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Friday
Oct072011

Making The Alien

I'm sure that if you're reading this blog you'll recognise at least one of the creatures in the image above. If the human is unfamiliar, he's the Swiss artist Hans Rudi Giger who shot to fame for his creature work in Alien. It's not a co-incidence that this is probably the most memorable on-screen creature ever seen in a sci-fi film. The production was aware that they had to get the monster right, but initially they refused to hire Giger as they were uncomfortable having their starring creatures being designed by a relatively unknown artist.

The production took an interesting twist when Dan O'Bannon stepped in to influence proceedings. This was particularly relevant as he was not only the originator of the original Alien material but had realized an alien on-screen before and always felt he could do more with additional resources. I have to agree.

This is the Alien from John Carpenter's 1974 film "Dark Star". Dan O'Bannon worked very closely with John Carpenter on this film and as well as staring as the lead character Sergent Pinback he was also the Special Effects Supervisor. It was his job to realize the alien that was featured in the script and as resources were non existant they ended up using an inflatable beech-ball with a pair of rubber feet. Fortunately, after Dan O'Bannon introduced Ridley Scott to Giger's work the studio changed their minds and everybody went off and made a brilliant film and lived happily ever after. If you're unfamiliar with Giger's artwork, it's visually stunning, wonderfully macabre and quite "penissey". Like this:

Before Giger was introduced, the existing concept team was working on possibilities for a monster too, including this version below by Ron Cobb. I'm a big fan of Cobb's work and even though he's designed some very memorable creatures in other productions I'm glad he didn't end up doing this one. The film was still called "Star Beast" at this stage and you can see this B-Movie title reflected in this creature design.

Don't think I'm hating on Ron Cobb here - he also designed this chap below for Star Wars and this "hammerhead" character was one of my favourites in the original range of figures (after the Stormtrooper of course). I'm just glad that Giger did the Alien.

Giger does a lot of sculptural work and so a natural team-up was himself with legendary creature maker Carlo Rambaldi. Between them they created this thing which is both beautiful and a total fucking nightmare.

As you can see, there's a skull in there which was a real one from a dead human. I always find this weird that this person probably lived their entire life in obscurity and then after their death a major part of their head became a film star. I hope they got a credit, I'll have to look them up on IMDB.

The process was still treated as experimental and even as the design was being locked down, a couple of things were tried along the way. The semi-transparent dome across the head was originally going to be filled with maggots but this was abandoned as they got hot under that studio lights and stopped moving around, prefering instead just to go hard and then turn into flies. A translucent version was also tried which would have looked really interesting with Ridley Scott's penchant for back lighting but this too was dropped.

Here's a couple of images from the initial rough tests that were done with a knocked-together suit and a rough set to get an idea of how the creature might look on film.

This got everybody sold and from there they proceeded to the final suit for principal photography. Look at Veronica Cartwright's face in the picture below, I'd love to know what she was thinking.

I think the image above pretty much sums up this creature. Next time you watch Alien, pay special attention to Veronica Cartwright. Her performance in this film is superb. Her character tends to voice the negative aspect of the Nostromo crew's situation and is essentially the voice of the audience. Just watch her transform throughout the film into a complete nervous wreck. She's seriously as good as Shelly Duval in the shining and she deserves more cool points for this performance than she got. She won a Saturn award in 1980 for best supporting actress but if I was in charge she'd have gotten the oscar that year. Mind you, it would have been a bit weird if a seven year old kid from Yorkshire was making those kinds of calls.

Badeji Bolejo was a design student at the time he was spotted in a pub in London's Soho by a member of the production team. He's seven foot two inches tall. Imagine how hard it must be for him to get a decent pair of jeans.

 

Reader Comments (4)

Great writeup, I am really enjoying the hell out of your blog. This was great, I didn't know they used a real skull. And maggots, yikes.

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Connolly

Another knock out blog post. Until recently I didn't even know that the design had eye sockets, let alone a human skull! Forget the dead guy's feelings imagine poor old Badeji having to wear him...

I love designing things for performers to do, I wonder how much of a sadist directors really have to be?

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Wow, there are some photos here that I've never seen, and I've been looking out for this stuff since 1979. Great stuff you collected here. where are the black and white production stills of the finished suit portraits from (with the white background)?

www.krop.com/sharad

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUFOclub1977

woah, such a awesome blog my brother was telling me about this and showed me a couple pictures of the alien with the face design, I wonder if you ever knew why they didnt go with the skull head it really does look incredible scary- I do like the faceless design though but I was saying to my brother would be really interesting if someone ever put in the skull under the skin to see how would work in the different scenes, I do agree sigourney weaver got a lot of praise for her character (she is brilliant) but all the actors where pretty amazing and cartwright was very well acted and doesnt get much press.

Great blog thanks :D

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHenrik

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