To kick-off Daily Dead’s Stan Winston Week, I decided to start with Lake Placid, one of my favorite monster movies Stan worked on that I felt never got the attention it truly deserved. Sure, creating a crocodile might sound like an ordinary effects job on paper, but it’s the sheer magnitude of the monstrous croc that is something only legendary effects master Stan Winston could have tackled with such authenticity and dedication.
To honor Lake Placid and Stan’s contributions to the film and the industry as a whole, I recently spoke extensively with the film’s director Steve Miner about his friendship and professional relationship with Winston throughout his career. Miner, the man associated with several other classic genre films like Friday the 13th Parts 1 through 3, House, Warlock, and Halloween: H20 also discussed how Stan was solely responsible for getting Lake Placid financed after creating the monstrous animatronic crocodile. Miner also reflected on his experience collaborating with Stan on this project and how the legendary special effects artist and filmmaker continues to live on through those he mentored and worked with during his illustrious decades-spanning career.
Lake Placid arrived in theaters back in July 1999 and I think it’s a fair assessment to say that there are very few creature features since its release that capture the same kind of movie monster magic that Miner was able to, much of that credit being due to Winston who began working on the gigantic crocodile even before production was officially underway.
“The first thing I did when I got on board Lake Placid was send the script over to Stan,” said Miner. “Stan went ahead and began building the main 18-20 foot croc out of pocket even before we had locked down our financing or anything like that. He may have spent close to a million dollars on him- it may not have been that much, but it was close. And that’s such a testament to Stan- I kept telling him that I didn’t even know if we were going to be making the darned movie, but he just kept moving ahead.”
“What I didn’t know when I took on Lake Placid was that it had already been turned down by all the studios so when it came time to put the movie together, it was a little more challenging than I originally thought it was going to be. That’s when I brought in Mike Medavoy and he really got this movie done for us. We started making the rounds again and eventually Fox ended up picking up the movie the second time. Mike then brought these French investors over to Stan’s shop to see the crocodile in action and Stan finished that thing up just in the nick of time.”
“It ended up working out so perfectly though because Stan had the croc working perfectly where his jaws would open and close, his eyes and head were able to move around and he could move the other parts and shake him like he was attacking something. That’s what ended up impressing the investors and it’s because of Stan that we were able to finance Lake Placid. Had it not been for him or for Mike, we wouldn’t be talking about it now,” added Miner.
Once production was underway, Miner and his cast and crew headed up to the Vancouver area to begin shooting Lake Placid. And even though the design work was already completed on the giant killer croc, Stan and his crew were still instrumental in keeping things running smoothly on the set of Lake Placid and worked closely with other members of Miner’s team, especially production designer John Willett.
“Everything worked so well on Lake Placid. We ran into the typical problems here and there, but all of it was very minor. Stan had the best techs on set and I had the best production designer- John Willett- and the two of them worked hand in hand throughout the entire production to make sure everything went smoothly,” explained Miner. “The main lake that we shot at was actually a set that John designed up near Vancouver. We’d only go to the real lake in the area to some of the bigger shots of them boating on the lake so because we were able to do that, it really made things a lot more manageable while shooting.”
Miner went on to discuss an instance where he and his longtime friend didn’t exactly see eye to eye on a particular gag in Lake Placid, proving that his relationship with Stan was very much about equal give and take and a shared admiration between them both personally and professionally. “As production went on, our budget got a little bit tighter and tighter. So when it came time to do the baby crocodile shot at the end of the movie, we had to reconsider our approach because Stan was originally supposed to build these tiny animatronic crocs that could do whatever we wanted them to.”
“I realized at a certain point that making these effects was going to be very costly and I believed that we could get the shot if we just brought in some actual baby Caymans for the day and just approached it like that. Well Stan, being the creative guy that he was, didn’t like that because I think he wanted the challenge creatively to be able to effectively build these tiny creatures and have his work be a part of that scene as well.”
“So I went ahead and hired some hobbyists for a day that brought up a bunch of small Caymans and we all watched anxiously as they were released into the water and sure enough, we got the perfect shot that we needed on the very first take. Stan couldn’t believe it- he was a guy who was always right and this was one of those rare times where I got to be right (laughs). It would have been cool to have done the effects too but the real crocs worked out even better, especially when it came to keeping the budget in line (laughs).”
Miner reflected on Winston’s contributions to Lake Placid and how his legacy as a special effects artist continues to have its effects on the filmmaking industry as a whole. “I definitely learned something new while making Lake Placid, but I think this was one of the movies that really tested him the most as an artist just because of the magnitude of the work he took on to make that crocodile look as great as it does and work as well as it did. Plus , we never would have been able to make Lake Placid without Stan and I owe so much of the success of this movie to him.”
“Right now I’m working on this cool project called Stitchers and a lot of the people I’m working with on that are out of Stan’s studio. These are the people who continue to become some of the biggest talents working in Hollywood which is a testament to the kind of professional Stan was. His legacy still continues to have an impact,” added Miner.
Check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from Lake Placid below, which were provided by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts and look for our tribute to Leviathan tomorrow, all part of Daily Dead’s Stan Winston Week celebration. To learn more about the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, visit:
Lake Placid Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery:
"Nick Marra and Mark Jurinko press the detail of the interior of the Croc mold with urethane - this was then backed with a sturdy cloth and more urethane was added to become the final skin. They are wearing full body clean air suits due to the toxicity of the uncured chemicals."
"Here she is - the full hydraulic structure. Ten feet of travel on the sliding bed, fifteen degrees of freedom (movement) all to bring the creature alive!"
"Crew members load the 30 foot puppet into the water."
"In an early test Richard Landon and Brian Namanny adjust the buoyancy of the self-contained swimming crocodile."
"The crocodile was a full animatronic puppet with moving head, and tail and snapping jaws."
"The crocodile was mechanized through hydraulics, which worked fairly well in a water environment, as learned on other films, as long as they were protected in waterproof housing and surrounded by waterproof skin."
"Stan Winston gives artistic input to SWS sculptors Rob Ramsdell and Nick Marra."
"Eric Ostroff sculpts detail into the full sized (31 foot long!) Croc body. The basic size and shape were milled out of medium density rigid foam that was then tooled to be the final sculpture that was molded and used to produce the skins."