Winston, a frequent collaborator with director James Cameron, owned several effects studios, including Stan Winston Digital. The established areas of expertise for Winston were in makeup, puppets and practical effects, but he had recently expanded his studio to encompass digital effects as well.
Winston was born on April 7, 1946, in Arlington, Virginia to a Jewish family, where he graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1964. He studied painting and sculpture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from which he graduated in 1968.
In 1969, after attending California State University, Long Beach, Winston moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor. Struggling to find an acting job, he began a makeup apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios.
In 1972, Winston established his own company, Stan Winston Studio, and won an Emmy Award for his effects work on the telefilm Gargoyles. Over the next seven years, Winston continued to receive Emmy Award nominations for work on projects and won another for 1974's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Winston also created the Wookiee costumes for the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. In 1978 Winston was the Special Make-up Designer for The Wiz.
In 1982, Winston received his first Oscar nomination for Heartbeeps, by which time he had set up his own studio. However, it was his ground-breaking work with Rob Bottin on his update of the science fiction horror classic The Thing that year that brought him to prominence in Hollywood. Between then, he contributed some visual effects to Friday the 13th Part III, in which he made a slightly different head sculpt of Jason in an unused ending.
In 1983, Winston designed the Mr. Roboto facemask for the American rock group Styx.
In 1983 he also worked on the short-lived television series Manimal, for which he created the panther and hawk transformation effects.
Winston reached a new level of fame in 1984 when James Cameron's The Terminator premiered. The movie was a surprise hit, and Winston's work in bringing the titular metallic killing machine to life led to many new projects and additional collaborations with Cameron. In fact, Winston won his first Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1986 on James Cameron's next movie, Aliens.
Over the next few years, Winston and his company received more accolades for its work on many more Hollywood films, including Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, John McTiernan's Predator, Alien Nation, The Monster Squad, and Predator 2.
In 1988, Winston made his directorial debut with the horror movie Pumpkinhead, and won Best First Time Director at the Paris Film Festival. His next directing project was the child-friendly A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990), starring Anthony Michael Hall.
James Cameron drafted Winston and his team once again in 1990, this time for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. T2 premiered in the summer of 1991, and Winston's work on this box office hit won him two more Oscars for Best Makeup Effects and Best Visual Effects.
In 1992, he was nominated with yet another Tim Burton film, this time for Burton's superhero sequel, Batman Returns, where his effects on Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and in delivering Burton's general vision for what was an increasingly Gothic Gotham City earned him more recognition for his work ethic and loyalty to what was an intrinsic ability to bring different directors' ideas to life. It was particularly poignant because for Batman Returns, Winston had to follow on from Anton Furst's earlier work, and recreate change according to what Burton wanted to do differently the next time around.
Winston turned his attention from super villains and cyborgs to dinosaurs when Steven Spielberg enlisted his help to bring Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park to the cinema screen. In 1993, the movie became a blockbuster and Winston won another Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
In 1993, Winston, Cameron and ex-ILM General Manager Scott Ross co-founded Digital Domain, one of the foremost digital and visual effects studios in the world. In 1998, after the box office success of Titanic, Cameron and Winston severed their working relationship with the company and resigned from its board of directors.
Winston and his team continued to provide effects work for many more films and expanded their work into animatronics. Some of Winston's notable animatronics work can be found in The Ghost and the Darkness and T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, James Cameron's 3-D continuation of the Terminator series for the Universal Studios theme park. One of Winston's most ambitious animatronics projects was Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence, which earned Winston another Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
In 1996, Winston directed and co-produced the longest music video of all time, Ghosts, which was based on an original concept of Michael Jackson and Stephen King. The long-form music video presented a number of never before seen visual effects, and promoted music from Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, which went on to become the biggest selling remix album of all time (13 million).
In 2001, Winston, together with Colleen Camp and Samuel Z. Arkoff's son, Lou Arkoff, produced a series of made-for-cable films for Cinemax and HBO. The five films, referred to as Creature Features, were inspired by the titles of AIP monster movies from the 1950s — i.e., Earth vs. the Spider (1958), How to Make a Monster (1958), Day the World Ended (1955), The She-Creature (1956), and Teenage Caveman (1958) — but had completely different plots.
In 2003, Winston was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to speak about his life and career in a public presentation sponsored by The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. The presentation took place on November 15, 2003, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Winston also worked on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
By April 2003, Winston was working on his next project, Jurassic Park IV. By April 2005, Winston said the film was on hold. The film would eventually be released in 2015 titled Jurassic World.
At the time of his death, Winston was working on the sequel Terminator Salvation. Winston designed the original monsters that appeared in the Midway game The Suffering and its sequel, The Suffering: Ties That Bind. He was also helping with his old friend, film director James Cameron and his film Avatar.
Stan Winston died on June 15, 2008, in Malibu, California, after suffering for seven years from multiple myeloma. A spokeswoman reported that he "died peacefully at home surrounded by family." Winston was with his wife and two children, actor Matt Winston and Debbie Winston. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a public speech about his death, and Jon Favreau dedicated his Spike TV Scream Award to him upon receiving the award for Best Sci-Fi Movie for Iron Man. Terminator Salvation starts and ends the credits with a dedication to him, along with Joseph R. Kubicek Sr. After his death, his four supervisors (Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, Alan Scott, Lindsay Macgowan) founded and built their own studio, Legacy Effects, named to honor his memory.
In addition, the Winston family founded the Stan Winston School of Character Arts to "preserve Stan's legacy by inspiring and fostering creativity in a new generation of character creators."
Winston worked with the following directors on more than one film :Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Big Fish)
James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Avatar)
John Carpenter (The Thing, Starman)
Dennis Dugan (The Benchwarmers, You Don't Mess with the Zohan)
Jon Favreau (Zathura, Iron Man)
Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, The Ghost and the Darkness)
Peter Hyams (The Relic, End of Days)
Frank Marshall (Congo, Eight Below)
Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, A.I., War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Robert Zemeckis (Amazing Stories episode "Go to the Head of the Class", What Lies Beneath)
1982: Oscar Nomination For Best Makeup: Heartbeeps
1987: Won Oscar For Best Visual Effects: Aliens
1988: Oscar Nomination For Best Visual Effects: Predator
1991: Oscar Nomination For Best Makeup: Edward Scissorhands
1992: Won 2 Oscars – Best Visual Effects & Best Makeup: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1993: Oscar Nomination For Best Makeup: Batman Returns
1994: Won Oscar For Best Visual Effects: Jurassic Park
1998: Oscar Nomination For Best Visual Effects: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
2002: Oscar Nomination For Best Visual Effects: A.I.
1973: Won Emmy for Outstanding Makeup: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
1974: Won Emmy for Outstanding Makeup: Gargoyles