John Stears

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John Stears
John Stears.jpg
John Stears being interviewed in
The Men Behind the Mayhem: The SFX of James Bond
Born(1934-08-25)August 25, 1934
Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom
DiedApril 28, 1999(1999-04-28) (aged 64)
OccupationSpecial effects supervisor
Years active1956–1999
Brenda Livy
(m. 1960; his death 1999)

John Stears (25 August 1934 – 28 April 1999), known as the "Dean of Special Effects"[1], was a British two-time Academy Award-winning special effects expert. He created James Bond's lethal Aston Martin DB5, Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder, the Jedi Knights' lightsabers and the endearing robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, as well as a host of other famous movie gadgets and special effects[2].

Life and family[edit]

John Stears was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex (now part of Greater London), on 25 August 1934, and grew up in nearby Ickenham. Stears studied at Harrow College of Art and Southall Technical School before working as a draughtsman with the Air Ministry.

He served as a dispatch rider during his National Service, then joined a firm of architects where he was able to utilise his passion for model-making by constructing scale models of building projects for clients.[3]

For most of his life he lived at Welders House in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, where he reared cattle and his wife ran the Livny Borzoi Kennels, breeding Borzoi show dogs.[3]

In 1993, he sold the estate in Buckinghamshire to the singer Ozzy Osbourne and emigrated to California with his wife Brenda, whom he married in 1960, the couple had two children.[3]

Film career[edit]

Stears' Academy Award-winning adaptations made James Bond's DB5

Stears' effects fetured in the first eight James Bond films, winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1965 for Thunderball, and sharing another Academy Award in 1977 for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

He created some of the most famous scenes in the movies. He blew up the villain's Jamaican hideout at the end of Dr. No (1962), and for Goldfinger (1964), he created Agent 007's Aston Martin DB5, featuring bullet-proof windows, revolving license plates, forward-firing machine guns, a rear oil-slick dispenser and a passenger-side ejector seat.[4]

He also created an avalanche for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and built flying cars for the musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

Stears grew disenchanted with the Bond franchise, and vowed never to do another one. He complained that the "team spirit" had gone. Stears expressed great regret that Kevin McClory could not get his rival Bond film, Warhead, into production, as Stears wanted to work on that film.[5]

In 1976, Stears received a telephone call from George Lucas, who had been a great admirer of the Bond films, who wanted to know if he was interested in creating mechanical and electrical effects for a film that he had written, Star Wars. Stears accepted the offer.[3] Stears had something in common with Alec Guinness and John Williams; he had won an Academy Award before working on Star Wars.[6]

For Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Stears created the robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder, the Jedi Knights' lightsabers, and the Death Star.[3][7][8] Stears was also credited, along with John Dykstra, for the original film's climactic aerial dogfight.[8] Other well known mechanical effects Stears orchestrated included the garbage compacter, making an X-wing fighter fly and the Jawa's sandcrawler.[9]

In 1978, producer Harry Saltzman hired Stears to direct the "shrunken man" epic film The Micronauts. The troubled project had been in pre-production for many years and saw many directors come and go; ultimately the film never made it into production.[10]


John Stears with his two Academy Awards and Saturn Award

John Stears is notably one of only a few people to ever win an Academy Award for a James Bond film and one of only eight to win an Academy Award for a Star Wars film.

Selected filmography[edit]


Stears died April 28, 1999 in UCLA Medical Center after a stroke. His wife, Brenda, and other family members had wanted the death kept quiet until after services in Pacific Palisades in May and in London. The family announced his death in June of that same year. Stears owned homes in Pacific Palisades and in Beaconsfield, England, where he and his wife raised cattle and show dogs.[8]


  1. ^ Honan, William H. (1999-07-04). "John Stears, 64, Dies; Film-Effects Wizard". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  2. ^ Honan, William H. (1999-07-04). "John Stears, 64, Dies; Film-Effects Wizard". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  3. ^ a b c d e Vallance, Tom (19 July 1999). "Obituary: John Stears". The Independent. London. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  4. ^ "James Bond's Aston DB5 for sale". Autocar. London. 2 June 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  5. ^ Maronie, Sam (July 1981). "John Stears Talks About Making Move Magic (Without Divulging Too Many Secrets)". Starlog (048): 82.
  6. ^ "". episodenothing.
  7. ^ Honan, William H. (4 July 1999). "John Stears, 64, Dies; Film-Effects Wizard". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Oliver, Myrna (5 July 1999). "John Stears; Special Effects Genius Behind 007 and R2-D2". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  9. ^ "". Man who built R2D2.
  10. ^ anonymous (5 July 1978). "Stears' Helm Debut Due On Micronauts". Variety: 29.

External links[edit]