Tag Archives: Aliens

Alien$

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One rather pervasive story concerning Aliens is how writer/director James Cameron convinced Brandywine Productions to green light the sequel. One version that has become popular lately is better known as ‘Alien$’, and the story—allegedly related by series producer Gordon Carroll—often goes this way:

“Cameron was young. He had just directed Terminator. Cameron had called a meeting to discuss his “next project.” Everyone knew Cameron had written a treatment for Alien 2 that nobody would touch because Alien was not a massive financial success. Alien 2 was not on the table. We expected a professional pitch from Cameron, an outline and a treatment of what he had in mind with a cursory budget; perhaps a couple assistants to run a slide show.

Instead Cameron walked in the room without so much as a piece of paper. He went to the chalk board in the room and simply wrote the word ALIEN. Then he added an ‘S’ to make ALIENS. Dramatically, he drew two vertical lines through the ‘S’, ALIEN$. He turned around and grinned. We greenlit the project that day for $18 million.”

Several sites have run with this quote in the last couple of years, including Film School Rejects, Movie Pilot, Cinema Blend and more. The problem with the tale is that it’s, as far as I can tell, very untrue.

I originally heard the story back in 2009, with the release of Rebecca Keegan’s biography of Cameron, ‘The Futurist’. However, Keegan is not the source of the anecdote, with its earliest example appearing online in 2008, a year before ‘The Futurist’ was published. The earliest source that I can find: a series of movie trivia sites specialising in scandalous and titillating Hollywood scuttlebutt.

First, let’s go through the story and see where it trips up.

First of all is the apparent storyteller, Gordon Carroll. At the time of Aliens’ writing and pre-production, Carroll was no longer associated with Brandywine, having left the company after the release of the original Alien to join Rastar Productions (where he helped produce Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby’s Blue Thunder). Carroll was credited for the rest of the Alien sequels, but was largely uninvolved with their production (similarly, Walter Hill and David Giler are credited on Alien: Resurrection, AvP, Prometheus and Covenant, despite having minimal to no involvment with their production.)

This in mind, it doesn’t make sense for me that Carroll was present at Cameron’s pitch with Brandywine when he was no longer involved with Hill and Giler. Carroll is not mentioned by Cameron, Giler or Hill in any of their recollections of the pitch. According to O’Bannon and The Los Angeles Times, the relationship between Carroll and his former company became rather fraught in the battle for royalties and fees following Alien‘s release.

When the ‘Alien$’ story first appeared online in 2008, Carroll, unlike Giler and Hill, was not around to refute it. He passed away in 2005.

Next…

“He had just directed Terminator. Cameron had called a meeting to discuss his ‘next project’. Everyone knew Cameron had written a treatment for Alien 2 that nobody would touch ”

Cameron first met Brandywine Productions in 1983. At the time, he had been planning to shoot The Terminator in Canada throughout ’83, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was scooped up by Dino de Laurentiis for Conan the Destroyer. Cameron, with a year to burn, took on several writing assignments to fill the gap. After a meeting with David Giler and Walter Hill that went nowehere, Cameron was about to walk out the door when Giler pipped up, “Well, we do have this other thing.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Cameron replied. “And he said, ‘Alien II.'”

Cameron wrote Alien II for Giler and Hill throughout the remainder of ’83, and continued to write throughout production and post-production for The Terminator.

You can read the whole account of how Cameron met Brandywine and wrote Aliens here, at Writing Aliens.

Alien was not a massive financial success.

Twentieth Century Fox released fourteen films in 1979. The most lucrative, boasted that year’s internal annual report, was Alien. On a production budget of around $9 million dollars and an advertising budget of $6 million, the movie made over $100 million at the box office.

Here are a few headlines from the summer and autumn of ’79 and extending into 1980:

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Other headlines include ‘Alien becomes big hit at the box office’, ‘Alien snaps records in first week of road’, ‘Invasion of a box office smash’, and ‘Sci-fi film sends profits into outer space.’

At the time of the film’s release, Fox had also cashed in on its hype and success by selling TV airing rights to ABC (four airings of Alien at $14 million dollars) with a 10% downpayment. To quote executive producer Ron Shusett: “If this isn’t a successful film, what is?”

Curiously enough, Fox did try to argue in 1979 that Alien made very little in profit; an assertion that saw them litigated by the producers, director and other partners.

We greenlit the project that day for $18 million.

This is one of the more confusing and frankly ludicrous parts of the tale: nobody wanted to touch Alien 2… until they saw a graphical pun?

Finally, in some of the earliest and latest reproductions of this story, the source is often given as Lynda Obst’s 1996 book Hello, He Lied: Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches. Reckoning that many of the sites promulgating the story and citing Obst as their source were probably unable to read it for themselves, I tracked down and bought a copy:

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However, there is no account of the story in Obst’s book. Gordon Carroll is never mentioned, and neither is James Cameron (nor even Aliens.) I took a picture of the index for clarity:

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The situation brings to mind an old joke from the Alien Experience boards, where one member concocted a humorous story from the POV of James Remar witnessing Cameron, in a London nightclub in 1985, declaring that he was ‘King of the World’ as he displayed his disco moves. While clearly a piss take, some people, perhaps tempted by its visual hilarity, thought it quite credible.

Similarly, I’m chalking this one up to playful imaginations and the myth-making processes so often rooted in fandoms.

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Strange Shapes/Monster Legacy interviews Tom Woodruff Jnr

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Tom Woodruff Jnr. is a former member of Stan Winston Studios who collaborated in the making of Aliens and The Terminator. In 1989 he co-founded his own special effects company with Alec Gillis – Amalgamated Dynamics. His special effects work includes Tremors, Starship Troopers, Evolution, as well as Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and the two Alien vs. Predator films.

Tom has also portrayed a multitude of movie monsters, most famously the Alien creatures from the third, fourth and AvP movies.

Tom kindly agreed to an e-mail interview, and my friend Omega of Monster Legacy and I put our heads together to come up with some career-spanning questions for him.

Q: There’s a great photograph of you wearing the Alien suit from the second movie. Could you talk about how that came about and how (or if) your time in that suit factored into later decision making processes with Alien 3?

A: That was an after-hours thing that happened when the warrior suits were completed before filming started. Things get chaotic on set and long before digital cameras and cell phones, there wasn’t always a set photographer on hand to get beauty shots of the creatures before they get trashed during shooting. I suited up one night and we fired off a bunch of shots, without even the benefit of covering the suit in slime as intended for the film.

I was more interested in seeing how different body posing could disguise the shape of a man inside the suit than the intended on-screen finished look. But I wanted to be the man in the monster suit ever since I could remember watching monster movies on TV and after seeing some of the performances and physiques of some of the guys who ended up wearing the alien suits in Aliens, it motivated me to have a talk with Stan Winston that led to playing the Gill Man in Monster Squad in our very next film.

Q: The Alien in the third movie traded in many biomechanical details for a different aesthetic; you once said that you aimed for “an organic, sculptural feel.” Can you talk about what you tried to do to make this Alien look different from those that came before? (I believe you mentioned looking at Giger’s original paintings and drawings?)

A: I think people throw around the term “biomechanical” without really understanding what it means. It was a term manufactured to describe Giger’s amazing and fresh style of art. It was his theme in a lot of his work. What changed was the method in which it was achieved. During the build on Aliens, Fox provided us with many pieces of the original Alien creature suit and head. Within those pieces, you could actually see castings of mechanical bits; valves and plumbing pieces, some with catalogue numbers visible that had been etched into the pieces that were molded.

On Aliens, those pieces of the new suits evolved to be more organic and not just castings of off-the-shelf hardware. But the suits were still very broad in that they were sections glued to a spandex leotard with nothing more than slime-covered spandex to span the space between built-up sections.

On Alien 3, we took that to the next step and sculpted an entire body suit –not in an effort to make it look different– but to make it look more complete since the shooting style was going to be completely different and lighting would be revealing more of our single Alien than the hordes of the Cameron film. We relied heavily on images of Giger’s work from his own Necronomicon as the guide, seeking to replicate the organic life of that creature in more specific “Giger” detail than what was represented in the work of both Alien and Aliens.

Detail of the Alien's feet being painted by Gino Acevedo.

Detail of the Alien’s feet being painted by Yuri Everson.

Q: Michael Biehn relayed the story that during Alien 3’s production someone had spotted a bust of Hicks with the chest burst open. Was this ever planned to happen? (I assume the character’s head was pulverised due to Biehn’s objections to the scene.)

A: There was never a Hicks body with a chest burst open and it was never a story point in any of the material distributed to our crew. In the opening of Alien 3, we see the remains of Hicks with his head destroyed in the crash of the escape vehicle. That was done because we weren’t able to use Hicks’ likeness in the film.

Q: The corpses of Newt and Hicks were harrowingly realistic. Did pieces like these ever cause any sort of discomfort, or were you able to disassociate them from the actors and characters and see them purely as props?

A: Work like that becomes very clinical – artistic but clinical. It’s all about duplicating and creating recognizable features that sell the likeness. There is an element however in researching forensic photos in order to create a realism that was shocking although, over time, even that reaction becomes tempered.

Q: Everyone from Ridley Scott to Dan O’Bannon and James Cameron have said they were inspired by insects to create the life-cycles of their Aliens. In Alien Resurrection the ridged head of the Alien even resembles a cockroach shell – was this intentional? What did you look at when devising the Alien’s shape in the fourth movie?

A: It was never a pointed intention to duplicate a cockroach, but yes, the design element of the insect world is always prevalent in each design iteration. Changes brought about to the Alien from one film to the next have been at the design of the director, wanting to bring some new visual aspect to the creature. Part of our task had been to maintain what we could and make work for each new audience rather than reinvent the wheel.

Q: There was a rumour that ADI had pitched their own Alien 5 to Fox. If true, can you elaborate on your ideas?

A: If true, I would not elaborate.

Tom putting some touches on an Alien from James Cameron's sequel.

Tom putting some touches on an Alien from James Cameron’s sequel.

Q: ADI has made an enormous array of creatures, from Graboids, to Aliens, to man-eating plants in Jumanji. Is there a kind of creature you always wanted to bring to the screen, but never had the chance to?

A: Every 6-8 months there is a new rumour that a remake of The Creature From the Black Lagoon is starting up. That’s what my radar is tracking although I think today it would be a huge battle to get anyone to consider a practical animatronic and costume approach, which is ironic because that’s exactly what made the originals so satisfying. The problem is that movies like that succeeded because they were “B Movies” and not meant to change your emotional center but just be a great way to spend two hours in a theatre. Today the choice would be made to turn it into a $140 million epic that relied on showing too much of the creature who would be a CGI element.

Q: Could you talk about the design of the Shriekers from Tremors 2: Aftershocks? What were they inspired by?

A: Very much inspired by the Graboid itself. The idea was to reverse-engineer the original creatures to establish the Shriekers as an earlier developmental stage, hence the translucent beak for example, as if it was still cartilage in development like a baby’s skull. The growth pattern would eventually have them begin to pack on pounds and become so huge and lethargic that their legs (which were only intended to carry them to a new location where food and protection would be more plentiful) would atrophy and fall off. They would then create a growth of spines that would propel them underground.

Q: What were the design inputs when conceiving the alien mutations in The Thing, especially in relation to Rob Bottin’s original work? (Was there a ‘Bottin style’ you adhered to?)

A: We designed the Thing creatures and effects, working with the director and producers. We had a lot of latitude in envisioning the look of the new creatures with variations as directed from above during the design and build. The goal was never to try to copy any particular Bottin creature but definitely to speak “in the same language”. That might be a pretty narrow line to imagine but a lot of that language was created in how the creatures were performed – live on set with the actors and sharing that environment. When you read about the creative freedom that Bottin held the biggest obstruction was not “what” the creatures were but “how” they would be articulated. Luckily, no one else knew how to do it and there wasn’t a big digital paintbrush waiting in post to taint his vision.

Q: The Pilot creature deleted from The Thing was undoubtedly a very unique monster. Could you talk about the design itself? What inspired it?

A: No one thing inspired the Pilot Creature, only that we wanted to be sure it looked like its own, stand-alone lifeform and not something that was already infected by The Thing – that was a crucial story point. So to that end, [it was] designed with a very biological symmetry, very specific eyes, and hands and feet that looked like they were nimble and with enough dexterity to pilot the ship.

Q: In 2014, ADI celebrates 25 years of effects making. What are your fondest memories from your experiences?

A: Looking back at the early years from this point in time is very nostalgic. For the most part, the artists and techs we’ve worked with from the very beginning are still around. But it’s harder and harder to find the work and the budgets that support the art so those early days were filled with more achievements. Even though we’re technically more savvy and have a lot better materials to work with, there is more work in convincing someone it can be done practically and not just as a digital post effect. And it’s been great to be able to meet the masters whose work inspired me to do what I do; John Chambers, Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston, Rick Baker – It’s been a great 25 years.

Suited up for Alien 3.

Suited up for Alien 3.

Many thanks to Mr. Woodruff and the kind staff at Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.
Additional thanks to the salubrious Space Sweeper and a tip of the hat to Omega.

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Ridley Scott’s Alien II (or ‘What He Wanted to Happen’)

 

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During Alien’s post-production Ridley Scott had already set an eye on another science fiction movie: an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. But Scott left the project after the death of his older brother, and was only later roped back into filmmaking with Blade Runner. He explained in interviews at the time that he was hoping to work on a fantasy film next -an offshoot from his eternally stalled Tristan and Isolde movie- but in 1984, the year his long gestating “fairly tale”  Legend was being produced, he spoke at length with journalist Danny Peary about Alien – and his ideas about a sequel.

“It certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from,” he told Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies in 1984. “That will be tough because it will require dealing with other planets, worlds, civilisations. Because obviously the Alien did come from some sort of civilisation. The Alien was presented, really, as one of the last survivors of Mars – a planet named after the god of war. The Alien may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings.”

Ridley also explained to Cinefantastique that “’in many respects it’ll be more interesting [than the first movie], from a pure science-fiction stand point. We’d get into speculative areas, deal with two civilisations.”

Ridley apparently thought that the first movie had unexplored territory worth looking into. He had been enticed enough by Dan O’Bannon’s ideas regarding the Alien’s civilisation that he demanded that the producers Walter Hill and David Giler rewrite his pyramid -which they deleted in favour of their own device– back into the script. Unfortunately limitations on both time and money saw the pyramid being cut and merged with the derelict spacecraft, and Ridley was certainly affected by its omission: “I would love to have shot [the pyramid],” he said at the time, “but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would have been wonderful in a three-hour version.” Or perhaps a sequel.

He also seemed to regret not expanding on some issues regarding the Alien in the first movie: “There were no speculative scenes or discussions about what the Alien was and all that sort of thing either. I believe that audiences love those, especially if they’re well done. They give the threat much more weight. If they make Alien II, and if I have anything to do with it, the film will certainly have those elements in it. From a certain point of view, Alien II could be more interesting than Alien I.”

FF: Had you ever debated using actors from other cultures [in Alien]?
Scott: Japan?
FF: Japan or Mars.
Scott: I would have loved it, but that’s not what the story was about. I would have loved to take the opportunity to explore the realms of speculative fiction more, but it would have been a digression from the film we were making.
~ Fantastic Films, 1979.

Of course, Ridley was not asked to return. In 1986 Bobbie Wygant asked Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd if Scott had turned down the opportunity to direct the sequel. “I’m not really sure,” Hurd answered. “I know that he was in post-production on Legend at the time we were in pre-production [on Aliens], so perhaps it was a result of his availability.”

But it turned out that the producers had never approached Ridley at all. “They didn’t ask me!” he told The Hollywood Interview in 2008. “To this day I have no idea why. It hurt my feelings, really, because I thought we did quite a good job on the first one.”

Despite Ridley’s feelings, there was no jealously or animosity between him and the sequel’s director. The two bumped into one another at Pinewood Studies when the movie was being made and, by Cameron’s account, the meeting was friendly. “I was coming out of dallies and he was going in,” he told Fangoria magazine in ’86, “and we spoke for about 10 minutes. We didn’t really talk about Aliens at all; he didn’t seem particularly curious about it, other than the fact it was being done. We just spoke in general terms about shooting in England – it was very polite, there was no depth to it. Basically, it was like, ‘Hello, pleased to meet you.'”

Scott’s feelings also did not influence his thoughts on the sequel: “It’s always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it,” he is quoted in Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay, “so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It really was amazing what he accomplished. There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement.” In 2012, he stated: “Jim loved Alien, adored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.”

Brandywine did turn to Scott to direct the third film, but according to Sigourney “he never seemed to be able to get it together.” The first Alien 3 script was written in 1987 – the film was released in 1992. In that time, Scott had directed and released four other movies.

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The Other Hicks – James Remar

There are several elements of Aliens that were designed to parallel the previous movie – motion trackers, vent sequences, and Aliens being propelled from airlocks were all amplifications of scenes and devices from Alien. Another parallel (completely serendipitous but no less interesting) was the behind-the-scenes loss of a pivotal cast member only days into shooting: Jon Finch as Kane in Alien, and James Remar as Hicks in the sequel.

The cast and crew have remained tight-lipped about Remar’s involvement and departure. The issue isn’t given much weight or coverage, if any, in the making of documentaries on the Quadrilogy and Anthology sets, and lips are generally sealed in interviews. The matter, if referred to, is usually brushed off as typical “creative differences” – but if so, then why the secrecy?

The truth is, the silence of the cast and crew owes more to respect for Remar’s privacy than for any unwillingness or inability to recall the events that led to his replacing by Cameron stalwart Michael Biehn. Remar commented to Starlog magazine in March 1986: “‘It [Aliens] was a four month commitment in a foreign country, which I was willing to make. Unfortunately, urgent matters at home required that I return to the States and attend to them. They got someone else, and I came home and took care of the problems, and moved on to Band of the Hand.”

It wasn’t until recently, when Remar himself commented more explicitly on the issue, that the reason for his firing became clear: “I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it … I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit.” In a podcast interview, Remar said of his Aliens experience: “I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks, and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs, and Michael Biehn replaced me.”

Remar didn’t just lose his job, but also his credibility with Alien series producer Walter Hill, who had directed Remar in The Warriors, and who likely landed him the audition for the Alien sequel. “Getting fired from Aliens alienated me from [Walter Hill] for twelve years,” Remar explained, “he didn’t hire me again for twelve years. And I know why – because I made him look bad. Y’know, it was fucked up.”

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On the topic of his relationship with Cameron, Remar elucidated, “Y’know, I got to talk with Cameron over the years and I really love the guy. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work with him again but, y’know, he said I would. And he expressed that, and knows that I’ve been sober all this time and I like what the guy does, I like him … It was an honour to get started, I just wasn’t focused and I fucked it up.”

“Jim asked me to train them, and the main thing I had to teach those guys was never point a weapon at somebody, and never walk around with your finger on the trigger. We use blanks, but they can do some damage. James Remar [before being replaced by Michael Biehn] blew a hole in Frank [Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors] set! With a shotgun!”
~ Al Matthews, Alien Experience interview.

Not much is known about Remar’s performance as Hicks, as no direct footage of him in the role has been released, and apparently, with Biehn’s arrival, Cameron and Biehn reworked the character slightly as Biehn was worried that Hicks may be compared to his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator. But where Reese is feral, alert, nightmare-scarred and even elegiac, Hicks is cool and collected, the platoon’s “rock of Gibraltar, who everyone looks up to,” though he can be prone to acting upon insult (such as when Burke refers to him as a grunt, or his quick decision to “ice” Burke after hearing about his machinations).

Likely, no footage of Remar and Weaver was ever filmed, as the Marines in the Hive were some of the first scenes to go before the camera, as Sigourney was finishing Half Moon Street at the beginning of Aliens’ production, and so non-Ripley scenes were bumped to the beginning of shooting. Footage of Remar in the Hive is in the final film, but his face is never seen. Having already filmed a complex effects shot with him, the production were unable to re-film with Biehn in the role, and instead used editing to cut away once Remar turned his head.

Remar and Cameron on the Aliens set. Despite the firing of Remar, the actor remained professional and cordial throughout the years, recently saying: “I loved Avatar. The funny thing about Avatar is you have to have $200 million dollars worth of effects for people to sit in their seats and watch a very, very simple, cowboys and Indians love story. It’s a very simple script, y’know, but it had integrity.”

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Carrie Henn, 1995

Originally published in EMPIRE magazine, May 1995.

Carrie Henn and grunts at the UK’s Alien War attraction.

In 1985, Carrie Henn was a 9 year old growing up on a US Air Force base near Cambridge. One day, some strange movie people came scouting for a photogenic little girl. Pictures taken, they returned from whence they came, and she thought no more of it. Then, out of the blue, the phone rang and a man, calling himself a casting director, inquired whether Henn would like to come to London to try out for a film called Aliens. And so she did.

“We thought it was as an extra,” giggles Henn, now a frightening 18, down the phone from her Californian home. “Then they said, ‘by the way, did you know it was the co-star?’ I was like, ‘Ohh…’”

She got the part, and, for someone who had never acted before, did quite a stunning job as the gutsy, lone survivor on the Alien infested outpost. Listening to Henn chat about it now, you get the sense that many of Newt’s indomitable qualities came naturally. For instance, the notion of acting alongside slime-dripping , acid-toothed horrors… “Actually, it wasn’t scary,” recounts Henn matter-of-factly. “The crew were always trying to scare me, but they couldn’t. I never got scared until I saw the movie – even though I knew what was coming.”

What about the violence and swearing – the kind of stuff that is meant to affect kids for life? Henn sighs before replying. “I think my parents might have been a bit worried I would let it go to my head, the language and stuff, but I heard worse at school.”

Henn is still sound of mind and swapping letters with Sigourney Weaver. Although lately they’ve got a bit lax on the correspondence front. The last time they spoke was at the premiere of Alien 3, when the big lady gave her former co-star a jacket emblazoned with “Carrie Henn, Aliens.”

Wasn’t she a bit miffed Newt was killed so mercilessly? “Yeah, a bit. I heard a lot of different stories, there were a lot of scripts. I know that James Cameron had planned to have Hicks, Ripley and me in Alien 3, to have a family-type thing … Still, life goes on.”

For Henn that means a life without acting. She’s attending college and plans to become a kindergarten teacher after university. Life, indeed, goes on…

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Biomechanoids

Alien Warrior

“Tight on several walls and ceiling niches as they come alive. Bone-like, tube-like shapes shift, becoming emerging Aliens. Dimly glimpsed, glints of slime. Silhouettes…”
~ Aliens script.

Recreating the star beast of Alien was arguably the sequel’s most deciding task. HR Giger’s original creature had reached near-mythic status among science-fiction and horror fans, but Aliens writer and director James Cameron wanted to do more than simply recreate the first eponymous Alien – he wanted to adapt Giger’s monster to the new, more grounded environment of Hadley’s Hope, reshape it for war whilst staying true to the original design, and make additions to the creature’s overall mythos without veering too wildly away from O’Bannon and Giger’s creation.

Copying Giger wholesale would have been straightforward, but Cameron felt that doing so would be a cop-out, and as an artist and designer himself, he wanted to have an influence on the Alien’s appearance. One immediate problem to tackle was the sheer number of creatures assaulting the screen.

Given that the budget would only allow the creation of several Alien suits (the original had been manufactured at the cost of more than $250,000) and considering that the original suit made several movements “impossible” (according to performer Bolaji Badejo), Cameron and Winston found that slavishly re-creating it was not a viable move to make. Instead, they used black unitards and pieced parts of the Alien form over the top of the material. As the emphasis was on merely suggesting the look and shape of the creature, rather than over-exposing it, the dark unitard would be hidden in shadow, with only the highlights of the Alien marauders visible in the strobing lights and muzzle flash.

The script for the first encounter between the Colonial Marines and the Aliens constantly refers to the creatures in physically ambiguous terms, describing them as “nightmarish figure[s]”, “dark shapes”, “silhouettes”, and the encounter itself as a “battle of phantoms” – though you saw more Aliens, you didn’t see more of them.

Xenomorph: Gorman refers to the unknown alien as a “Xenomorph”, a supposedly generic term in the USCM for an unidentified alien being. The term itself is a carry-over from an earlier Cameron project called Mother. “In Mother, humans have plundered Earth and look to exploit another planet,” explained Cameron. “In addition to mines on this planet, the Company sets up stations devoted to research and development. Because the planet’s environment is dangerous to humans, a ‘xenomorph,’ my term for a genetically engineered alien creature, is created based on a local life form in order to serve the needs of the Company.”

For Alien, Ridley Scott opted to show his creature in quick cuts or in the flash of a stroboscopic light for several reasons. Firstly, the suit was so unwieldy and cumbersome that it looked ridiculous when fully exposed. “It helped that the creature was so bad,” stated HR Giger, “because Ridley could only show it in glimpses.”

Nick Allder told Don Shay at Cinefex: “At one point the script called for it to run up and down the corridors like a human being; but when we finally got the finished costume … we found it would look ridiculous to see this thing running around – it would give the whole thing away immediately.”

The original Alien suit was meticulously crafted, but ultimately unwieldy and cumbersome. Many shots took an inordinate amount of time to set up and film, and most footage was thrown away. Cameron’s Alien suits on the other hand would be inhabited by dancers and gymnasts who needed maximum mobility. Here, we can also see Giger’s ribbed cranium and spike design, which was brought back to the surface for the sequel.

Stan Winston and his team crafted a series of 8 foot tall Alien puppets that could be set into inhuman poses and could also be rigged to explode when fired upon, spraying acid in all directions. The team also exposed Giger’s ridged cranium and smoothed over the eye sockets to retain the eyeless menace of the creature, though two barely legible indents mark the sockets.

Cameron’s Aliens would be required to run, leap, vault, crawl, climb, descend, and spring from the floor as well as the ceiling. Such movements were planned for Alien, but scrapped due to the suit’s logistics. During filming of the original, performer Bolaji Badejo bowed out of the Brett death scene due to discomfort: “I couldn’t do it,” he told Cinefantastique, “I was held up by a harness around my stomach, and I was suffocating trying to make these movements.”

Badejo also claimed that when crawling out of the bulkhead space inside the Narcissus, the Alien suit would split almost every time: “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off!”

Ridley had also planned sequences with the Alien roaring towards Dallas in the vents, “running and jumping full-circle around the walls” to snatch the Nostromo’s captain, but the logistics of the suit (in addition to being unable to build tunnel-like vent sets) curbed these ideas. “Ridley had a lot more ideas than what you see on the screen,” Badejo elaborated, “but some things were impossible.”

Considering the athletic abilities required for the new movie, the original suit’s fragility and cumbersome fit was not something that could be tolerated for the sequel. James Cameron: “I put the old [Alien] suit on myself, so that I could understand from standing outside what it was like to be inside … And I couldn’t see anything. I knew I would never get the kind of movements I wanted from the actors in that suit.”

He explained further: “I went more for motion as opposed to design. We kept the design more or less the same as [Alien] … We spent most of our R&D time on motion because I thought that quick blurring, lizard-like, or insect-like leap was more important than the physical, sculptural design of the suit. And I think that that’s a mistake that a lot of make-up and prosthetics people make when they’re dealing with this sort of thing is that they lavish all their attention on the sculptural detail –the surface texture, etc.– and they fail to realize that people need very few pixels of information to identify a human figure, and most of that identification is through motion. The way we walk is so ingrained in us mentally that you can see it just like that. So what we did was we actually re-designed the suit and made it simpler and less sophisticated and basically freed it so that it was much more flexible.”

“The silhouette of the Alien was the most important thing, and we were able to get that with these suits that were literally black leotards with pieces glued onto them. That gave the performers complete mobility, which allowed Jim to put them on wires and make them crawl up walls and flip the camera upside down so that it looked as if they were scurrying across the ceiling.”
~ Stan Winston, The Winston Effect, 2006.

“I think the biggest design changes when you went from Alien to Aliens was the fact that, technically, the suits were far simplified. That was in an effort to gain them maximum mobility. Cameron knew exactly how he was gonna shoot these things. He knew how it was going to be an interplay between shadow and light on these things. That was the whole element of the Aliens that he wanted to get across on film, seeing the movement of living creatures coming out of the dark and into the light, moving through the light and never really focusing, never studying them.”
~ Tom Woodruff, Making of Aliens, 2003.

One problem for the production was replicating the immense size of the Aliens. “For Alien,” explained Cameron, “they went out of their way to find a very tall person to be inside the suit – Bolaji Badejo was something like seven feet tall. We knew right off that we weren’t going to find ten people who were seven feet tall.”

Cameron’s concerns were allayed when he realised that Badejo only featured in certain scenes, with some of the first, infamous shots of the creature with Brett and Dallas being played by the smaller Eddie Powell. With careful editing and suggestion, Ridley Scott had fooled many viewers into thinking the Alien was consistently large.

“In studying Alien,” said Cameron, “we found that there was really only one shot in the entire film that shows a direct scale relationship between the creature and a human being. In all other shots, it exists separately in the frame.”

Cameron utilised Scott’s power of suggestion and editing, whilst eight-foot-tall puppets crafted by Stan Winston filled in for a larger performer (so technically speaking, the Aliens in the sequel are a full foot taller than Badejo. Or at least the puppets are.) Stunt performer Eddie Powell, who played the Alien as it kills Brett and snatches Dallas, also returned to don the suit.

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Bolaji as the Alien, contrasted to Stan Winston’s 8 foot tall puppets

To aid them in the specifics of the Alien’s design, Twentieth Century Fox shipped the original suit to Winston’s crew. “Our shop used to be on Parthenia Street,” explained Winston employee Shane Mahan, “and Stan says, ‘Look, there’s a big crate coming from London, about the size of a coffin and when it comes in, we have got to take a look at what is inside.’ … Fox had sent us the original suit … we uncrated it and of course the horrible smell of decaying rubber and sweat and all of that came pouring out, but there at the bottom of this thing were all of the components to what Giger had built. It was ratty and a bit torn up, but it was like, ‘There it is! There’s the monster right there!’ It was astonishing … It was definitely an inspiration.”

When they looked at the suit they found it was littered with bottle caps, macaroni pieces, oysters, bones, as well as pieces of a Rolls-Royce, all embedded onto the suit and sprayed black. For their own suits, instead of tacking and sewing pieces onto the rubber, they opted to form the tubing and pipes as small cohesive wholes or plates that could simply be glued onto the spandex undersuits in easy-to-fit chunks.

Stan Winston: “Details that were obviously tacked onto the first one -little hoses and things- we worked at in a sculptural way so that the organic and inorganic elements blended together better.”

 “We pulled this thing [the original Alien suit] out of a crate, and it was unbelievable to see how it had been constructed. It had black, hand-painted macaroni pieces glued all over it to give it texture, with black-painted bottle caps at the waist. And the feet were just black Converse tennis shoes, covered with a slip-latex skin! When we got this thing out, put it on a mannequin, and saw it in broad daylight, it was amazing to see what Ridley Scott had gotten away with just by using slime and careful lighting and the right camera angles.”
~ Howard Berger, The Winston Effect, 2006.

Though the body remained the same between the first two films, and the feet and hands received only minor adjustments, the most obvious change was to the Alien’s head. For the original film, HR Giger designed a ‘ribbed’ cranium with a skull placed at the forefront. This head was covered up with the famous dome, hiding the design underneath (though it can be spotted in some behind-the-scenes shots.) Initially, the Aliens of the sequel were to also have domed heads, but when Cameron considered the logistics he ordered that they were removed in favour of the ribbed head underneath.

Winston employee Alec Gillis explained: “We built [the suits] so that they were more durable; they could go on and off quickly and that they wouldn’t have pieces that might be more susceptible to breaking. For instance, the dome on the Alien, Jim [Cameron] just wanted to remove it, he thought it would be a hassle, was afraid of it cracking or it having to be replaced – we’d have to cut [filming] and switch the dome [if it broke mid-shot.]”

Winston Studios employee Shane Mahan elaborated further: “We built it [a domed Alien head] and it looked beautiful. We built it in England and we put it all together and thought it looked great and then Jim said, ‘Take the dome off. Those are going to come off and fall or maybe break during all of the stunts.’ We were like, ‘No, you can’t!’ He had us remove it and that became its own look there for a long time, sort of a more streamlined thing, but it was originally meant to have that piece on it. I think someplace we have photos of it. We all loved the first movie. We wanted to… almost to a fault… where we were trying to replicate it so much and Jim would say, ‘No, let’s make it our own thing! It’s got to be kind of its own creature,’ and we finally got the concept and what he was trying to do.”

Aside from being more feasible from a technical standpoint, Cameron also liked the design of the ridged head, feeling it was a worthy enough feature to adopt as part of the Alien’s physical aesthetic. “We planned to [have a domed head] with ours,” he explained in The Winston Effect, “and to that end Stan Winston had Tom Woodruff sculpt up a ribbed, bone-like understructure that would fit underneath and be slightly visible through the cowl. When it was finished, they gave it a real nice paint job, and then I took a look at it and I said, ‘Hey, this looks much more interesting the way it is.’ So we ditched the cowl and decided that this was just another generation of Aliens – slightly mutated.'”

To stay faithful to the eyeless menace of Kane’s Son, Cameron smoothed over the front carapace of the Alien’s head, excising the skull and leaving the creature faceless and unknowable (Cameron’s explanation of the fear-provoking nature of the Alien was that it was predominately all teeth – the last thing you see before being devoured by a predator.)

Though the design was essentially his own, HR Giger missed the domed head from the original movie when watching Aliens, as much as he liked the sequel, commenting: “Aliens was also terrific. I am sorry I was not asked to work on it. At first I thought, ‘This is like a war film,’ but it is really powerful. But I didn’t like the ribbed cranium of the Alien warrior, although you couldn’t see the Aliens very much. However I loved the Alien Queen designed by James Cameron.”

Alien heads.

The lycra/spandex suits with pieces glued on top.

Cameron called Aliens a war film, and in war films there are casualties on both sides, and sometimes you have to be Machiavellian or even self-destructive in order to win or preserve your society as a whole, and the Aliens in the sequel do precisely that. The Alien in the first film was likened to, by Dan O’Bannon  an inexperienced and curious child, albeit an extraterrestrial one: “It’s never been subject to its own culture, it’s never been subject to anything except a few hours in the hold of the ship.” Ridley described it as a self-propagating machine, a “biomechanical insect.”

The Aliens of the second film were likened to the Viet Cong or guerrilla fighters in that they are a hidden, nigh-on irrepressible, non-technological and not-at-all battle shy force. They’ve been to war before with the colonists. They’re essentially an army. They manage to mobilise themselves before demoralising and decimating their enemy. James Cameron told Starlog magazine: “The Aliens are terrifying in their overwhelming force of numbers. The dramatic situations emerging from characters under stress can work just as well in an Alamo or Zulu Dawn as they can in a Friday the 13th, with its antagonist.”

When the Marines wander inside the Alien nest, they find … nothing. At first. The biomechanic appearance of the Aliens allows them to meld perfectly within the walls of the Hive. They slide out of their holes and the walls begin to treacle down towards the troopers on the ground…

ANGLE ON WALL as something begins to emerge. Dimly glimpsed, a glistening bio-mechanoid creature larger then a man. Lying dormant, it had blended perfectly with the convoluted surface of fused bone. The troopers don't see it. Smoke from the burning cocoons quickly fills the confined space. Visibility drops to zero...

ANGLE ON WALL as something begins to emerge. Dimly glimpsed, a glistening bio-mechanoid creature larger then a man. Lying dormant, it had blended perfectly with the convoluted surface of fused bone. The troopers don’t see it. Smoke from the burning cocoons quickly fills the confined space. Visibility drops to zero…

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