Sunday, June 26, 2011

Part 32: 19201 Parthenia Street, Northridge, California

I believe Bill Sturgeon set up my interview with Stan Winston.  I don't recall speaking to anyone prior to my visit like a receptionist or another employee; I was to meet Stan on July 12, 1985 for a portfolio interview. didn't happen.

Recall, I didn't have a car in those days and I was the victim of Los Angeles Public Transportation.  Without computers, or cell phones, you would have to call the L.A.P.T. hotline, give them your starting point and ending point, and then they would supply you with bus numbers and pick up times to coordinate your commute.  I was about to find out how fragile that system was.

Tracy had gone to California State University, Northridge to look into enrolling in the music program there, so she knew most of the connections, but Stan Winston's studio was further west and on a parallel street.  With my appointment time of about 1 p.m., and armed with a list of bus numbers and times, I set out, portfolio under arm, from Eagle Rock to Northridge.  It would require 3 bus transfers.

Ah yes, the chariot that would deliver me to my destiny!
 Everything went like clockwork until I arrived in Burbank.  I got off of one bus only to see my connecting bus drive off.  SHIT!  What else could I do?  I waited for the next bus.  I'm confident that enough of you readers have experienced waiting for a bus.  I wonder if you have ever waited for a bus under a time deadline! Because if you have, then you understand that it is absolute torture!  Every other bus seems to arrive at the stop, sometimes two of the same number drive by, people come and go, and it is easy to feel like you are the only one waiting for a specific bus that appears to be on a break.  It wears your patience thin; you begin to crawl into that negative, reptile part of your brain where every person in a car that is whizzing to their destination is a jerk because you have to take public transportation and the reason more people don't take public transportation is because of things JUST LIKE THIS!!!

By the time I arrived at the last bus stop that would take me to my interview, it was already 2:30.  I called Bill from a pay phone and told him I wasn't going to make it.  He spoke to someone and said to just come by the next day at the same time.  I walked across the street and took the two buses back home.  I had lost.  I had failed.

I walked into the apartment and explained the whole situation to Tracy.  She reminded me that in a couple of hours we had to hot foot it down to the bus stop again, because we had tickets to see soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa at the Hollywood Bowl (see? THIS is how I knew exactly what day it was!).  I was in no mood, but we had never been to the Hollywood Bowl, had never seen Ms. Te Kanawa, and didn't have the luxury to just throw money away.  We got dressed, walked to the bus stop, and caught the two buses to get to the Bowl.

As the concert started, I truly was in no mood to be there, but as Kiri began to sing, I admit that all of the day's frustrations and all of my anger seemed to melt away.  It turned out to be a fantastic evening, and I found the renewed strength to get on those three damned buses in the afternoon and reach Stan Winston's.

For those of you who are interested in the concert, here is a link to the archived Los Angeles Times review:
Kiri Te Kanawa debuts at the Hollywood Bowl

The next day, I started off all over again, but things were different.  All of the buses showed up as promised and I soon found myself at an industrial complex in Northridge, CA.

Yes, this is where it all was happening!
As I approached the front door emblazoned with a gold "Stan Winston" signature, I noticed two other young men carrying their portfolios entering the building ahead of me.  However, unlike yours truly, these two were sporting long, heavy-metal rock-n-roll hair cuts and wearing black T-shirts.  I had no idea who they were but apparently, Stan was seeing a bunch of people that day. 

My recollection was that a young man, Brian Penikas, was there to greet us, and had me sit in the lobby while Stan saw the two other guys.  After a short amount of time, they came out of his office shaking his hand and Stan had Brian take them into the shop and show them around.  I was nervous as hell.

Stan invited me into his office, I introduced myself and he asked where I had been working. I handed him my portfolio and went on to tell him about THE SUPERNATURALS, HOUSE and my "experience" at Make Up Effects Labs.  While I was talking, Stan was paging through my portfolio like a speed-reader. Zip! Zip! Zip! Occasionally he would stop a specific picture and ask a question like: "Did you sculpt this?" or "Did you paint this?" or "How long did this take you to do?" and then ZIP! Off he went through the pages.  When he and I had both reached the end, he asked me point blank how much money I had made working for James Cummins.  I told him the absolute truth: I had made $450 a week. Stan closed my portfolio, handed it back to me and said: "I'll pay you $100 a day and don't forget, that's more money than you asked for!"

And just like that, I was working at Stan Winston's Studio. 

Bill Sturgeon had been paged and walked me through the shop and introduced me to most of the crew.  When I look back on the crew that was working on both ALIENS and INVADERS FROM MARS (both shows were happening concurrently), it was a who's who of individuals who would one day own and run their own shops.  In no particular order, the crew included:

Alec Gillis/Tom Woodruff, Jr. - Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.
Rick Lazzarini - The Character Shop
Tony Gardener - SEA QUEST, TOMMYKNOCKERS, and most of the Farrely Brothers' movies
Bob Kurtzman and Howard Berger - KNB EFX Group
Dave Nelson - Animated Engineering
Everett Burrell - Optic Nerve

The facility, itself, was more impressive than anything else I had seen at the time.  Unlike M.E.L., Stan's shop was certainly on a level of professionalism that was intimidating.  It was spotlessly clean (something I found out soon enough about how things ran at Stan's), past work was carefully displayed for clients.  There were framed photos and drawings by Stan (some of which I had seen printed in "Making a Monster") hanging on the walls and there was a big, brightly lit Make Up room with two barber's chairs. 

However it wasn't just the facility that was mind numbing, it was also the work that was going on.  As Bill walked me through the shop, he began to explain the plot of ALIENS to me and as he explained about the Queen Alien, I witnessed the Stan Winston artists, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, and Greg Figel all working on the miniature Queen Alien sculpt!  Propped up, as a guide, were color print outs of design artwork that I learned was done by Jim Cameron, himself.  The work was superlative! 

A small sculpting room separated the main shop from the Make Up room and in it, Tony Gardner was sculpting the new "chest burster" for ALIENS, while Kevin Yager sculpted bullet hit wounds and appliances for the martians for INVADERS FROM MARS.

In the main shop, the area was divided between molding and mechanical effects.  Dave Nelson and Ted Rae (who was an accomplished Stop Motion Animation and Effects cinematographer) led a team working on the "Drones" and the "Supreme Martian Intelligence" animatronics.  Everywhere I looked it seemed like a geek-dream.  I saw the TERMINATOR puppet heads, including one that Brian Wade had sculpted and shown me photos of during HOUSE.  There was a full Endoskeleton standing on a work table in the corner.  There were beautiful display heads of the the Academy Award nominated make ups Stan did for HEARTBEEPS. 

At the end of the tour, Bill explained a couple of things: One, work began at eight, and ended at 6:30, Monday through Friday and two, at six o'clock every day, work would stop and clean up would commence for a half an hour at Stan's insistence.  That is why the shop looked the way it did.  I was to start the next day, Friday, July 14th at 8 in the morning.  I would be working in the mold shop on ALIENS.

The ride home on the bus, was the best ride I had taken on public transit. 

No comments:

Post a Comment