


Before James Cameron left for his 1995 undersea expedition to the Titanic, his 80-page treatment for AVATAR was already complete, but the necessary technology did not exist to achieve his story and vision. AVATAR gathered dust till early 2005, when advances in digital technology made it possible to tell the story the way he imagined. Under the code name of "Project 880" which was a "retooled version of AVATAR," the conceptual process began, along with the technical research and development.

James Cameron himself made the first sketches for the different creatures that he imagined might populate Pandora, his new world. Based on those images, as well as reference from the natural world culled from National Geographic photos, botany books and nature documentaries, a core group of artists including Wayne BarloweYuri BartoliJordu Schell and Neville Page began producing hundreds of pencil-and-paper drawings. In mid 2005, Stan Winston Studio also joined the conceptual and character development process working on the viperwolf, direhorse and the banshee’s head.

Pictured above: Different thanator concepts by Stan Winston Studio's Scott Patton.

Every drawing had to be approved by James Cameron before rendering to Photoshop. Once a rendering was approved by the director, it was transferred from a 2D concept to a 3D digital sculpt in ZBrush. In some cases, clay models were also sculpted and used for visualizing the designs and to provide lighting reference.


The organic structures of the Pandoran flora and fauna, the landscapes, and the overall planet Pandora itself all had design origins on the planet Earth. Every Pandoran creature and plant had earthly counterparts, sometimes in hybrid forms. James Cameron's earliest inspirations for the predatory creatures included super-slick, aerodynamic bodies and race-car-looking patterns, including racing stripes. Some of the creatures were designed with special breathing holes located in the trachea, echoing the intake valves of high-performance sports cars.

Pictured above: Different color schemes for a viperwolf by Jim Charmatz from Stan Winston Studio.

Another early concept was that Pandora's animals would have six limbs rather than the Earthly norm of four. ILM successfully animated a six-legged viperwolf hunting. The extra legs looked appropriately graceful and powerful in motion, so all of the terrestrial creatures got six limbs and these extra limbs led the design team to incorporate an extra pair of wings on the flying creatures. 


The direhorse was intended to be a creature that Na'vi warriors use for riding and hunting. Conceived as a sort of horse crossed with a dinosaur, it had to incorporate reptilian aspects while maintaining a horse's natural grace and glory. The main terrestrial inspiration for the designers was the Clydesdale horse with its massive scale and strength.

Pictured above:  Direhorse clay maquette by Chris Swift.

Based on Wayne Barlowe's concept, Christopher Swift sculpted the final direhorse maquette. Joseph C. Pepe did design modifications and color designs in Photoshop that ended up serving as the final design scheme for the movie.

Pictured above: Color paint over a photo of the direhorse maquette in Adobe Photoshop by Joe C. Pepe. 

As with all the terrestrial creatures, getting the six legs to work together and make them seem natural and still beautiful and graceful was one of the greatest challenges. The animators ultimately achieved a natural-looking gallop by coupling the front four legs, but off-setting the movement of the first pair by a few degrees.


The most feared land predator on Pandora is the thanator, similar to a Terrain panther. Originally thanator was called manticore. This was the only design where James Cameron did not have a complete vision in his head. Designing this animal took months and hundreds of illustrations.

Pictured above: One of the proposed sketches for a manticore.

Pictured above: One of the many thanator designs by Scott Patton.

Pictured above: Thanator sculpture by Jason Matthews from Stan Winston Studio.

The name was changed to thanator; and James Cameron himself took on the final design late in the production. Neville Page fleshed-out the design and built it as a Zbrush model.


The lean body and graceful motion of the mink inspired the design of the viperwolf. Jim Charmatz rendered the concept artwork in Photoshop, then Scott Patton did a 3D model of the head in ZBrush. 

Pictured above: Clay sculpture of the viperwolf by Jason Matthews.

Pictured above: The "life-size" viperwolf puppet.

Stan Winston Studio created a viperwolf puppet scaled to human proportions used for the scene in which viperwolves chase Jake through the forest. The puppet was strapped to calibrators and had patterns that the mocap system could recognize for integration into the scene and to guide the animation. This puppet had the necessary "viperwolf weight" to help sell the illustion of weight and actual impact with actor Sam Worthington in the scene when this beast knocks Jake down.


The concept of lower gravity on Pandora was the justifcation for the evolution of giant fliers like banshee or the great leonopteryx. Both creatures were conceived as bird-like four-winged aerial predators, extremely colorful and very bright. 

Pictured above: Banshee jaw in different positions to illustrate the articulation by Scott Patton. 

The references and inspiration for the banshee (and the giant leonopteryx, too) came from sea creatures such as manta rays, skates and the great white shark. While sea-creature biology informed the profiles and bodies of the flying creatures, their aerodynamic and hydrodynamic characteristics incorporated the most current thinking of the way extinct species such as plesiosaurs and pterosaurs moved through water and air. But the most unique feature of the banshee was the articulation and mechanics of its mouth and teeth.

Pictured above: Banshee head by Scott Patton. The mouth has a two-part upper section that would pull back as rows of the teeth moved forward. 

Skin of both the banshee and the great leonopteryx has a wide range of complex color schemes based on Earth animals, like poison dart frogs and monarch butterflies. Their wings were a mixture of bird and bat wings. And while banshee has only vestigial legs, the great leonopteryx legs are not vestigial at all!

Pictured above: Stan Winston Studio built a practical model of the banshee, used as a guide and reference for CGI works by Weta Digital.


Artists designed every creature with detailed renderings, from the smallest insect to the largest beasts of land and air.

Pictured above: Crawler by Scott Patton. 

"Designing using the computer whether using 2D Photoshop or 3D sculptures enabled us to nail down what Jim [Cameron] wanted in a more efficient manner than in the past. We worked out a nice design presentation with Jim that was, I feel, very effective. It was always challenging in a positive way, as Jim always brings out and expects the best from you as an artist and you feel like you are working on something very special." - SWS Supervisor, co-owner Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant

Learn design techniques like the ones used for AVATAR.






Creating CONSTANTINE's Demons from Hell - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio

Creating CONSTANTINE's Demons from Hell - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio


Stan Winston Studio created a variety of demonic (and heavenly) characters for CONSTANTINE (2005), directed by Francis Lawrence and adapted from the 1985 DC and Vertigo horror comic, HELLBLAZER, including demons, victims possessed by demons, and a winged angel.


The main character, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) interacts with many different types of Hell’s inhabitants. To achieve the desired visual style, these demons had to seem to exist for real. The inspiration for the design of many of these characters, including the scavenger and seplavite demons, came from the art world and real-life autopsy photographs instead of relying on typical medieval-era depictions of demons.

Stan Winston Studio concept artist Aaron Sims designed both the scavenger and the seplavite demons in the computer. The designs were then realized in the real world as computer-milled sculptures.

Pictured above: Left - in-progress seplavite. Right - Finished silicone seplavite by Jason Matthews, Rob Ramsdell and Trevor Hensley. This physical creature provided real-world lighting and texture reference for the CGI modelers and animators.

Although the flying seplavite would be brought to life via CGI, the scavenger demon was a fully articulated puppet with radio-controlled face, jaw mechanisms and cable-controlled fingers, operated on set by six puppeteers.

Pictured above: Left - Scavenger sketches. Right - Aaron Sims design for scavenger.

Pictured above: John Rosengrant rehearses with an animatronic scavenger demon puppet on the set of CONSTANTINE.


Another demon appearing in the film is ‘Vermin Man.' Although this creature would eventually be animated digitally, the filmmakers wanted to shoot a physical character on set, which Stan Winston’s crew realized as a Vermin Man mask and suit. 

Pictured above: Aaron Sims designs for Vermin Man.

Surreal paintings by 16th century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo inspired the look of 'Vermin Man.' Arcimboldo's work depicted characters formed entirely out of fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books; 'Vermin Man' was made up of snakes, rats, crabs and about 20 different types of insects. Real bugs, worms and snakes were molded, cast in clay and then added to the sculpture.

Pictured above: Left - SWS key artist, Trevor Hensley's 'Vermin Man' sculpture. Right - Trevor Hensley adds final touches to 'Vermin Man' (Larry Cedar) before cameras roll.


A number of prosthetic makeups were created for the film. In the prologue, the drifter who finds an ancient relic (portrayed by Jesse Ramirez), wears a subtle transformation makeup. The possessed young girl (Jhoanna Trias) wore a gelatin prosthetic.

Pictured above: Concept art for the possessed girl.

In collaboration with CONSTANTINE's makeup department head, Ve Neill, the Stan Winston crew provided dentures, contact lenses and full-body airbrush painting. The crew also built an articulated head-and-shoulders dummy of the unconscious girl for a brief cut in which the scavenger demon within pushes through her skin. SWS mechanics gave the puppet nostril movement, an internal 'breathing' device, and mechanical eye twitching beneath her closed eyelids.

Pictured above: SWS artist Joey Orosco sculpts a prosthetic makeup for actress Barbara Pilavin. Forensic photos of a three-week-old corpse were used for reference.

Stan Winston Studio artists also collaborated with Ve Neill, Joel Harlow and a team of fifteen assisting makeup artists to create prosthetic effects for a subsequent scene in a hydrotherapy room, where nearly eighty 'half-breed' characters are destroyed by holy water pumped through a sprinkler system.

Pictured above: Dummy for the demon Amin (Tanoai Reed) who disintegrates after being hit with a shotgun blast of holy water.

Shane Mahan and Chris Swift designed the disintegration as a physical effect, sculpting Tanoai Reed’s body from a cyberscan and casting a replica in plaster. The plaster body was hollowed out, painted and filled with a skeleton, internal organs and ten gallons of black goo. The loaded dummy was raised thirteen feet above the studio floor, and then released to explode upon impact.

Pictured above: A silicone replica of actress Rachel Weisz, constructed by Dave Grasso & Nick Marra and painted by Trevor Hensley & John Cherevka. In addition to the 'possessed' scene, this figure was used for the deceased twin scenes as well.

Pictured above: Rachel Weisz wears prosthetic makeup in her possessed state, which included a forehead piece without eyebrows, demonic teeth, black contact lenses and veined, pallid body makeup.


The Stan Winston crew created a two-stage silicone prosthetic makeup for the scene in which the face of the half-breed demon, Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) dissolves upon contact with holy water.

Pictured above: Left - Shane Mahan sculpted Aaron Sim’s design onto a lifecast of Gavin Rossdale. Right - Gavin Rossdale wears the prosthetic makeup on set.

Stage one included torn skin revealing underlying areas of demon flesh; stage two was a more extensive makeup with overlapping teeth and a shriveled left eye.


Pictured above: Stan Winston Studio created Mammon as an articulated silicone puppet, based on an Aaron Sims design, sculpted and painted by Joey Orosco.

A full-scale (five-foot-ten-inch) Mammon puppet was fitted with a smile mechanism and an articulated rod-puppet armature. Tippett Studio used photographs and cyberscans of the puppet to create a digital version of the character.


Director Francis Lawrence didn't want the wings to look like typical white angel wings, but rather dark bird wings. Stan Winston Studio created feathered mechanical wings and ESC generated the wings in CGI.

Pictured above: Tilda Swinton is fitted with feathered, mechanical angel wings for her role.

“What was enjoyable about working with Francis Lawrence on CONSTANTINE was that his thinking was counter to the way most people think about these types of demonic creatures. They weren’t the usual creatures with big fangs and all of that. They were horrifying, but also pathetic. I really liked that.” – SWS Supervisor, co-owner Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant

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


CHARACTER MAKEUP - Sculpture Breakdown & Moldmaking - Part One
CHARACTER MAKEUP - Sculpture Breakdown & Moldmaking - Part Two
CREATURE DESIGN - Maquette Painting Techniques
CREATURE DESIGN - How to Sculpt Character Maquettes
PAINTING SILICONE SKIN - Realistic Flesh Tones
OUT OF THE KIT - Makeup Effects

The "Original" Predator - Jean-Claude Van Damme

The "Original" Predator - Jean-Claude Van Damme


Makeup FX legend Steve Johnson (GHOSTBUSTERS, SPECIES, BLADE 2) recently sat down with us for our first episode of THE MONSTER SHOW. With his usual mix of candor and comedy, Steve covered the highs and lows of his award-winning career, including his nightmare stint as Boss Films' Creature FX supervisor on the first ill-fated PREDATOR suit, worn by Belgian martial artist and aspiring action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Enjoy the video excerpt below and check out the full interview HERE.

Matt Winston


Matt Winston: Let's talk about Predator.

Steve Johnson: Oh my God, are we really going to do this?

Matt: Of course, it's one of the most iconic characters in the world. Let's talk about that job ...

Steve: Lead me, help me.

Matt: Let's start simple.

Steve: Let's start easy.

Matt: You're pitched this creature. We've got to pull this thing off. What are we going to do?

Steve: 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: (Left) Mechanical sketches for the Boss Films Predator. (Right) Predator design by Luc Mayrand for Robert Short Productions between Boss Films and Stan Winston's involvement.

Steve: It was ahead of its time, let's put it that way. 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.

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

Steve: They wanted to just tell the guy to hop around like a frog 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.

Pictured above: Belgian martial artist Van Damme hoped playing Predator would make him a star.

Steve: 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.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme goes through the life-casting process at Boss Films.

Steve: Jean-Claude comes in and we're fitting him in this red suit and just assuming, like the slaves that we are, that the higher ups have told him exactly what's going on. But he thought this was actually the real look of the monster in the movie and he was, "I hate this. I hate this. I hate it. I look like a superhero." He was so angry. 

Pictured above: Director John McTiernan tries on the red fabric-covered "Invisibility Suit."

Steve: I'm like, "Jean-Claude, did no one tell you? It's a cloaking device. You're invisible for half of the picture. This is not you." Which made him even angrier because he thought he could do his martial arts, he could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger. Impossible. Absolutely Impossible.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme performs in the red "Invisibility Cloak" suit.

Steve: He didn't realize that he was just kind of a stunt man, right? We get him out there for the first shot and he's just seething.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme as the "original" Predator on location in the Mexican jungle.

Steve: We got him 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: Jean-Claude Van Damme would never wear a monster suit after his experience as the "original" Predator.

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


FULL INTERVIEW -  "The Monster Show" with Steve Johnson




The Monster Show March 6th with FX legend Steve Johnson

The Monster Show March 6th with FX legend Steve Johnson


Check out our new Interactive Live Webcast, THE MONSTER SHOW! For our first episode we talked to the mad scientist of Creature FX, Steve Johnson (GHOSTBUSTERS, THE ABYSS, SPECIES).

Our 2 hour conversation covered Steve's award-winning monster making career and his upcoming no-holds-barred autobiography about life in the FX trenches, RUBBERHEAD.


Matt Winston

JURASSIC PARK 2: THE LOST WORLD - Compy Dinosaur Attack

JURASSIC PARK 2: THE LOST WORLD - Compy Dinosaur Attack


THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK introduces the Compsognathus (Compy), a chicken-sized dinosaur and the first dino to be seen in the movie in a chilling encounter with a young girl on the beach.

The Compys return for more mayhem in a later scene in which a pack of them attacks hunter Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare).


Although the Compys that are first seen running in the forest and jumping onto Stormare were computer animated, the actual attack on the hunter was accomplished almost entirely with practical puppets.

Pictured Above: Dieter Stark puts up a fight against a pack of hungry Compys.


Stan Winston Studio built a dozen Compy puppets, of four different types, to create the range of behaviors required in the scene.

Pictured Above: The Compys were made out of foam latex over a wire frame.

“Very often, producers will say, ‘Just make a general puppet,’” said Shane Mahan long-time SWS Supervisor and co-founder of Legacy Effects. “It costs them less to have us build one puppet that can do a handful of general things; but making a general puppet is never as good as making different puppets that can perform specific functions really well.”

Pictured Above: SWS mechanics Chris Colquhoun & Jon Dawe developed a tiny blink mechanism for the Compys.


One type of Compy puppet was attached to the actor by velcro, and rigged with a fishing line that ran to a controller. By tugging on that controller, the puppeteer created a pecking motion.

Pictured Above: Some of the Compys were attached to the vest worn beneath the actor's clothes.

Another type of Compy puppet featured high-powered magnets on its feet to adhere the puppet to the actor’s clothes, which had attracting magnets sewn into them, allowing for shots of the character grabbing Compys and pulling them off. The mechanical crew inserted springs into the magnet Compy to give it a bit of neck movement.

Pictured Above: A stunt man rehearses the attack sequence a final test.


The "Hero" Compys were mechanized with servos to create full head movement, with pneumatic eye blinks and tail movement. The featured hero Compy had all the same functions, plus fully articulated arms that could grab at the actor while attacking.

Pictured Above: The featured hero Compy bites Dieter's lip - the effect made people on set cringe.


Stan Winston himself was impressed with the final effect in the movie. “Some of these puppets were very simple,” Winston said, “strings and springs, basically. But they worked beautifully. Between those simple puppets and the more mechanized ones, we were able to create this violent cacophony of Compy performance.

The scene is so chilling, it actually was listed as the 2nd most horrific death in the Jurassic Park Trilogy by Next Movie.

-Jody Duncan



More JURASSIC PARK stuff from Stan Winston School:


THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK - Animatronic Raptor Rehearsal

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK - Raptor Suit Running Rehearsal

JURASSIC PARK - The Evolution of a Raptor Suit with John Rosengrant

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

JURASSIC PARK - Animatronic T-Rex Rehearsal - On Set with Stan Winston

JURASSIC PARK'S SPITTER - Building the Animatronic Dilophosaurus Dinosaur Puppet

JURASSIC PARK's Brachiosaurus Animatronic Puppet Chewing Test

SMALL SOLDIERS Behind-the-Scenes - Creating the Ultimate Toys at Stan Winston Studio

SMALL SOLDIERS Behind-the-Scenes - Creating the Ultimate Toys at Stan Winston Studio


For the 1998 film, SMALL SOLDIERS, Stan Winston Studio began designing the toy characters, on paper and in sculptures, a mere five months prior to the start of filming. Due to a deal with Hasbro to mass-produce a SMALL SOLDIERS toy line, and the necessity for the film’s release to be timed precisely with the debut of that toy line, every aspect of the production was subjected to a similarly tight schedule. The making of the film was such a seat-of-the-pants affair, Joe Dante would later call SMALL SOLDIERS ‘the first improv big-budget effects picture.’

Pictured above: Mark Jurinko paints Link Static, a commando character from SMALL SOLDIERS. 


For their design, Winston set up a kind of creative free-for-all within the studio, letting key artists loose to draw as many designs as they cared to. The project gave newer designers, in particular, an opportunity to shine. “Being a new designer at Stan Winston Studio was tough at first,” commented Jim Charmatz, one of those newer artists who got his first shot to design a character for Small Soldiers. “Because Mark "Crash" McCreery was so well established here, it was hard to make your mark as a new designer. But on this show, there was such a tremendous amount of stuff to be designed, a lot of us got a chance to work on it. I was one of about seven people who started right in designing Gorgonites and Commandos.”

Pictured above: Joey Orosco matches one of many ‘Archer’ heads to the paint-master.


After the artists had generated literally hundreds of drawings, Winston narrowed the designs down to those he liked best. Concepts were narrowed further with Joe Dante, Hasbro and executive producer Steven Spielberg. Once an artist’s design had been chosen and approved, the designer was allowed to follow that character through, doing the final sculpting, painting and then on-set puppeteering. John Rosengrant — who had sculpted miniature military figures as a hobby since his teen years — took personal responsibility for two of the leading Commandos, Chip and Kip. “I had a blast designing and sculpting and painting those characters. And, overall, I think my experience with military miniatures really helped us on this show.”

Pictured above: John Rosengrant details the Kip Killigan paint master for SMALL SOLDIERS.

Similarly, Jim Charmatz was allowed to follow his Slam-Fist character — a design he’d sketched in only ten minutes, as an afterthought — all the way through to the end. “I got to design it, sculpt it, help make it work mechanically, design the paint job on the computer, then paint it and actually puppeteer it on the set. That was a great opportunity.”

Pictured above: Jim Charmatz paints his animatronic character, Slam-Fist, as Charles Ratteray assists.


The puppeteers’ status as real actors on the set extended to their providing temporary voices for their characters, speaking the lines of dialogue and vocalizing necessary grunts and howls. “Having us do the voices while they were shooting gave the actors real personalities to act against,” said Rosengrant. “I personally did the voices of Link Static and Slam-Fist. And a few of my on-set sounds actually made it into the final movie. Other than that, my dialogue was replaced with real voice actors.”

Pictured above: Ian Stevenson paints his Punch-It character.


The film's director, Joe Dante, speaking of Stan Winston said, “When you get into the world Stan’s in, you find it generally populated by movie fans — guys who really loved these pictures when they were kids and always wanted to build monsters and play monsters and get into the world of special effects. Stan is no exception. I met him right after he directed PUMPKINHEAD, which was a pretty cool little movie. But I didn’t actually get to work with him until Small Soldiers, and by then he had created this empire. We’d make a pilgrimage over to his studio a couple of times a week to watch their progress. It was very time consuming and labor intensive to design so many characters and create them in a way that made them look alive. It was intense, but Stan made it fun.”

Pictured above: A partially disassembled Archer puppet. 


Winston learned a lot about the toy business through his close association with Hasbro throughout the making of the film. “We found out what it really takes to make a great toy, to make it stand out on the shelf. We learned how the joints of toys worked, all the mechanics that go into them. The whole thing was an education; and we helped to create a toy line that was extremely successful for Hasbro. In fact, ultimately, sales for the SMALL SOLDIERS toys out-performed the movie.”

-Jody Duncan



Creature Creators on the News! - KTLA's Allie Mac Kay Visits Legacy Effects

Creature Creators on the News! - KTLA's Allie Mac Kay Visits Legacy Effects

Hey Monster Fans,

With Halloween around the corner, Creature FX artists are making the news! This morning, our friends at Legacy Effects revealed some of their movie magic for millions of Southern California TV viewers  when KTLA Morning News' Allie Mac Kay paid a visit to their mind-blowing Character Creation studio. Check out all three segments by clicking the video players below.

For more from Legacy Effects, be sure to check out their Website and YouTube Channel and don't forget to download Legacy's iMut8r App to tranform yourself on your smartphone just in time for Halloween!

-Matt Winston

Pictured above: Left - KTLA's Allie Mac Kay checks out Legacy's design room. Right - Legacy co-founder Alan Scott reveals the man inside the Giant Robot Mech, Bruce D. Mitchell.

Pictured above: Left - Allie gets mutated courtesy of Legacy's iMut8r app. Right - Hanging in the Legacy display room.

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

Photo by Anthony Plascencia,VENTURA COUNTY STAR.


By Mark Sawicki

I am always pleasantly surprised to find people creating creatures everywhere I go. In this case I found a creature just down from where I live at the Channel Islands Harbor named Chippy.  Chippy is the brainchild of Mike Lamm who owns the Channel Island Kayak center out here in Oxnard. Mike is a former pro surfer who converted his surf store to a Kayak center to take advantage of tourists wanting to explore the fabulous Channel Islands. As Lamm learned more about the islands he became fascinated with the fact that huge pre-historic mammoths once came to the islands in search of food. Some of the creatures stayed behind but over time, due to the limited food supply, the offspring of the original mammoths evolved to pygmy-size--a variant that only existed on the Channel Islands. 

Mike, finding that Winter was a challenging time for his tours due to weather conditions, wanted to create an attraction that could be explored near shore on the mainland, hence "Chippy" was born. Chippy is an acronym of sorts for Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth. Chippy is a 5-foot tall animatronic recreation of the pre-historic animal. Creature wizard Ron Pardini of CIFX built it. Ron was generous enough to share his experience in an online interview along with some cool pictures. Here are Ron's words of wisdom.

Pictured above: Ron Pardini (in the hat) and Dana Namen (no hat) at CIFX pose with the mammoth they call, "Chippy" a near acronym for Channel Islands Pygmy-Mammoth.


RON PARDINI: I accidentally entered the field of special effects while in college. I was heavily involved in the drama department at Whittier College, at the time it was an extremely small department and I was basically running the props department. We were doing THE BACCHAE, an ancient Greek tragic play, and the director wanted to have a severed head for the end of the play. I thought it would be cool to try and make a head that resembled the actor rather than use some make-up/hair practice dummy head. I got a book, purchased some materials and proceeded to "wing it." The faux head ended up turning out pretty cool and one of my friends approached me after the show and asked if I knew of "the special effects guy" who had a shop in Uptown Whittier. I wandered down to "the guy's" shop and proceeded to work my way into an internship with Steve Patino (PREDATOR, THE MONSTER SQUAD, PUMPKINHEAD) of SPFX, Inc.

Whittier College was really cool and allowed me to design a program wherein I could work for Mr. Patino and learn the trade and turn in a sort of diary of my experiences and earn credits towards my degree. From that point on I spent the next 10 years working in the movie industry. Then, in the mid 90's, CGI was sort of starting to take off and the movie industry was no longer supporting as many special effects artists, so at that point I jumped over to the theme park industry. Currently I work on theme parks, an occasional movie, create custom work for churches, and am heavily involved in the haunted attraction industry. 

Pictured above: A selection of images from The Haunted Vinyard, an annual Halloween experience that ran from 2002 through 2005 with effects by Ron Pardini's CIFX.


MARK SAWICKI: How did you first hear about this project?

RON PARDINI: I met Mike Lamm through a friend Mike Traxler. Mike Traxler owns a custom plastics and tooling company and Mike Lamm had approached him looking for a couple of skulls to enhance a kayak tour he had created. Mike T. sent Mr. Lamm to me because he knew I created really authentic looking faux skulls. Since then Mike Lamm has continued to grow his harbor tour and CIFX has been there to help him with each expansion. 

Pictured above: Step one: the finished urethane foam-carved sculpture of Chippy, the pygmy mammoth.


RON PARDINI: The biggest challenge with creating Chippy was designing and creating a prop, which could be mobile so that he could be moved into a safe location every night and then set-up each day for the tours. Normally, a prop of this sort would be permanently installed. Since we were creating a creature that actually once existed, we wanted it to be a "true-to-life" example of the pygmy mammoth. We researched both the pygmy and normal versions of mammoths from this area. We looked at photos of skeletons, renderings, and even found some pictures of actual mummified mammoths. We also visited the La Brea Tar Pits to view samples of other artist's versions of mammoths. In the end we chose specific aspects from several differentpictures/illustrations and created a composite mammoth that we felt best depicted the pygmy mammoth.  

From the get go, we knew we wanted to include some sort of animation to help bring Chippy to life. Originally, Chippy was designed to be mobile so that he could be pushed out and set up in the morning and then pulled back into a safe and secure location in the evenings. Normally we use pneumatics or hydraulics to create our movements, but due to the location, the necessity to keep Chippy mobile, and our desire to keep the project within the established budget, we ended up having to use small electric motors to provide our animation. Since we knew that Chippy would be a fair distance away from the viewers, the movement had to be sort of blatant to ensure the viewers would see it (hence no eye blinks, or other subtle facial movements). We felt a head turn would be the best motion that we could achieve within the given parameters.  

Pictured above: Rather than do a sculpture in clay, Chippy's form was achieved through foam fabrication. Here, Dana Namen sculpts urethane foam. Ron Pardini also sculpted.

RON PARDINI: Chippy was sculpted from a big block of urethane foam. Once sculpted, we applied a detail coat (catalyzed automotive primer) to seal the foam and provide a protective "candy shell". We then had FRP (Fiberglass-Reinforced Plastic) tools made from the sculpture and followed that up by having FRP parts pulled from the tools.

Chippy is primarily constructed of FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic). The final version of Chippy is a hollow Fiberglass figure with a welded steel internal structure. This is a pretty common way of creating figures. Because Chippy is located in a marine environment, we took several steps to minimize corrosion of the internal structure. We sealed all of the structural metal, utilized stainless steel hardware, and housed all of the electronic equipment in a watertight box. 

Pictured above: A synthetic fur discovered in Los Angeles' renowned garment district provides a lifelike surface to the fiberglass structure of the creature.


RON PARDINI: We spent a lot of time trying to locate appropriate fur for Chippy. We ended up using a synthetic fur that we discovered in the Fabric district in downtown LA. 

The look of the segmented sections of Chippy's trunk partially covered with fur was actually an artistic detail that was added to emulate pictures from a mummified mammoth that we came across. On the real mammoth carcass, the trunk was not completely covered in fur, but rather had fur growing out from between the creases on the trunk. 

MARK SAWICKI: What kind of maintenance is involved for Chippy?

RON PARDINI: We tried to keep Chippy relatively low maintenance. Pretty much just the main concern is the motor and we chose a pretty heavy-duty motor with the hopes that it would not need a lot of maintenance. As for the outer look of Chippy...eventually his fur and paint will need touch-ups, but we expect it to last a good five or more years before that is needed, besides Chippy is a mammoth after all, so if he gets to be a little ratty it will just help make him look that much more authentic!

Pictured above: Welder Henry Perez looks on as Armondo Estrada makes an adjustment. Ron Pardini and his crew chose a heavy-duty motor to drive this custom prop. With luck, Ron says, it might last "a good five or more" years.


RON PARDINI: The sculpture took a couple weeks to complete. The tooling and fabrication portion was an additional couple of week’s worth of work. Another week to fit/clean-up the FRP, fabricate the frame, and install the electronics. The figure finishing (paintwork and hair) took another 3-4 days. All in all, it was a little over a month worth of work, but due to scheduling difficulties and navigating through a couple of unexpected "issues" along the way it ended up taking about three months from start to finish. 

Pictured above: Henry Perez from CIFX welds the steel undestructure that support the Pygmy Mammoth as well as the internal mechanisms that give the prop movement. 


MARK SAWICKI: Were toxic materials needed to withstand the environmental challenges?

RON PARDINI: Yes, though only to protect the steel under structure. We would have used FRP regardless. It is always unpleasant to work with FRP. Whether it is creating the tools, laying-up the parts, or cutting and fitting the finished pieces, you have to be protected from head to toe. We wear jump suit cover-ups, latex gloves, protective eye gear, and chemical respirators at all times. It is nasty work, but the end result can last for decades. 

Pictured above: Detail of tusk, fur and eye for Chippy the pygmy mammoth as his creator, Ron Pardini, gets him ready for a rugged role as the main winter attraction in a Channel Islands Kayak tour.


MARK SAWICKI: When Chippy moves is he on a pre-programmed track or is he manipulated live with radio control?

RON PARDINI: Chippy's movements are pre-programmed and activated via a remote control switch.

MARK SAWICKI: Are you seeing more of these types of attractions taken on by small to mid size companies?

RON PARDINI: Well, yes and no. Many of the "smaller" themed parks (water parks, goofy golfing, etc.) seem to be looking to increase their theming, but this was definitely a first. Mike Lamm is breaking the mold on what people expect from a kayaking company. He has a clear vision of what he wants to create and has the ambition to go out and make it happen "one baby step at a time" as he likes to say. 

Pictured above: The finished head of Chippy, the pygmy mammoth...ready to make his debut on the Kayak Tour.

Chippy can be found at the Channel Islands Kayak center at 3600 S. Harbor Blvd. suite 213 in Oxnard, CA.  You can also find the center on Facebook.

Ron's effects shop, CIFX Corp, is at located at 9830 Jersey Avenue, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670. Ron even has an Esty shop Macabre Creations where he sells his custom Halloween themed goodies.

- Mark Sawicki

Mark Sawicki is the author of  “Filming the Fantastic” and “Animating with Stop Motion Pro” published by Focal Press.  He is proud to be a lesson creator for the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

CLICK here to see Mark's lesson on Stop-Motion Character Performance and Rear Projection.

CLICK here to see Mark's lesson on Mirror-Magic - Visual Effects Using Reflections.

More SWSCA BLOGS from Mark Sawicki:

Axtell Expressions - Puppet Performance and Puppetry from Design to Delivery

Stop-Motion bread monster aka "BREADWICH" terrorizes puppet-town for TOGO's

TERMINATOR SALVATION - T-600 Blown Apart Puppet Rehearsal

TERMINATOR SALVATION - T-600 Blown Apart Puppet Rehearsal


By Matt Winston

TERMINATOR SALVATION introduced a host of new Terminator models, from aquatic hydrobots to hulking T-600s, and director McG was eager to realize them using the same blend of Practical Effects and CGI that had given the cyborg assassins of the first three films their gritty, tactile realism.

Pictured above: (Left) John Rosengrant and Christian Bale wrestle a Hydrobot puppet. (Right) New Terminators for a new Terminator film.


In designing the T-600's the idea was to construct a much more primitive looking character than the sleek T-800, T-1000 and T-X from the earlier films. Comparing Terminator evolution to human evolution, John Rosengrant, co-founder of Legacy Effects and 25-year Stan Winston Studio supervisor, said, "The T-600 was kind of the neanderthal version" of the T-800.

Pictured above: T-600 designs by Scott Patton. (Left) Early T-600 rendering to get the feel of the character. (Right) Completed head design.


To give life to the T-600's the Stan Winston Studio crew, led by Rosengrant, relied on a combination of techniques, both old and new. "The [blown apart T-600] puppet was created as a rod puppet with RC head movement and jaw," said Rosengrant. "Where there were advancements with this puppet came really from new materials that were stronger and lighter. [The T-600's] hands were articulated cable-controlled hands. That technology hasn't really changed that much other than the look of it. But it's still very effective."

Pictured above: (Left) John Cherevka details damaged T-600 heads. (Right) David Merritt puppeteers the T-600's cable-controlled hand.


But all the work that went into creating these new Terminators would have meant nothing if they weren't able to perform, on set, with the clock ticking and a brutal production schedule to keep up with. "We started rehearsing with Christian Bale's stunt double so that we would get this down before we worked with Christian on the day," recalled Rosengrant. "Like any puppet performance it becomes a matter of choreography and everybody getting very familiar with their role and what they have to add into it to bring it to life."

Pictured above: T-600 puppet rehearsal with Christian Bale's stunt double. (Right) Richard Landon, sitting, puppeteers the T-600's RC controlled jaw.


Their preparation paid off, resulting in one of TERMINATOR SALVATION's most memorable sequences. "John Connor (Christian Bale) thinks he's killed [the T-600]," recounted Rosengrant. "He empties the clip into it and then pushes it off of him and then, in typical Terminator fashion, it comes back at him."

Pictured above: John Connor (Christian Bale) struggles with a tenacious T-600 puppet.


"When we were first brought in by McG to work on TERMINATOR SALVATION, he was really a proponent of getting the live action," said Rosengrant. "He wanted to tie in his movie with the previous three so that there was a seamless connection to the past."

-Matt Winston


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