Tag Archives: Giger

Vintage Interview with Ron Cobb

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This interview, conducted by Dennis Fischer, is reproduced here as printed in Monsterland Magazine’s The Aliens Story (1988) by James Van Hise.

How did you become involved with Alien?

That was a long process. I’m bad at dates and time durations. Sometime after the first attempt to film Dune collapsed in Paris, about 1977 and Dan [O’Bannon] came back, downhearted and starving for a while, he eventually put together a screenplay with Ron Shusett of Alien, and they were making the rounds with it. While they were finishing up, they came to me and asked me to do a series of paintings to help sell it, so I knocked off a bunch of rather small paintings. Dan found some money somewhere and paid for my time and such, and again I was rather grateful to help Dan out because he had always been involved with some projects I could get excited about. So it was mainly the fact that I liked Dan and I liked Ron and I liked the project.

I did this series of paintings based strictly on Dan’s first script, and they went though a variety of adventures, and ended up selling it to Brandywine and Gordon Carroll and eventually 20th Century Fox.  When Brandywine decided to go on a search for a director, and eventually set their sights on a production day, Dan convinced them they should use me to do preliminary design along with Chris Foss from England and hopefully a few other people.

Initially Chris Foss and I worked here at Fox for about seven months in a little office they found for us. We were just cranking out nondescript designs -interiors, exteriors, spaceships, et cetera- carrying some of my early painting ideas into more elaborate versions with input from trial directors along the way, such as Walter Hill. They were elaborate, but they weren’t too practical. It was fine being paid just to sit there and design and design. Finally they settled on Ridley Scott and things began to get underway.

They realised that, yes, indeed, they were going to London. There was talk about it, but we were never sure. Ridley decided he liked the preliminary stuff I’d done. Chris Foss had to go back to London before us, but he was eventually taken on the film again for a while. Ridley Scott liked my work and wanted me to come to London because there was a chance I was going to be kicked off at that point. The producer, who was really calling the shots, wasn’t really sure about my work. He couldn’t always relate to it. He wasn’t sure I had the right approach. I never got the impression they were impressed. Dan always liked what I was doing and he was always puzzled about the producer’s reactions.

It was Ridley Scott who saved the day and got me to London. Naturally they had to stat all over again, design the film over again, only this time with an English production designer and a couple of art directors and a lot f other people. So I was on the periphery again, kind of having to prove myself.

As the additional six months passed in London, they gave me more and more to design. I ended up making more and more of a contribution to the film. So I was really quite satisfied that I had had an opportunity to do a lot of very, very basic designing on the film. I was looking for experience. It was a good team, and the other designer that Dan wanted to get on the film was H.R. Giger from Switzerland who [Dan] tried to get brought out here. But he wasn’t able to. Of course, in London they got him.

Giger ended up being very intellectual in designing the alien culture, the monster itself, and things. Eventually he built the monster. He asked that they build it as he designed it, so he insisted on doing ti himself. It is rather spectacular.

I, along with the production designer, the art director and assorted draftsmen, did the Earth technology. I designed quite a bit of it myself, including almost total design on a number of major sets. It was a great experience. And when all the designing was done, at the time the basic designing of the sets was completed, they were well into about a third of the shooting. I saw about a third of the shooting, then I took off for a little vacation around France, around Europe.

Dan’s original idea was that I would design all of the Earth technology, Chris Foss would design all of the alien technology, and Giger would design the monster, That’s what he wanted. As it turned out, I had a lot of influence in the design of the Earth technology, but I wasn’t the sole designer. There were a lot of people working on it. So it is a patchwork of many, many contributions, and they don’t always fit.

Ridley Scott had very, very strong ideas about all of it, which was sometimes good and sometimes confusing. Not everything fit together as well as it could if it had been designed by one person.

As it turned out, Giger designed, as well as the monster, most of the alien technology, so it all kind of fits together. If there’s one design concept which will dominate the film, it will be Giger’s. He was responsible almost solely for the look of most of the alien technology, the creature and everything.

Cobb and Giger in 1978, likely lunching at, where Giger was staying during the production.

Cobb and Giger lunching in 1978.

Could you relate any of these problems in filming Alien?

I saw that there were a lot of disappointments, a lot of misunderstandings. There was a lack of direction in the design of the film. I expected a lot of this to happen. it was a big production. There was a lot of money involved. There were a lot of people involved, so I knew that it wouldn’t be a hard, tight concept. I knew that they would stray away from Dan’s script, so I wasn’t as disappointed about it as Dan was.

It’s a shame. I think they should have stuck closer to the original concept. They should have given some of the designers a little more freedom. And so there are a lot of things that were very annoying. But it was the first time a lot of these people had made a film of this type. They weren’t aware of the sensitivities that certain people like Dan and I might have about certain inconsistencies. All in all it proceeded well enough in my point of view.

There is no point in getting into specific personalities. There were just misunderstandings and a lack of clarity.

I think that the real problems were in Dan’s sphere, because of what they did with the rewriting. It’s terrible, sloppy revisions, some of them pointless. It was very difficult for Dan to tighten the thing back up to keep it consistent and have it make sense. I was more concerned with certain inconsistent looks and elements of believability being retained. Sometimes I couldn’t make my point and other times I couldn’t because they wouldn’t understand them. I just couldn’t communicate certain ideas. I didn’t have enough power. Dan had more power than I did, so it was frustrating.

The final film is not the film that Dan and I would have made, or Dan, Giger, and I or Ron Shusett. It’s not exactly that film, but it is close enough to Dan and Ron’s. They stayed there and fought for it inch by inch, day by day to keep it from going too far from the original concept.

There is a good look to it and a number of spectacular ideas that survive. A few were innovated by the staff that were really quite good. Perhaps we didn’t recognise how good they were at the time, but there were some good new ideas.

Do you recall any humorous incidents during the filming?

One of the things Dan insisted on was that there be a cat on board. So there’s a mascot. A kitty roams around the ship. Of course, working with animals on a spaceship set creates ridiculous problems.

I had to design a cat box, a pressurised cat box, which eventually they decided was too elaborate. There were elements to get this cat through all the scenes. They had a scene where we wanted to shoot the last surviving crew member desperately looking for the cat to rescue. To take it off the ship because she has to leave because they are going to blow the whole ship up. She’s looking for the cat. So they had to have a scene where the cat was sleeping in a control seat, and she comes in crawling and finally sees it and startles the cat by touching a button. The seat jumps a little and the cat runs off. She has to grab it, put it into this little box, and run out.

The whole thing, of course, was to get this cat to sleep in this little chair. I went out there one day ad saw this ludicrous situation. Here is the entire crew of this huge spaceship set, the control room, the lights, the camera, the dolly, the director, the assistant director, an the make-up people and all the actors, and the assorted little cat cages that they had full of cats for different takes. Once the cat got startled, they had to use a different cat, so they all looked alike. We’re all sitting around very tense, waiting. Everybody is being very quiet while someone is trying to get this cat to go to sleep on this control seat. Finally the assistant director, with this very loud megaphone -the public address system was shot- says, ‘Stand by! The cat’s lying down, the cat’s lying down. Stand by!’

Everybody’s getting ready, and finally he says, ‘What? It’s asleep! It’s asleep!’ and everybody says, ‘Go!’ and everyone comes out and does the scene. They shoot, ‘Here kitty, kitty. Here kitty kitty,’ going along until they startle the cat. Then they have to do it all over again.

They have to get this other cat, and they have to be calm, and wait for this cat to go to sleep. It was amazing, just amazing, because the whole deck of the spaceship was filled.

Ron's cat box.

Ron’s cat box.

The control rooms and aid stations and landing gear were 30 feet high – the immense landing legs on the surface of the planet. They used children in spacesuits, much like they did in Destination Moon, to make the ship look even larger. Those poor little kids were fainting in those spacesuits because it was so hot. They filled this whole stage full of fog, which is just kind of an oil solution on an element and is just ghastly, horribly hot. The kids were walking around in heavy suits, little red faces dying inside. By and large it was kind of desperate and grim.

I’ve always had a very realistic idea of what was involved in making a film, so it didn’t bother me a great deal. It was just a lot of hard work, a lot of disappointments, But it was very exciting to see something you drew the plans for being built – these immense sets and huge set pieces. To be able to stand and walk through them is always something I’ve wanted to do. I must say, I do enjoy learning. I do enjoy making a mistake and realising how to do it right the next time. There was a lot of that.

It was a tremendous accumulation of knowledge. This and that. Now I see how to do it! How to use materials and how to fit lights in.

I actually designed a number of the sets in a very, very complete way. I supervised the dressings of them and everything. I hope that in the future I will have more power and certainly more confidence and ability. There were a lot of things I hadn’t known. It was a great experience for me.

It was not enjoyable for Dan, but I hope to do it again. I hope to work with Dan again, of course, in some future project.

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Facehugger/Chestburster

“It comes from inside of you – talk about no escape!”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Alien Evolution, 2001.

Stanley Kubrick, in his science-fiction opus 2001: A Space Odyssey, declined to show the extraterrestrial masters behind the Monolith on the advice of Carl Sagan, who argued that no film depiction of an alien could be convincing. In a 1968 interview with Playboy, the interviewer posed to Kubrick that extraterrestrials in fiction were typically portrayed as “bug-eyed monsters scuttling hungrily after curvaceous earth maidens.” Kubrick suggested that this trend “probably dates back to the pulp science-fiction of the Twenties and Thirties.” In short: depictions of alien monsters to date were the stuff of old comic books and were not taken seriously by cinema, which had yet to carve out its own unique and convincing renditions of alien life-forms. Whilst Kubrick’s film was bolstered by keeping his alien forces off-screen, it is interesting that both lusty bugs and the pulp depictions of aliens, anathema to serious-minded filmmakers in the 1960’s, would in fact serve as the roots from which the most terrifying and convincing alien monster would grow, a decade after Kubrick put his apparently definitive stamp on the genre, in 1979’s Alien.

When Dan O’Bannon started conceptualising his alien creature he turned to two key influences: the creatures depicted in the comic books he devoured as a child, and the insect world. “Works of fiction weren’t my only sources,” he explained in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting. “I also patterned the Alien’s life cycle on real-life parasites … Parasitic wasps treat caterpillars in an altogether revolting manner, the study of which I commend to anyone who is tired of having good dreams.”

To illustrate his point, O’Bannon quotes Carl Zimmer, the author of Parasite Rex (2001): “Psychiatrists actually recognise a condition they call delusional parasitosis – a terror of being attacked by parasites … it is not just a fear of being killed, it’s a fear of being controlled from within by something other than our own minds, being used for someone else’s ends. It’s a fear of becoming a flour beetle controlled by a tapeworm … When an alien bursts out of a movie actor’s chest, it bursts through our pretences to be more than brilliant creatures. It is nature itself that is bursting through, and it terrifies us.”

The insect world, O’Bannon knew, was one of sheer brutality, where even acts of copulation routinely result in murder. Indeed, certain parent insects quickly become fodder for their newly hatched spawn (an anecdote about a spider being eaten by its children is used to disturbing effect in Blade Runner.) Insects are also notoriously cruel to other species of insect – the relationship between flies and spiders is an obvious horror, but varieties of wasp also use the bodies of other insects as the host for their young. A genus of the Phoridae fly, the Pseudacteon, also known as the ant decapitating fly, is infamous for its violent use of ant bodies: eggs are laid in the ant’s thorax, and the larvae migrates to the brain, where it feeds on the hemolymph and muscle and nerve tissue. “After about two to four weeks, they cause the ant’s head to fall off by releasing an enzyme that dissolves the membrane attaching the ant’s head to its body. The fly pupates in the detached head capsule, requiring a further two weeks before emerging.”

“It was our idea,” explained Ron Shusett to Cinefantastique, “that it would be the life-cycle of an insect. The way a wasp will sting a spider, paralyze it, and lay its eggs in the spider. Its eggs grow off the living spider, like a surrogate mother. That we did want it to be.”

Ridley Scott added: “There’s a fundamental connection in nature because we actually watched, in preparation for this [movie], Oxford Scientific, [which] had this interesting piece of footage where they’d watched a slice of bark, and there’s a grub underneath the bark … Across the top of the bark was this insect, which passes over the grub, stops, backs up, and ‘feels’ the grub is there, let’s say, the equivalent of 8 feet below you. It goes up on its hind legs, produces a needle from between its legs, and drills through the bark and bulls-eyes right into the grub and lays its seed, so that the grub becomes the host of the insect.”

At first, O’Bannon was stuck on the point of getting the Alien on board the spaceship. Having it simply sneak aboard seemed too banal. But if the creature could stow away within the body of a space-man… Dan, fascinated and repulsed by the horrific life cycle of parasitoid wasps, incorporated the concept into his alien monster. It would gestate inside a living host and explode from their body. The Alien could get on the ship, and excitingly, not without spilling blood.

Broussard -later Kane- is exposed to the Alien spore.

Another inspiration behind the incubating monster, according to artist Chris Foss, was an episode of food poisoning that saw O’Bannon taken to hospital: “Long before he came to Paris [for Jodorowsky’s Dune], [O’Bannon] ate some fast food and woke up in the night in incredible pain and actually had to be taken to hospital, and imagined that there was a ‘beast’ inside him. And that was exactly where that thing [the chestburster] came from.” HR Giger corroborated this in an 1999 interview, saying, “Dan O’Bannon, when he was writing the script, had a stomach pain and he wanted the pain to go away and came up with the idea of the pain leaving through the stomach, so he invented that.” According to The New York Times, O’Bannon also told them: “The idea for the monster in Alien originally came from a stomach-ache I had.”

Stomach trouble was a decades-long ailment for O’Bannon, who was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, sometime in the 1970’s. In fact, his first wage from Twentieth Century Fox allowed him to pay off his accrued stomach-related medical expenses at that point: “I’d been under much stress and other problems plus not taking care of myself, that I came down with a very bad stomach ailment in 1977. I was sick a great deal of that year, I was in and out of the hospital.”

The trauma of feeling poisoned apparently stayed in O’Bannon’s mind when writing Alien. His health troubles, coupled with the horrors of the insect world, all seemed too deliciously distressing to pass up. He knew what to inflict on the crewmen of his embryonic Alien story: impregnation by way of rape and poisoning, all imbued with the fear of parasitoid insects.

Now all he needed was a monster designer.

Giger airbrushing an alien hieroglyphic displaying the violent and parasitic Alien life-cycle.

From the beginning, Dan O’Bannon had envisioned a Giger-monster stalking his ship and slaughtering his crewmen. He had been introduced to the artist’s unique biomechanical style and nightmarish imagery whilst living in Europe, working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ultimately aborted Dune. Jodorowsky had gathered a cabal of striking artists, illustrators, and visionaries to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus to life. O’Bannon: “Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything. It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum, that room where they were hanging it, designing it all and putting it on the wall.”

Giger’s work, however, grabbed O’Bannon most of all: “His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality. They started an idea turning over in my head – this guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen … And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.”

After his return to America, and with the Alien script written, purchased, and in the pre-production phase, O’Bannon was able to elicit HR Giger’s help in designing the alien beast. Ron Shusett: “We signed the deal and tried to get them to hire Hans Giger, who Dan had met on Dune. He’d never designed a movie, but there was some brilliant design work for Dune. Dan said, ‘This is our guy.’ So we rustled up some money and paid him to do about seven drawings, specifically the alien creature and the [derelict] spaceship.”

Giger’s signature mesh of bone and machines, interlaced with decay and sexuality, would give Alien the unique ingredient it needed to distance itself from other standard sci-fi fare. “When I was about 5 years old my father got a human skull,” explained Giger. “That was something special. I was very young, and it was a little frightening. But I was proud to have a skull. My interest in skulls and bones came very early.”

Of his art and interests, Giger explained: “An old friend of mine, Sergius Golowin, a specialist in myths and fables and magic, gave me a book by Lovecraft in the late 60’s and introduced me to Necronomicon: The Book of the Dead. He said the entire corpus of my work could easily be pages out of the Necronomicon. I very much admire Lovecraft … When The Necronomicon was printed, I had hand-bound copies in French, and I sent the first one to Dan O’Bannon.” Additionally, Giger name-checked the “Ancient Egyptians” as being among his influences, telling Tatuaz magazine in 2008: “When I was about 6 years old, every Sunday I went to the museum in Chur, where in the basement they kept a beautiful mummy. She had an old odour, and it fascinated me. Later, when I started to draw and use an airbrush, that for me was a memory of great inspiration … The Egyptian art is a lot of death.”

“In August of ’77,” explained Giger in 1979, “I got a call from O’Bannon. He asked if I would like to do some work for a film called Alien. I said, ‘yes, why not’ … I made the first designs for Alien even before Ridley Scott was the director.”

Early facehugger concept. The facehugger’s mouth was based on an Ancient Egyptian peseshkaf – a tool used by embalmers in the ‘opening of the mouth’ ritual. The bald being and his clothing resembles Prometheus‘ Engineer and pressure suit – this image was included as an easter egg within the Ultramorph mural in the aforementioned film. Image copyright HR Giger.

Variation. A maggot-headed ‘hugger. Rather than force the victim’s mouth open with a plier, the creature forces its proboscis between his lips. Image copyright HR Giger.

Later facehugger design. Smothering a space-suited victim. Details of the creature’s underbelly linger like a bad dream. Image copyright HR Giger.

The only problem with Giger was the reluctance of Twentieth Century Fox and the film’s producers to hire him. Giger had initially worked on a commission from O’Bannon and Shusett, and though he had begun preliminary design work, he had yet to be brought onto the film in an official capacity. “This man is sick,” producer Gordon Carroll is quoted as saying, having seen Giger’s designs. “I fought a year with Fox to hire Giger,” O’Bannon told Science Fiction Film Making magazine in the 1980’s. “I wrote the script so Giger could design those things, and then they picked up the script and said, ‘Naw, we don’t want this guy. When has he ever designed a movie?’”

“I had a heck of a time trying to get the producers to hire Giger,” said O’Bannon elsewhere. “They really didn’t want to get him involved because he’s not a movie professional; he was some ‘whing-ding’ in Zurich. They wanted to find somebody who had done this before, that they could count on.” Ron Shusett chips in: “The studio let us hire Cobb, because he was more normal. Giger, they were terrified of. They said, ‘these drawings are repulsive – people will stay away in droves.’ For eight months they refused to hire him.”

The key to hiring Giger was Ridley Scott, as O’Bannon explains: “When Ridley came to the project, Ronnie was rushing up with the original draft of the script [and] I was rushing up with copies of Giger’s work. Ridley saw Giger’s stuff he was snowed. He said, ‘This is it!’” Scott called up Fox and explained that he would not do the film if Giger was not hired as the creature designer. His threat worked, and Giger was hired. Later, producer David Giler would tell Cinefantastique, “[Alien’s] a richly textured film, thanks to HR Giger’s work.” Dan O’Bannon agreed: “Only because Ridley was hired on was Giger hired. He took a liking to Giger’s work. Without Giger, I don’t think we would have had much of a movie.”

In the original screenplay the Alien eggs are not found within the Space Jockey craft as they are in the final film, but within a pyramid structure belonging to a long extinct alien race, quite distinct from the Jockey, who, like the humans of the story, simply stumbled upon the alien spore whilst exploring the barren planetoid. O’Bannon described the spore, in a letter to Giger, as being “leathery, egg-shaped objects about one meter tall, which contain the larva of the Alien.” The spore-carrying creature itself, the facehugger, is not described, beyond being a small parasite. It fell to Giger to design the eggs as mandated by O’Bannon, and to refine the creature within.

“I saw the inhabitants of this planetoid as tough and primitive, and with an extremely complicated sexual cycle. See, these alien beings had two sexes of their own, but they needed a third host animal to reproduce. So they’d bring in an animal, put it up on the plinth with a spore and wham! Then they’d lead the inseminated animal off to an enclosure somewhere to await the birth. But the planetoid was now dead and this civilisation had been gone for a million years. All that remained of it was this pyramid and the spores – which can survive dormant for incredible lengths of time under even the most adverse conditions.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Something Perfectly Disgusting.

Initially thought of by O’Bannon as a sort of squid-like creature, the facehugger was conceptualised by Giger as a large parasite that could envelope an entire head. “[The facehugger was] kind of like a crab sitting in the egg,” Giger explained. “Dan O’Bannon had an insect-like design for that at first. But I always look for a function. These creatures should be able to jump out. I used the tail as a spring, a spring would be good. And I liked the crab fingers very much. Kind of a spider with a tail.”

“At school I worked as an industrial designer so everything must have a function,” explained Giger. “The facehugger was determined through its function. You have to show that. I was thinking that something that jumps out and then holds on to someone’s face needs fingers or hands. Normally if someone is sitting on your face you can’t breathe through your nose, so you automatically open your mouth. Then the monster goes down. So it looked a little bit like a crab or a spider. I like long fingers, so it had these long fingers, then two hands and a spiral tail. The ‘hands’ hold on to Kane’s face and the tail wraps around his neck.”

The job of designing the various elements of the film, from the Alien lifecycle and derelict craft, left Giger overloaded with work. “It wasn’t physically possible for Giger to do all the stages of the Alien,” Ridley told Starlog in 1979. “There just wasn’t time. But he had done some specific drawings of the four stages. He worked backwards: he designed the big chap first, then asked himself what a baby version of it would look like. Giger did the big chap and the egg, not the thing that comes out of it, just the egg. We finally chose a guy named Roger Dicken, an English special-effects man, specifically a model builder, to work on two of the Alien elements, the facehugger and the chestburster.”

“There was a big meeting,” O’Bannon told Cinefex in 1979, “and everybody was talking at the same time and trying to tell Dicken what the hell it should look like. Finally, Ridley pulled out Giger’s book and said: ‘Look, I want these fingers here on this page and I want that over there for the back, and then I want the tail from this other page.’ And Dicken was just confused. So I asked Ridley if I could take a try at it, and he said, ‘Go ahead.’ So I went over to the art department with Dicken and we took a drafting table and a huge piece of paper and some pencils. I drew two heads on the paper, and then I opened up Giger’s book and put it down in front of us.”

“‘All right,’ I said. ‘Ridley said he wanted part of this body, right?’ And I sketched it out. ‘And he liked these fingers.’ So I added the fingers. ‘And he wanted this tail.’ Well, while we were doing this, Giger came in –his plane had arrived from Switzerland- and he had some new designs for the facehugger. And they were very similar to what we were putting together on the drawing board – not identical, but similar. His had an eye on the back, and the shape of it was much more like the palm of a hand. I looked at them and I said, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ Then Giger looked at the thing I was sketching with Dicken, and he said, ‘No, that’s better, that’s much better.’ I was really flattered. So I said, ‘Then I should continue with it?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yes.’ So we went on.”

Facehugger profile. Note the cyclopean eye. Image copyright HR Giger.

O’Bannon continues: “When it came to trying to figure out what kind of a skeletal understructure the thing would need so the fingers could hook up, I got Ron Cobb over and he scrawled out his ideas – which, as usual, were excellent. Then I cleaned the whole thing up a little and did it in ink –exact size- and that’s what we went with.”

The facehugger, like the film at large, was the rare successful product of a melting pot approach to design. “I was really pleased,” said O’Bannon, “because I had kind of eclectically constructed the facehugger out of the things that Ridley wanted and the things that Giger wanted, and some good ideas from Cobb and from Dicken. Then we put the thing through a blueprint machine, got Ridley to okay it, and Roger went off and built it.”

Ridley with Giger’s Necronomicon paintings and a prototype facehugger bust. Image courtesy of mauvais-genres.

“We were having troubles,” Giger told Starlog in 1979, “so I spent most of the time working on the egg and the big Alien. We got Roger Dicken to build the facehugger and chestburster – and he did them very well. They are taken from my paintings.”

Giger then revealed: “But also made a facehugger. It had a skeleton inside that you could see through a translucent skin. But there was no time for me to finish it…” He elaborated to Cinefex that same year: “It was going to be very smooth and slimy, with eight long, fine, but very strong fingers. The main difference was that mine was going to be translucent. I wanted the inside to be visible because it had a sort of skeleton under the skin.”

Unfortunately for Giger’s facehugger, “the producers stopped me because they were worried that I wouldn’t get the big [Alien] finished in time.”

Giger’s personal facehugger mid-build. The spine is more prevalent and the skin was to be yellow-translucent. More at the Prop Store.

Though the resulting facehugger resulted from a collaborative effort between the director, writer, concept artist, and even a few others, Roger Dicken expressed some dissatisfaction, and had a different idea of how the creature should have looked, saying to Starburst magazine: “I would have liked it to have been a little more scaly and I would have liked to have little barbs like rose thorns on the legs and down the tail. As the Alien was so self-preserving, you shouldn’t be able to get a hold of the thing. I felt that in the film this wasn’t well brought over.”

Intended to be Alien’s big shocker moment, the chestburster was perhaps, next to the physical form of the fully grown Alien, the most important design to be made. If the chestbursting lacked punch, then the audience may not take further events and dangers seriously. For its design, Giger was pointed towards the art of Francis Bacon by Scott. Bacon, already a favourite artist of Giger’s, served as the inspiration for the first incarnation of the chestburster. “I think when you want to be really scared,” Ridley Scott said to Cinefantastique, “you’ve got to think about what it is that makes you very physically uneasy, that upsets you in a primal way. And I’m not easily upset, but we looked at various painters’ works, and the one that caught us was by Francis Bacon, the three flesh necks with the jaws on the end. The primality, if there is such a word, was what interested me.”

“Ridley Scott asked me to do something based on a crucifixion painting by Francis Bacon,” said Giger, “in which the only thing of the figure you see is a mouth and some flesh behind. He wanted something like that which could go into the stomach or come out of it. First it was designed as a little dinosaur and I didn’t like it at all, but finally we gave him a worm-like shape with no legs … I believe the strongest, scariest feeling is to see an alien-worm inside a person’s body moving under his skin.”

Giger’s first abortive attempt at the chestburster, inspired by Francis Bacon.

Giger’s first chestburster design was received with reservation and ridicule. “To me, it looked like a plucked turkey” said Roger Dicken, “a veined, repulsive-looking thing with fangs … Obviously, you couldn’t get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but they were going to cheat it somehow.”

Despite his incredulity at the design, Dicken crafted a workable prop from the design. “Dicken reproduced it very faithfully,” Ridley told Cinefex. “The problem was that what looked great on paper didn’t in actuality.” Dicken had brought the prop to the studio and operated it like a hand puppet. The effect looked “entirely comical – it looked like some kind of plucked, demented turkey.”

Frightened of the chestburster eliciting laughs rather than screams, Ridley went back to the drawing board. “We went back and re-examined various illustrations and ideas, and tried to come up with something we thought would be the most frightening,” he told Cinefantastique. “I wanted more of a biological link between the baby, which is what we were really designing, and what the final creature would look like. And I wanted it to be a very smooth object. The other was all wrinkled and ancient-looking, like some malevolent muppet. And when it came out, I wanted it to look very rude – and totally carnivorous. So to be honest, that beast was very much the product of several people – Giger and Dicken and me, and even a bit of Gordon Carroll.”

“We worked for weeks on the baby [chestburster],” said Scott. “I knew I didn’t want something with bumps and warts and claws. You know, I find that most horror films have never really frightened me; and I tend not to be convinced by a lot of science-fiction films specifically because of the effects. So I knew it had to be good, this baby. We decided that the big chap, in embryo form, would have a head either tilted down or tilted back. We tilted it back because it seemed more obscene that way, more reptilian, more phallic.”

Roger Dicken: “The overall look of the chestburster was this long banana-shaped thing with a head on it from the Giger drawing. I made various models of it. One afternoon, Ridley Scott came over here and over cups of tea we literally constructed the thing by trying on different tails and so on, and it was finally agreed that that was what it would finally look like.”

One prototype chestburster. The head closely resembles the adult Alien’s tongue.

Final prop from the film. Note the little nubs indicating arms. “I tried to do several things with the chestburster,” said Giger in ’79. “He started out with arms and legs, but later we made them only small. Now he’s like the long skull of the big alien—a long skull with teeth and a tail.”

For the Alien’s birth, the production crew “had gone to a butcher’s shop and got animal innards,” according to Ron Shusett. “Livers, hearts, things like that.”

Scott kept the design of the chestburster hidden from the majority of the cast, bar John Hurt, from whom’s chest the ‘burster would sprout. Producer and co-writer David Giler told Cinefantastique that “the ‘Chest Birth’ was simulated for the actors by surprising them with a shower of animal entrails. That’s why their looks of disgust and horror are so real . They had no idea what we were going to shoot that day.”

“I was there,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and they had three cameras set up ’cause they wanted to catch it from all angles and all the cameras were covered in clear plastic tarps. The lenses were covered with flat optical class like underwater cameras and Ridley and the D.P. and all of the technicians were all wearing overalls up to their necks. It took them three to four hours to get the actor doing to do the stunt rigged because there was mechanical stuff involved. Meanwhile the other actors didn’t come on set, I don’t know where they were, they had a room where the actors could hang out and talk to each other. Then they brought them in when they were ready for it, they hadn’t seen all the preparation. All they did was they walked on, they saw all these tarps, and they saw huge hydraulic machines with hoses leading to this rigged man, and they saw everybody wearing coveralls. I looked at Sigourney Weaver, who’s the lead. I saw her face as she looked at the tarp, coveralls and camera, and she seemed to go a little shaky. The actors looked real uneasy when they saw the set-up because it looked like they were trying to prepare for Vesuvius.”

“I knew that the special effects men were trying to rig the blood so that it would hit me,”said Sigourney after the film’s release. “I was absolutely green. There had been a huge vat of kidneys and livers and intestines floating around on the set for two days and the stench was awful.”

“I noticed Sigourney really looking scared,” said Shusett. “I said, ‘You’re really getting into character.’ She said, ‘No, I have a feeling I really feel I’m going to be pretty repulsed right now.’ A couple years later, I read an interview where she said, ‘The reason I knew it was I saw Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett over in the corner, and they were putting on rubber raincoats and laughing like little kids on Christmas morning. So I knew it was going to be a blood-bath!’ It worked so great. Veronica Cartwright – when the blood hit her in the fact, she totally passed out. I heard from Yaphet Kotto’s wife that after that scene he would go to his room every night and not talk to anybody.”

“The amount of blood was just unparalleled,” continued O’Bannon. “I saw Veronica Cartwright get drenched from head to toe in blood and scream her fool head off and fall backwards over a table and brain herself … Then afterwards these two people pick Veronica Cartwright up and she was weak-kneed and they had to help her off the set.  She was drenched, all her clothes sticking to her, and her hair sticking to her with this red dye and she was near hysterics. And twenty minutes later they come back and they had showered her and fixed her up and put a duplicate costume on her and she looked the same, but a little spooked, and I went up to her and I said, ‘That was really terrific. Was that all acting?’ And she looked at and said in a kind of spooked voice, ‘Well, I was a little freaked-out.'”

“John Hurt had been lying there for about four hours while they fixed him up,” Cartwright told Fantastic Films in ’79. “By the time I got there I was thinking, ‘uh oh’. They had three cameras so they could get all our first reactions – our gut reactions. That’s what you see in the film. Those reactions are totally raw. Nobody quite anticipate what was going to happen. I was told I’d get some blood on me. I had no idea the hose was pointed at my face. I felt very queasy afterwards.”

“Kane’s Son.” The creature demands birth from his body and quickly grows to become The Eight Passenger.

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The Alien Planet

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When Alejandro Jodorowsky approached HR Giger with his film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, he enticed Giger with the prospect of creating his own alien world and civilisation. With Chris Foss and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud designing vehicles, costumes and storyboards in one corner, and with Dan O’Bannon overseeing the special effects, Giger set to work on his vision of the dreary Harkonnen homeworld, Giedi Prime. “My planet was ruled by evil,” Giger explained, “a place where black magic was practised, aggressions were let loose, and intemperance and perversion were the order of the day.” When the film fell apart before entering production Jodorowsky sent back Giger’s work, without pay, and the dream of creating his own alien world fell apart. Later, in August 1977, Giger received a phone call from Dan O’Bannon, who had written a science-fiction script of his own…

“The planetoid … is turbulent, completely enveloped in dun-coloured clouds,” reads O’Bannon’s Alien script. “The night-shrouded surface is a hell of blowing dust.” When the spaceship Snark (later renamed the Leviathan, and finally Nostromo) lands, the chaotic weather grounds the vessel, necessitating repairs. “A ring of floodlights on the ship come to life … They illuminate nothing but a patch of featureless grey ground and clouds of blowing dust.” In addition to being bleak, the planetoid’s day/night cycles pass by in rapid succession, discomforting the investigating spacemen. “These day and night cycles are totally disorientating,” says Melkonis, who would later become Lambert. “I feel like we’ve been here for days, but it’s only been how long?” Roby, the proto-Ripley, replies, “about four hours.”

Planetary concept art by Ron Cobb. A red giant and white dwarf illuminate the roiling, ruddy clouds.

The Snark stranded in a dust storm. The planetoid in the film is essentially as described in the script, but none of the concept art, bar Giger’s, presented it as the grey gloom evoked by O’Bannon. Instead, preliminary artwork by Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, and even Moebius showed a Mars-like wasteland.

With Giger having designed the derelict, he was also given reign over the planetoid’s surface; a job he found more enticing than designing the film’s titular monster. He told Sci-Fi Invasion! magazine in 1998: “[Designing] the creature is a boring thing! … After modelling you give it to other people [to build]. I liked to do the world the Alien was coming from. It was my world.”

For his world, Giger painted a biomechanical landscape of strange shapes formed out of twisted metal and bone. “I wanted the landscape of the planet to be biomechanic,” said Giger, “a mixture of our technology and some kind of magma, so as to create the feeling that maybe something has happened before on that planet, maybe a technical civilisation has been destroyed.”

In fact, in the original screenplay there were traces of a bygone alien race on the planetoid’s surface – the most notable element being the famous spore pyramid. The characters deduce that the pyramid is a “a pre-technological construction. That slab was engineered by an Iron Age culture at best.” The structure once served as a breeding temple for the planetoid’s primitive beings, who required three sexes to reproduce: two consensual, and one sacrificial – an incubator to carry the seed.

Unique Race: “In Dan’s original conception the Alien race had three entirely different stages of its life-cycle,” explained Ron Cobb. “First, the egg, which is tended by the third stage adults and housed in a lower chamber of the breeding temple. When ready to hatch, the egg is placed in the middle of a sacrificial stone and a lower animal, the equivalent of an alien cow, is then led on to the stone. Sensing the warmth, the facehugger springs out, attaches itself to the animal and deposits a foetus into the stomach.” At some point in the planetoid’s history, a “cataclysm causes the extermination of the adults … leaving no one to tend and nurture the young. But in a dark lower chamber of the breeding temple a large number of eggs lie dormant, waiting to sense something warm …”

The pyramid would find itself excised in the first rewrites conducted by Walter Hill and David Giler. “We believed,” Hill explained to Film International in 2004, “that if you got rid of a lot of the junk -they had pyramids and hieroglyphics in the planetoid, a lot of Von Daniken crap- that what you would have left would be a very good, very primal space story.” However, Hill and Giler did not merely remove the pyramids and hieroglyphics, but they replaced them as well. For one iteration of the script, the Alien spore was housed in a man-made construct known only as the ‘Cylinder’.

One piece of Cobb’s art shows the short-lived Cylinder construct. In this version of the story, the Alien is a bioweapon engineered by the malevolent Company. The Nostromo crew are re-routed to be used as specimens to test the creature’s lethality. The Lovecraftian tones infused into the script by O’Bannon were utterly removed. When Ron Shusett presented the original script to Ridley Scott, Scott decided that they should go back to the original plan. Though the Lovecraftian tones would persist all the way to the final movie, the pyramid, ultimately, would not.

The Cylinder was not to last long. “I remember getting this call from Gordon Carroll,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films. “He said, ‘You must meet Ridley. You’re going to like him’ … I went in, and there he was. Ronnie Shusett had feverishly rushed up to him and shoved a copy of the original draft of the script into his hands because Hill and Giler had begun to rewrite it. We were disturbed by the content of the rewrite. Ridley read it and went, “Oh yes. We have to go back to the first way. Definitely.'”

After Scott’s exposure to O’Bannon’s original draft, the alien angle was re-inserted into the movie. Rather than a pyramid however, Giger designed a breast-like  biomechanic egg silo to store the eggs. Eventually, due to time and budget, even this was eliminated, and the egg silo merged with the derelict craft. “I would love to have shot it [the pyramid/silo],” Ridley explained, “but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would have been wonderful in a three-hour version. What finally cracked it was the budget. We just had to get rid of it.”

At first, Scott flirted with the idea of shooting on location, but due to financial and logistical impracticalities, the dream was short-lived. “Studio landscape is bloody difficult,” he complained. “You’re constantly staring at plaster rocks and saying, ‘Christ, this doesn’t look right.’ I would have preferred to do some of it on location and then do a studio link. In fact, I‘d been looking at some spots for another picture that would have been beautiful for Alien, particularly in Turkey where there are these pyramid-like dwellings – huge mountainous structures which cover hundreds of square miles. Absolutely extraordinary. But it was a practical budget decision not to go away on location, and so we just did what we could in the studio.” Scott would eventually get outside for the LV-223 landscape in Prometheus.

Michael Seymour explained to Cinefex the difficulty of building a convincing alien environment on a stage: “The alien landscape was really just a collection of shapes, and unless one saw it only in carefully lighted conditions, it looks exactly like that. Obviously, when you’re striving for believability, the last thing you want is a set that looks like a set.”

Twisted biomechanical landscape. Image copyright HR Giger.

The expansive sets were shrouded in smoke and dust to simulate storms and to hide the physical limitations of filming on a stage.

To hide the set, the production crew turned to masking the environment. Nick Allder explained: “We used vermiculite. In fact, we used a lot of vermiculite – somewhere in the region of two or three hundred bags a day. Normally I think it’s used for insulation and things like that, but it was ideal for this purpose because it looks rather like small pebbles even though it’s actually very lightweight. Then in addition to the vermiculite and the smoke, I used a lot of live steam venting out of the [Nostromo] leg, just for atmosphere.”

To give the planet texture in the shots of it from orbit, crew member Dennis Lowe turned to a technique he had tested as a student: “[On Alien] we had to devise a way to produce planet-like textures. When I was an art student I spent hours photographing aluminium paint poured on white spirit in a shallow tray to produce an abstract effect. I remembered this technique and suggested we have a go. This time I used powder pigments to mix into the aluminium paint and photographed it using a Hasselblad 2 1/4 camera. What resulted was a globular surface with infinite detail that could pass as a planet surface. This would then be projected using the same technique onto the white dome.”

Surface of the planet from orbit.

At the time of the film’s release, Giger stated: “I am a bit disappointed, but I think the film comes off alright as it is now. We had made a lot of little models, but very few were executed full-size. And, due to lack of time, the one made for the landscape is not really biomechanic. But, at least, it is full-size. Only in one scene is a model used for the landscape: when you see the three men [actually Dallas, Kane, and Lambert] with the derelict in the background.”

“I was not satisfied with my work because I thought it would be better,” Giger told TotalMovie in 2001. “There were many more shots of the alien environment and the derelict spacecraft. We worked so long on this, and then it was shown in a few seconds, and it was already old! I didn’t understand why Ridley showed people’s faces so long while the more interesting things were shown so short … Later, I saw that Scott did a good job. He filmed it very well because he knew exactly how it should look.”

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The Eighth Passenger

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“[The Alien] is elegant, fast and terrible. It exists to destroy—and destroys to exist. Once seen it will never be forgotten. It will remain with people who have seen it, perhaps in their dreams or nightmares, for a long, long time. Perhaps for all time.”
~ HR Giger, Mediascene, 1979.

Disappointed by the performance of his debut feature film, 1974’s Dark Star, writer Dan O’Bannon decided to make another attempt at the stuck-in-space-story, but this time with a major difference. He would, essentially, make the “same movie”, replete with a used universe aesthetic and weary, bickering crewmembers, but he would present it “in a completely different light.” This new story, tentatively titled Star Beast before becoming known as Alien, would not be a comedy, but a horror, and the beach ball alien nuisance featured in Dark Star would be replaced by a biomechanoid terror created by Swiss artist HR Giger.

At first O’Bannon imagined that the film’s creature would be an unseen, malevolent psychic force, much like the antagonist of Forbidden Planet. “There was my itch to do an alien in a movie that looked real,” said O’Bannon. “I think I went through and exhausted every possible type of science-fiction threat there is. I considered them picking up an alien disease, I considered a non-physical, kind of spiritual alien that would possess people…”

Ultimately, the developing Alien project was resigned to the desk drawer. For now. In the meantime O’Bannon left the United States for Europe to join the pre-production team on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, a team which included English artist Chris Foss, French comic book maestro Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and burgeoning Swiss artist HR Giger.

“The whole thing really started in Salvadore Dali’s house,” Giger revealed to Starlog magazine in ’79. “I have a friend in Spain [American painter Bob Venosa, who lived in Cadaqués] who is often in Dali’s house, and he brought some of my work to him… Jodorowsky came to Spain to ask Dali to play the Emperor in his film of Dune. So Dali showed him my work and Jodorowsky was impressed enough and thought I could do something for his film.” Giger travelled to Dali’s to meet the director, but missed him. “[But] I was able to meet Salvadore Dali,” Giger said. “He was very nice.” Giger later caught up with Jodorowsky in Paris, where the artist was formally asked to join Dune’s concept team, and was tasked with creating the desolate world of Harkonnen.

Giger had turned his hand at film design before for Swiss Made 2069 (1968), by F.M. Murer, a film about an alien that comes to Earth and records its experiences. “The story,” Giger explained, “somewhat in the vein of Orwell’s 1984, is very complex. It is in fact the combination of seven different stories, none of which are told entirely!”

“Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything,” O’Bannon said of the Dune conceptual period. “It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum.” But it was Giger’s work that stunned O’Bannon the most. “His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality,” he said. “They started an idea turning over in my head – this guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen.”

Why did Jodorowsky’s Dune fall apart? Jodorowsky himself blamed American companies: “[Dune] had to be an international release, nothing less than 2,000 theatres in the US. American managers refused because Hollywood did not want to see a French production on the same level as theirs.” Dune and Alien conceptual artist Chris Foss elaborated: “The company financing the Dune project was called Camera One. The producer and, I think, Jodorowsky went to Los Angeles shortly before Christmas of 1975 with the hope of getting American interest in the film and setting up a co-production deal. I believe there was a disagreement in Los Angeles about how the film should be made. Bearing in mind how large the budget had by then become, the French company was unable -or perhaps unwilling- to finance it totally on its own.” With the film adaptation of Dune scuppered (for now), O’Bannon, Foss, Moebius, and Giger went their separate ways (… for now.)

O’Bannon had stopped over in America when he heard that Dune fell apart back in Europe, and he ended up staying with friend and eventual Alien executive producer, Ron Shusett. “There I was on his sofa,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and I didn’t have any prospects at all. It was a terrible situation. I couldn’t stay on his sofa indefinitely so I hauled myself up out of my black depression and was going to do something – I’m going to write a script.”

With Giger’s imagery fresh in his mind, O’Bannon “ended up writing a script about a Giger monster … when I got back to America I was still haunted by his work. It was on my mind and when we sat down to do Alien I ended up visualising the thing as I was writing it … I found myself visualizing it as a Giger painting.”

When it came to designing Alien, O’Bannon used Jodorowsky’s gathering-of-artists technique as a template: “[Fox] put me on a salary to go in and design the whole movie. So I hired Ron Cobb and I asked for Chris Foss who was in England and they actually hired him and flew him over.” Recruiting Giger was, initially, relatively simple. “In August of ’77, I got a call from O’Bannon,” Giger told Starlog. “He asked if I would like to do some work for a film called Alien. I said, ‘yes, why not.'”

Dan’s unique race: In the original screenplay the Alien is not an implied bioweapon but rather a member of a long extinct race who copulate within pyramid structures. Since the planetoid’s extinct alien inhabitants were capable of architecture and religion, the Alien, as initially conceived, was not to be an entirely hostile creature. As it ages, O’Bannon explained, the Alien “becomes more and more harmless. Finally, its blood-lust gone, the Alien becomes a mild, intelligent creature, capable of art and architecture, which lives a full, scholarly life of 200 years.” To add to the concept of the Alien becoming more intelligent and emotionally content as it matures, O’Bannon excused the Alien’s blood-thirst aboard the Nostromo as a sort of juvenile panic that, given the right environment, may have passed: “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. Quite literally, it doesn’t have an education. The Alien is not only savage, it is also ignorant.”

The adult Alien was described to Giger, in a pre-production letter from O’Bannon, as being “very mobile, strong, and capable of tearing a man to pieces. It feeds on human flesh. This creature should be a profane abomination. Our producers have suggested that something resembling an over-sized, deformed baby might be sufficiently loathsome. In any event, we wish you to feel free to create your own design.” Giger began his first concepts for the creature in August/September, 1977, but he wasn’t the only artist to try his hand at designing the Alien. Ron Cobb, who had designed Dark Star‘s vessel and who had drawn the sketches provided in O’Bannon’s script (as well as some of Star Wars‘ Cantina aliens), also made a stab at the creature.

An Alien design by Ron Cobb

Though O’Bannon loved Cobb’s drawings, they were lacking what only Giger was able to provide: a tangible nightmarish quality. “I’m afraid Ron Cobb’s ego was sorely wounded when he didn’t get to do the monster,” O’Bannon told Cinefex in ’79. “He was endlessly frustrated because he could design aliens without number and they were all convincing and all unique and all startling to look at. The only problem was, he’s a rationalist. I noticed this when we first started designing the picture. All these different things were coming out so well that I decided to have him take a crack at the derelict spaceship. But when I asked him to come up with an irrational shape he got very disturbed. He couldn’t handle that. He kept coming up with convincing technology for a flying saucer or some other kind of UFO. And when it came to the Alien, he had the same problem. His designs just weren’t as bizarre, or as bubbling up from the subconscious as the stuff Giger was doing. Cobb’s monsters all looked like they could come out of a zoo—Giger’s looked like something out of a bad dream.”

Cobb however, in addition to designing the Nostromo exterior and interior, did contribute to the Alien in one fundamental way. Stumped at why the crew of his ship couldn’t simply shoot the Alien to death, and considering the idea of a bulletproof creature to be “the biggest gest-groaner of all time,” O’Bannon was stuck until Cobb made a key suggestion: “Ron Cobb gave continual input to the film right from the very start,” said O’Bannon. “He gave us one of the major plot elements: the monster has an incredibly corrosive bloodstream; one of the reasons the monster can’t be cut up or fired at is because its blood would eat right through the ship. That was Ron’s idea and I want everyone to know it … I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal, which means yes, if you shoot it, it’ll die.”

Dan O’Bannon on Ron Cobb’s essential input: “What really bothered me about the whole idea of this thing running around on the ship was, why they didn’t just kill it? Why didn’t they spear the goddamn thing, or shoot it with some kind of gun that wouldn’t go right through it and penetrate the hull? Or why couldn’t they get a bunch of long pointed shafts and drive it out the airlock? I mentioned that to Ron Cobb, and he said, ‘Why not give it extremely corrosive blood that would eat through the hull?’ And I said, ‘Well, that doesn’t make much sense; but it would certainly make it very, very difficult for them to deal with it on board the ship’ – so I put it in.”

The inclusion of acid blood that could destroy the ship’s hull would lend the creature a whole new lethal dimension. Not only could the crew not kill it, but they would have to avoid injuring it also, (in one unfilmed scene, the Alien loses an appendage in a closing airlock door, which compromises the hull. Decompression is averted, but still affects the crew, which is why Ripley suffers an apparently spontaneous nosebleed as she confronts Ash.)

Even Cobb wasn’t the only one to tackle the creature’s design. “The first [Alien] concept was done by Dan O’Bannon,” Giger revealed. However, O’Bannon’s drawings were not meant to be a legitimate attempt at nailing the look of the creature, but simply to provide Giger with some creative input. “[O’Bannon] made some sketches and he also sent me some sketches by Ron Cobb. At that moment Ridley wasn’t involved. Later on, when Ridley became the director, we worked very closely together.”

An Alien sketch by Dan O’Bannon

Giger’s sketches of the Alien shape.

Getting Giger to agree to design the Alien was simple enough, but getting the film’s producers and the production company to hire him was the hurdle. “The first guy I started pushing at them to do the monster was Giger,” said O’Bannon. “I had a heck of a time trying to get the producers to hire Giger. They really didn’t want to get involved because he’s not a movie professional, he was some ‘whing-ding’ in Zurich.”

The key to officially hiring Giger was director Ridley Scott. “Ridley saw Giger’s stuff and he was snowed,” explained O’Bannon. Scott threatened to walk from the project if Giger wasn’t brought on, and the producers acquiesced, though it would be a decision that they later praised, with David Giler telling Cinefantastique, “it’s a richly textured film, thanks to HR Giger’s work.”

“My first movie is pretty good actually, called The Duellists. And that was criticized for being too beautiful, and you know, I took that to heart. So the next one was Alien, and that was less beautiful but more impressive and more grungy. I was criticized for a lack of character development. I said, ‘What fucking character development do you need when you’ve got that son of a bitch on board?'”
~ Ridley Scott, Wired interview, 2007.

“I was first introduced to HR Giger’s artwork while in the very early stages of pre-production for Alien,” explained Ridley. “Dan O’Bannon showed me a copy of Giger’s Necronomicon book, and I immediately saw the potential his work had to offer the project. The producers were a bit hesitant in initially committing to his art until they had a director locked up. In this case that wound up being me. My enthusiasm with regard to the film increased significantly as I realized we had the ability to create a monster that would be superior to most of those from the past. Initially, Giger wanted to design the creature from scratch. However, I was so impressed with his Necronom IV and V paintings from the Necronomicon book that I insisted he follow their form. I had never been so sure of anything in my life. They were quite specific to what I envisioned for the film, particularly in the unique manner in which they conveyed both horror and beauty.”

“I’d seen drawings that other people had tried [of the Alien],” Scott said to Fantastic Films magazine in 1979. “They always seemed to be of scaly bodies with claws or huge blobs that would move across the floor. There was no elegance to them, no lethalness. What emerged was a HR Giger-designed humanoid with distinctively biomechanoid tendencies … I mean, really, how many creatures in horror films have actually worked for you? People only accept them because that’s what they’re seeing … When we finally had something acceptable we stood back and looked at him. For better or worse, we were committed to that thing as the beast. He was great on paper, and when Giger put the model together, he looked terrific.”

“When we started,” Giger explained to FamousMonsters magazine, “Ridley said, ‘I haven’t seen any good monsters lately in films.’ I mean, to do a horror or monster movie nowadays we didn’t have many good examples … we decided to choose something from my Necronomicon book.”

Mia Bonzanigo, described as Giger’s “secretary-girlfriend-muse-model” by Cinefantastique, described Giger’s state of mind during production: “He used to have nightmares and would even talk in his sleep because of the terrible pressure imposed on him by the production,” (Giger and Mia, who can be seen in some of Alien‘s behind the scenes footage, would marry after the film’s production. They later separated.)

“Sometimes,” Giger said to FamousMonsters, “I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t be ready with the design by the deadline. I mean, the Alien had to be the star of the film, and if the star is no good the film is lost.” Giger told Cinephage in 1992: “I still see the H stage, the studios at Shepperton, filled with smoke and oil burning. Outside, the sun was shining and we entered the studio and were suddenly in the mist. It was crazy! I had to be there every day. It was completely stressful … I wanted things to be done well.”

“In the first design for the Alien, he had big black eyes,” Giger told Starlog. “But somebody said he looked too much like a … what do you call it? A Hell’s Angel; all in black with the black goggles…”

“… And then I thought it would be even more frightening if there are no eyes! … Then when the camera comes close, you can only see the holes of the skull. Now that’s really frightening. Because, you see, even without eyes he always knows exactly where his victims are, and he attacks directly, suddenly, unerringly. Like a striking snake.”
Image copyright HR Giger.

At first, Giger was hired only to design the creature, but not to build it. That responsibility would be Roger Dicken’s, who was also to build the facehugger and chestburster. Before the Alien could be built however, they needed to cast somebody in the role of the creature so that the suit could be built to their specifications. At first Ridley considered that the Alien was a female creature, as he “wanted to not only have a strong heroine, but I also wanted to make the creature female as well: two women battling one another would have had a great sexual connotation.”

Ivor Powell explained how the (apparently embarrassing) search for a woman performer was thrust on to him: “The person that put the suit on had to be impossibly tall. We wanted them to be incredibly long-limbed, especially from the waist to the knee, so we started looking at women, and it fell to my job to try and bring in women. I remember one of the tallest models, and quite a well known model of the time, was this woman called Verushka, and she came in, and well literally there she was in a little pair of knickers and we asked her to crouch down -Ridley had this idea that it would be like a sort of praying mantis, and the way when you crouch down, the knees are impossibly high like a grasshopper- and so we went through all these pre-ambulations of trying to cast women [and] I had to photograph and take Polaroids of all these women in various states of undress, you know, for the Alien.”

“I wanted a very feminine creature,” Scott elaborated further. “The idea of associating danger and sexual desire, to have a creature that was at once desirable and lethal, and that was exciting. It was the eroticism in Giger’s work that had struck me immediately.”

Casting a woman however proved to be painstakingly difficult. “We couldn’t find a female tall enough,” said Scott. They turned to other, more eclectic measures. “I had a guy come into my office who ran around on his hands with his head tucked in and his feet stuck out,” Scott told Cinefex. “He looked like some strange sort of crab. He ran all over the top of my desk, and then hopped off on his hands and scuttled across the floor. It was amazing, but he was limited in what he could do. I even brought in a whole family of contortionists with the idea of taking an adult contortionist and then somehow strapping two very small children, who were also contortionists, on to him in various ways. You can imagine if you did that, and then covered them all with some sort of suit, you’d get a very strange-looking object. It could really scare the shit out of you coming down a corridor.”

While Ridley was trying to find his Alien performer, Roger Dicken was skeptical that one could be found, telling Cinefex, “I went to about three meetings in London and watched these characters rolling around on the floor and quite frankly, I thought it was a bit Mickey Mouse. I mean, it was obvious to me that none of this was going to work, but I had to just sit around wasting time while everybody else figured it out. I sat through a few more meetings while they ran through football players and wrestlers and tall men. Then, for a while, they thought they’d use an ordinary-sized guy so there wouldn’t be any problems with stunts and all. At that point, I even offered to be the monster myself. I figured if I was going to make the suit, I might as well be in it.”

The saving grace was a trip to the pub. “We started with a stunt man who was quite thin,” said Scott, “but in the rubber suit he looked like the Michelin Man. So my casting director [Peter Archer] said, ‘I’ve seen a guy in a pub in Soho who is about seven feet tall, has a tiny head and a tiny skinny body.’ So he brought Bolaji Badejo to the office … I said, ‘Do you want to be in movies?’ and he said, ‘Sure’. And he became the Alien.”

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

“As soon as I walked in,” Bolaji told Cinefantastique, “Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Prior to filming, Badejo was placed on the Nostromo set with a mock-up Alien head and roamed the corridors on film, slithering, pausing, turning, kneeling, and prowling through the corridors to nail an appropriate system of movement for the beast.

“It’s very difficult for an actor to relate to what is, essentially, a beast. They know what it is, and they know there’s a man inside the suit, and they know the odds are they’ll never have to experience anything like it in their real lives … I think you’d probably die before the thing touched you anyway. I mean, you’d have a heart attack, right? You’d turn and see it and last about four seconds before you had a coronary, okay? So with Brett’s death, and subsequent run-ins with the Alien, it was always done with the ultimate feeling of a heart attack. The rush of a heart attack, even if the thing didn’t ever touch them.”
~ Ridley Scott, Fantastic Films, 1979.

“The idea,” says Bolaji, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

Casting a man in the role of the Alien “transformed” the creature, according to Scott, “into a man with a feminine shape – a hermaphrodite,” which suited him fine, since Scott was extrapolating from the natural world and, in the natural world, “there are insects like that.”

Giger told Cinefantastique that the Alien was, to him, “a hybrid [of male and female.]” Giger adds: “But Timothy Leary, in the preface he has written for Giger’s Alien, assumes that the creature is a woman.” The imagery of a female battling a female would later be explored by James Cameron in Aliens.

“In those days, it boiled down to a guy in a rubber suit. The thing that I had always worried about was that the monster wouldn’t be good, because they rarely are. Probably the last great monster was the little girl in the bed in The Exorcist. But all you had to put on her was the voice of Mercedes McCambridge – that one trick was chilling.”
~ Ridley Scott, Cinefantastique, 2008.

Given Giger’s artwork and with Badejo cast, Dicken and Ridley holed up in a flat near the studios and pieced together the Alien from the drawings and designs provided.

The production took a cast of Alien actor Bolaji Badejo and crafted the design around this model. Images courtesy of mauvais-genres.com.

At first they modelled it on Giger’s Necronom IV image, replete with eyes …

… and an elongated, penile head. This slavish obedience to the artwork caused logistical problems. Dicken told Cinefex: “In order to maintain the scale from Giger’s painting, the head had to be almost six feet long. It was just much, much too big to mount on a human form.”

“I was originally engaged to make a big creature,” said Dicken, “but I soon found that Alien was a ‘boardroom’ picture. One man wants a foot that way, another man wants a legs this way or a tail that way, and I can’t work like that.” When Giger saw Dicken’s rendition of his creature, he was aghast: “When I got to England I saw the large version of my large Alien and it looked terrible, like a dinosaur from Disneyland.”

“Dicken didn’t see himself as a slave to Giger’s design,” O’Bannon told Cinefex, “so he made a very free interpretation of it. He had no intention of literally changing this flat piece of artwork into a three-dimensional thing. It was just a design, and he was going to incorporate his own creative input and own unique texture. However, when Giger came over and looked at the way Dicken had sculpted his stuff, he said, ‘No, he doesn’t understand. It’s supposed to be exactly like I painted – this is different.'”

Dicken, exasperated by his lack of creative freedom, sent a letter to the production office, telling them that he couldn’t build the Alien. Giger’s diary revealed his thoughts at the time: “I sit in the garden at the King’s Head with Mia, thinking over what I said when I went to see Dicken. After the disappointing results we got from Dicken, and from a videotape we’ve received from America (where they made an Alien that looked much more like a dinosaur than my sketches) I was sure that it would not be possible to leave the Alien as I saw it to anyone else.”

“Giger fixes himself up to look like Dracula: he wears black leather, he has black hair, black eyes, and pale complexion, he never takes off his coat, his black leather jacket, and he had them set him up, built him a little sculpting studio in the corner of one of the sound stages with a padlock on it where he could work.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Fantastic Films, 1979.

Giger had already found Dickens attitude to be troubling. During their first meeting, “[Dicken] confesses to me that he finds my creatures repulsive abortions and would much rather make something beautiful.” With this in mind, Giger then took it upon himself to make a sculpt of the Alien. Gordon Carroll expressed surprise: did the artist have the technical skills? “I gulp, and repeat for the umpteenth time that I studied industrial design at the Zurich Art School for four years, and that I’m in no way ashamed to get my hands dirty at work.”

“Sculpting something is much more difficult than painting,” he told Cinefex, “because it has to look good from every angle. It’s even more difficult if the object has to move. My style of painting is a combination of art and technical stuff. I call it biomechanics -kind of a surrealist mixture of biology and technology  and I wanted the Alien to have those same qualities. So I started with a kind of statue of Bolaji, and directly over that I modelled the shape of the Alien in plasticene, with bones and tubes and lots of mechanical things. The head I built up from a real human skull using plasticine and flexible piping … Then I started thinking. That long skull ought to have a function. I thought: I can make a long tongue come out. The end of the tongue even looks like the head of the chestburster. See the muscles and tendons of the jaw? We made them out of stretched and shredded latex contraceptives.”

“Giger then came in,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and Giger has a feel for grace … So Giger started building up around this graceful figure, his pipes and tubes and running rotting sores and joints and pustules and strange shapes and building it up, and came up with something most bizarre. The plaster shop took a full cast of the actor, full body cast and mounted it standing up on its toes on a wooden base and Giger put it into his studio and he began to build up on it with clay and bones, an air conditioning duct, screws, and human skulls – the face of the thing is a real human skull. He took the skull and jammed it right on the front, riveted it in place, and then started modifying it …”

Despite the Alien taking definite shape, Dicken was still skeptical of the results, saying after the film was released: “Personally I think what they got in the end was disappointing. I think they blew it. I feel that if they left me to it they would have got what they wanted.”

One of the most interesting experiments was the attempt to make the Alien suit translucent. “Ridley also wanted the Alien’s body to be translucent,” Giger told TotalMovie magazine in 2001, “so you could see the black actor, Bolaji Badejo, moving like a spider-thing inside of this half transparent suit.” In his diary, Giger noted that: “One should be able to see the skeleton, the blood circulatory system, the organs etc.”

“[Ridley] said it might be good to use their physical look covered with sort of ‘transparent clothes’ so you could see the skin. But then we had trouble with transferring that concept into reality. It turned out to be a … how you say … a night dream … uh, a nightmare.”
HR Giger, FamousMonsters interview.

A prototype suit was made, but the material was not durable and would tear more easily than the rubber they eventually wound up using.

“They built special ovens for this plastic material,” said Giger, “like hot-melt vinyl, but it was not transparent enough to see through to the person behind it and it didn’t work.” Notably, the creatures in Prometheus are described as having translucent skin, so Giger and Scott’s wishes were fulfilled eventually. Click here for a  separate article on the translucent suit.

The production had also planned to line the inside of the clear carapace with maggots, so that when the Alien leered at the camera the inside of its skull could be seen to crawl with life. Unfortunately, this experiment also failed when the maggots fell asleep under the hot studio lights and became inert.

The translucent suit today.

The translucent suit today.

“At one stage,” Ridley told Cinefex, “I wanted to have a kind of subtle movement in the creature’s brain, so I thought maybe we could fill a pocket in the cranium with white maggots and let them crawl around in there. Even Giger went ‘Eeyuk!’ at that one. But I decided to try it, so I had these huge tins of maggots brought in. We couldn’t make it work, though, because the heat from the lights would put the bloody things to sleep and they’d just lie there like spaghetti. We tried using Spanish fish, which look kind of like wireworms, but they went to sleep too. So finally I had to give up.”

Later, Scott had another thought: “Afterwards, I thought we should have tried sprinkling LSD on sugar, because maggots love sugar. Then maybe we’d have gotten some reaction out of them.”

Building the Alien’s mechanical head was a job given to Italian special-effects guru Carlo Rambaldi. “After Star Wars,” Giger explained to Cinefantastique, “everybody was busy and working on different films, and they just could not find a monster-maker for Alien. Finally, producer Gordon Carroll came up with Carlo Rambaldi, who worked on King Kong, and who brilliantly devised the mechanical apparatus to animate the mouth I had designed for this monster.”

“He did most of his work from Los Angeles,” continues Giger, “but flew over to Shepperton for a week, during which time we worked together in close collaboration. We devised the muscles for the mouth of the monster … Carlo DeMarchis was one of Carlo Rambaldi’s assistants. When I modelled the Alien’s head, he made about six copies in polyester, which he sent to Rambaldi in Los Angeles, so that he could work out the inside mechanism. And when Rambaldi came over to Shepperton for a week, DeMarchis helped him put the parts of the mechanism together.”

Giger also decided, whilst crafting the head, to give the Alien metallic teeth. “I imagined them that way because for me the monster is both human and mechanical – more human than mechanical, though. So giving him steel teeth was a way to convey this two-fold nature.”

Another mechanical head was built by David Watling, who also built the Alien’s tail, but was never used in the film despite being ready to use before Rambaldi’s. According to Ivor Powell, this was because most shots of the Alien were filmed in close-up, and Rambaldi’s cable-operated Alien was far more practical to use than Watling’s radio-controlled head. “If we’d wanted a lot of long-shots,” Powell said, “with freedom from the cables, the Watling head would have been very useful.”

The completed Alien suit was ultimately very restrictive when it came to movement, and several planned scenes showcasing the Alien’s agility were scrapped. For example, Dallas’ death scene was slightly more elaborate, with the Alien vaulting down the ventilation shafts and bouncing off the walls as it lunged to snatch the Nostromo captain. Because the suit was so restrictive, this was cancelled in favour of the more claustrophobic shock of the Alien suddenly appearing before Dallas’ flashlight.

Ridley told Cinefex: “What I wanted was to have really huge air ducts – taller, in fact, than the corridors in the ship, so that when Dallas first sees it there, it’s standing on the roof of this giant wind tunnel, suspended upside down. Then I was going to have it roar down the tunnel toward him, running and jumping full-circle around the walls.”

“That thing [the Alien] was very supple looking,” O’Bannon said to Fantastic Films. “Unfortunately, the real grace was lost because the suit proved to be very awkward to move in. The actor wasn’t able to make many moves in a graceful manner. Ridley was forced to stage around the physical awkwardness of it. But the visual appearance of power and grace was retained, quite striking.”

Brian Johnson concurred: “The first costume was so cumbersome that the actor couldn’t do a great deal of movement in it … [Ridley] did want it to be fairly flexible. He wanted the creature to be able to roll up in a ball and that sort of thing. Well, they couldn’t do any of that in the beginning – the costume was just too rigid.”

Michael Seymour told Cinefex: "We had to be very careful about how we shot it. And we had countless discussions about that, because in the end if you held on it for more than a few seconds it became just another man in a rubber monster suit – and of course, that was unacceptable."

Michael Seymour told Cinefex: “We had to be very careful about how we shot it. And we had countless discussions about that, because in the end if you held on it for more than a few seconds it became just another man in a rubber monster suit – and of course, that was unacceptable.”

Nick Allder also agreed, telling Cinefex: “We were really quite limited with what we could do with the Alien. 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 stayed late one night -at the end of a day’s shooting- just to see what it looked like in the sets and to shoot a few tests. And of course, we found it would look ridiculous to see this thing running around – it would give the whole thing away immediately.”

“For both of them [Bolaji Badejo & stuntman Eddie Powell] getting dressed was a terrible ordeal. It took them at least an hour to get ready. The stuntman, especially, didn’t have a good time in the scene where he is hanging from the ceiling. He couldn’t see a thing, and he had to move by following instructions shouted up to him! These sufferings the stuntman and an actor standing in for Harry Dean Stanton had to endure for the two weeks it took to film the scene.”
~ HR Giger, Cinefantastique, 1979.

To help his performance, as well as his comfort within the restricting rubber suit, Bolaji undertook mime classes to perfect his alien gait. The Alien, apparently blind, was intended to be graceful and precise in its movement. At times it would strike “like a snake”, and at other times it would almost float towards its victims. A “beautiful, biomechanoid insect,” according to Scott, the Alien could be both a warrior and a dancer.

Bolaji as the Alien.

Bolaji as the Alien.

Ridley found his way around the cumbersome logistics of the suit in the editing room, where hours of footage of the Alien was cut away, until in the final movie the creature, even at the finale -and save for one infamous shot- is hardly revealed, only seen through stroboscopic lights. Since Ridley had also planned to keep the Alien hidden and mysterious for the majority of its screen time, sacrificing its mobility and stunts were not as crippling as he might have feared.

Thank **** for the Brits: Alien crew member Dennis Lowe shared this production story at Alien Experience: “Although designed by HR Giger, the Alien costume [or rather, the mechanical head ~ Val] was constructed by Carlo Rambaldi and, because Ridley wanted the jaws to drip with saliva, Rambaldi had plumbed a tube into the outfit for this purpose through which liquid could be pumped. When all was ready Ridley came over to Shepperton one evening to test this creation and immediately spotted a problem since the tube trailed behind the actor like a second tail.

‘Why the blazes is that pipe coming out of his backside?’ said Ridley in words a little less polite, ‘I can’t shoot it like that,’ whereupon Nick Allder stepped in to promise, ‘We’ll fix that tomorrow. Leave it to us.’ Roger went home, dived into the shed and plundered some stuff from his aero modelling days. The next day he fitted a battery pack and radio controlled receiver, wired them to an RC switch and attached a windscreen wiper pump. This was hooked up to a fuel tank, liberated from a model airplane, which has the advantage of continuous flow whatever the angle of operation. The whole contraption was installed inside the horns on the back of the Alien costume and the tank filled with a mixture of glycerin and water.

That evening when Ridley came to review the situation the stuntman, Eddie Powell, was in the costume and suspended on wires from the undercarriage leg of the spaceship. He was lowered, the jaws opened and, with just the right amount of sinister viscosity, the radio controlled alien drool oozed forth exactly on cue. A delighted Ridley was heard to mutter, ‘Thank **** for the Brits.'”

Bolaji wasn’t the only performer portraying the Alien. English animal impersonator, Percy Edwards, provided the Alien’s cries. For the scenes where the Alien descends on Brett and attacks Dallas in the ducts, it was played by veteran stuntman, Eddie Powell, since Badejo was too large to fit inside the ducts set and fell ill when strung up in the harnesses required for the leg room scene. Finally, stuntman Roy Scammell played the creature as it was ejected from the Narcissus.

“One of the most enthralling interviews was with the stunt man Eddie Powell. Name a SF film, indeed any film, made in England between 1946 and 1985 and it is almost certain that Eddie was involved in the stunt work. In fact Eddie was the original Alien in Alien, and not as cited in the credits: that stuntman apparently found the Alien costume too constraining and left the set. Eddie was called to take his place but even Eddie asked for modifications to be made to Giger’s original design so as to ensure better stability and mobility.”
~ Locus Magazine, Autumn 1999.

Powell would return to play an Alien in James Cameron’s first sequel, alongside a troupe of dancers, gymnasts and movie stuntmen.

There was some contention concerning the credit for the Alien’s portrayal, however. Powell, in 1995’s Dalekmania, is quoted as saying: “The other sci-fi film I’m known for is a film that Ridley Scott did – Alien, and I was brought in to play the Alien. The original person pulled out right at the very beginning -didn’t want to know about it- so I took over. I said to the producer three-quarters of the way through the film, ‘I hope I’m going to get the main credit for this.’ I just got it for the action for the Alien, which really upset me.”

An interview with Powell (conducted by Paul Parla) appeared in Movie Collector’s Magazine, issue 508, in 1996. The interview blurb reads: “Finally, Eddie Powell receives his due credit for having played the title role monster in the first Alien film which he, for years, felt cheated out of.” Powell died in August 2000.

“Never before was there a monster with such a long head, no?” said Giger. “I always liked that the Alien was not just a horrible, ugly monstrosity. I liked that it has an elegant, nice, beautiful head. For me, it’s not ugly.”

O’Bannon: “[Giger] wanted clay and basic sculpting materials and he also wanted bones; as many bones as they could lay their hands on. They ended up buying all this stuff, veterinary supplies, medical supplies, and the little sculpting studio turned into a bone yard. He had snake skeletons in perfect preservation, they looked like lace. And junk too, just old smelly bones out of a slaughterhouse and he just started sculpting.”

Giger: “We built up details with plasticene and even some real bones—for the rib cage. And we used tubes and piping and other technical stuff. This is my way, you see: he is half organic and half technical. The Alien’s biomechanical.”

Metallic pipes,grilles and cords make up the Alien’s torso, thighs, legs, arms, etc. Ridley suggested that they add a tail to give some movement to the creature; this added appendage was built by David Watling, with mechanical vertebrae to mimic a real creature’s tail. “The tail of the monster never worked,” Giger later said. “Ridley wanted it to beat the air.” Dan O’Bannon suggested that the Alien have an extra thumb. The creature also sports a suggestive, hermaphroditic vulva-like opening on its groin that reappeared in Aliens but was lost in subsequent sequels.

From Dark Star‘s beach ball to Alien‘s star beast, O’Bannon’s vision of a cinematic Giger monster was finally realised. The creature’s nightmarish quality was so pervasive that it even gave star Sigourney Weaver nightmares. “I dreamt I was visiting some people up in Vermont in a farm house and all of a sudden the Alien came out of the chimney.” Even Aliens star Lance Henriksen was afflicted: “The only [creature] that’s appeared in my dreams is the one from Alien,” he said in 2011. “It’s very, very much attacking our core, a reptilian core. That creature is something like a baby and a tic combined, it’s very frightening. And so, it scares the unconscious core. And that [nightmare] I had scared the hell out of me. I mean it really did.”

“It’s easy to feel that [the Alien is evil] because [it] kills almost the entire crew … I love my creatures. Maybe they do terribly evil things, but they are still nice to look at. They are elegant, sleek—nice in a strange way, I suppose.”
~ HR Giger, Questar Magazine.

For Giger, the film’s success was double-edged. It brought him great acclaim, but, to his dismay, he found his artistic reputation being held in scrutiny. “You know what I’m afraid of?” he asked FamousMonsters. “As an artist, if you do too much work for film they say, ‘Aw, he’s a film architect,’ or something like that. Suddenly they don’t take you seriously. If you work for the opera, that’s something else. But film, that’s always, ‘eh,’ you know? So I have to be careful, otherwise … Maybe it’s a good thing to work in films, but it can turn against you.”

He opined to Total Film magazine in 2003: “The first time I saw the film, I was depressed. I wasn’t happy with the things I created. All I could see were the imperfections. The first time you see the Space Jockey, for instance, he’s not painted. It wasn’t finished. And I wasn’t happy with the Alien. It helped that the creature was so bad because Ridley could only show it in glimpses. However, you are always the winner if you have created something that is enjoyed and, although my reputation as an artist has suffered, that’s how I feel about Alien.”

Dan O’Bannon on the other hand was relentlessly ecstatic about Giger’s creation: “I truly believe that that monster in Alien is absolutely unique looking,” he said to Fantastic Films. “I think that it is two strides beyond any monster costume in any movie ever before. And some of them are goodies, like the creature from The Black Lagoon, or This Island Earth, the bug with the exposed brain, some of those were terrific. I really think this is a step beyond. I don’t think that anybody’s seen anything like this.”

“Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by it being well done and a great monster. If it hadn’t had that great monster, even with a wonderful cast, it wouldn’t have been as good, I don’t think.”
~ Ridley Scott, Wired, 2007

Alien also became a thorn of sorts for Giger when the abandoned Dune project came back around. Ridley Scott was initially hired to helm the film, and he brought Giger into the fray to resume his work, previously abandoned in the Jodorowsky days. Unfortunately, the death of Scott’s brother, Frank, saw Ridley withdraw from the project, and Dune stalled yet again. When David Lynch took up directorial duties, Giger, a Lynch fan, sought involvement, but was rebuffed by the new director. “Through friends I asked Lynch if he was interested in my cooperation,” said Giger. “I never heard from him. Later I came to know that he was upset because he thought we copied the chestburster in Alien from his monster baby in Eraserhead, which was not so. Ridley Scott and I hadn’t even seen that film at the time. If one film influenced Alien it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I would have loved to collaborate with Lynch on Dune but apparently he wanted to do all the designs by himself.”

Ever gracious, Giger finished by saying: “I think he did a great job. I admire Lynch tremendously. I think he’s one of the greatest filmmakers and I would very much like to work for him some time.”

“I have worked on enough films now to realize that nothing may quite satisfy me the way the original Alien film collaboration did. There, I was given the freedom to do everything myself, from the design to the actual physical sculpting. I made myself a prisoner on that film and, in fact, that is what is necessary to allow for the fulfillment of the successful evolutionary process known as creature development and design. I must have my hand on the creature from the beginning to the end or have a top sculptor or fabricator to work with me in the atelier in Zurich. Although film-making is, ultimately, a compromise between many creative sensibilities, it is advisable to start with a strong hand. It is the nature of dreams that they are never to be fully realised.”
~ HR Giger.

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Engineer Architecture

“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
~ Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817.

“There are inspirations for Alien,” said Dan O’Bannon in 1979. “I had a lot of second thoughts about Dark Star, that was one of them. Well, another source was that I met Giger when we were working on Dune, and I’d looked at his picture books and when I got back to America I was still haunted by his work.  It was on my mind and when we sat down to do Alien. I ended up visualizing the thing as I was writing it, as we were thinking it out and I was writing it.  I found myself visualizing it as a Giger painting.”

Giger’s biomechanic style was so pivotal to the look and feel of the Alien, the Space Jockey and his derelict aircraft, that O’Bannon would later state, “without him I don’t think we would have had much of a movie.” Ridley Scott famously stated that upon see Giger’s Necronomicon art book he had “never felt so sure of anything” in his life – Giger had to design Alien. When the producers resisted, Scott threatened to walk. He got his way. Thirty years later with Prometheus, Scott was more reluctant to return to Giger’s signature biomechanical style. “I don’t like to repeat myself,” he stated.

“At first the Giger element was almost inexistent, because we really wanted architecture that looked as if it was Giger stuff but had been ‘kidnapped’, as if we had arrived many thousands of years before, and the Engineers place was clean, spotless.”
~ David Levy, Prometheus concept artist, 2012.

“One of the first things you start to think about when you’re working on a movie like this is, ‘how much are we revisiting that [Giger] look?’” said Prometheus concept artist, Ben Proctor. “I mean clearly if we’re showing the society of these Engineers, which is Ridley’s new take on where that Juggernaut ship came from in the first movie, we’re going to be seeing a lot more Giger, right? And that was our assumption going in, but our geek fan presumptions were not necessarily shared by Ridley and Arthur [Max]. So there were ideas about Engineer architecture and the style of that civilisation that initially were quite far from Giger, much more monolithic and much more heavy and simple and brutal, but in a totally different way.”

Production designer Arthur Max claimed that they “didn’t want to be like any one of those [original Alien designs.] We wanted to be new and fresh because, I hate to admit it, otherwise it really dates us. We decided to make it less biological, in terms of the styling of the alien planet, and more mechanical … The people who inhabit this planet, called the Engineers, and their technology, is beyond anything we’re able to know or understand, but it has to be visually interesting. That’s, I think, the hardest challenge, too, because we have to compete with the most iconic science fiction creature ever. Trying to come up with something that’s going to rival that is the real trick.”

The Space jockey's chamber in Alien and its equivalent, the Orrery, in Prometheus.

The Space jockey’s chamber in Alien and its equivalent, the Orrery, in Prometheus.

Steven Messing, the film’s visual effects art director, and the other artists tried to shoehorn in Giger’s aesthetic wherever they could, usually bartering with Scott and Max to include more of a Giger influence on the Engineers’ technology and architecture. The artists took everything they had designed thus far and infused it with more of a biomechanic coating than they had included previously.

“I think he [Scott] just didn’t want the Giger style to be necessarily the driving force behind the look,” said David Levy, “there had to be more, something smarter in the terms of what’s the background of those Engineers – and then we infused them with the Giger style.”

As a result the planet no longer resembles LV-426 as it did initially, and the interiors of the derelict craft, now named the Juggernaut, is pristine, almost sterile. Whereas Alien‘s derelict drips and glistens, the new ship is sepulchral but static. The former is the belly of some great dead carcass. The Juggernaut is a piece of machinery awaiting activation.

“The Juggernaut might look like it has come from the same factory as the one in Alien,” Richard Stammers told Cinefex, “but it is not the same ship. The exterior shape is similar, but it has way more detail; and inside it had a little less emphasis on bones and organic shapes  than were present in Giger’s work.”

“Ridley was very attached to the biomechanical aspect,” explained prosthetics supervisor, Conor O’Sullivan, “but in Prometheus, the biomechanical details on the walls and ground [of the derelict] are much finer, better defined, because this environment is meant to be in almost mint condition. There is no sign of decay, of rust, nor of translucent slime as in Alien, because time yet hasn’t had its effect.”

The Juggernaut then, is an almost fresh-from-the-factory aerial destroyer. Perhaps in time to come the walls will tumble and reveal bone-like protrusions, ribbing in the walls, and decaying biomechanical innards, as the technology of the Engineers (or of the Space Jockeys as represented in Alien, at least) is a cross between genetics and mechanics.

“In Prometheus,” explained production designer Arthur Max, “this [Engineer] technology is in perfect operating condition, while in Alien you could only see the ruins of it.” Biomechanics, he explains, “is at the root of their culture and technology.”

Ridley himself had always kept an idea of the ship’s back story in his mind. “I was amazed that no one asked me about this mysterious element of the film,” he said to French magazine L’Ecran Fantastique, “but if you would have asked me in 1978, I would have gladly explained that, in my mind, all this alien ship could be was a battleship.”

Ridley himself had always kept an idea of the ship’s back story in his mind. “I was amazed that no one asked me about this mysterious element of the film,” he said to French magazine L’Ecran Fantastique, “but if you would have asked me in 1978, I would have gladly explained that, in my mind, all this alien ship could be was a battleship.”

There are traces of biomechanical flourishes throughout the film’s designs. The decapitated Engineer’s helmet was to be like “cracking open an oyster” according to Neil Scanlan, and was sculpted with “castings from organic textures, including cabbages, cauliflower, and lichen. When the helmet opened, Ridley wanted the interior to be velvety and soft like the lining of a stomach, as if the helmet had nurtured the internal head with life-giving material.” One of Spaihts’ early scripts describes the Space Jockey’s suit as being welded to his body, flesh and machinery as one.

The production also chanced upon the work of Russian artist Alex Kozhanov, known as Gutalin, whose ZBrush art pays homage to Giger – some pieces even feature the Alien itself, and others feature the impressions of facehuggers. Steven Messing printed off Gutalin’s work and left it lying on his desk in the hope that Ridley would chance upon it – he did, and Gutalin was hired from afar, working on the textures of the Juggernaut. “Bit by bit with these kinds of sneaky interventions we kind of got some of the Giger back in. When [Ridley] saw something that was clearly Giger-esque, but had a fresh take on it, it piqued his interest.”

For the Engineer temple, or pyramid, the production drew on Giger’s work on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune. For that film Giger had designed the Harkonnen Castle: a mobile fortress made of bone, studded with spikes and surrounded by a storm of dirt, gore and faeces. At the pinnacle of this structure sits a monolithic head.

Giger’s Harkonnen Castle. Image copyright HR Giger.

Harkonnen reimagined as the Engineer temple.

Harkonnen reimagined as the Engineer temple.

Initially, the production drew on O’Bannon’s original Alien screenplay, and the Engineer temple was a pyramid in design. In the movie, it is still referred to as a pyramid by the crew, despite being ovoid in shape.

This wasn’t the first time that Giger’s Dune designs found themselves cast as an alien/Space Jockey structure. In several of Scott’s Ridleygrams for the original Alien, the temple/egg silo containing the Alien spore was derived from Giger’s work:

Spherical temples based on Giger’s Dune and Alien conceptual pieces. In the background we can see several other silos passing into the distance, just as they do in Prometheus.

At the summit of these silos sits a dessicated head. Kane was to enter the egg chamber through here.

The interior of the temple in Prometheus is cavernous, rocky and wet. Flowstone walls. We find that it functions as an atmosphere processor, cut into the shape of a near-natural formation. Further inside is the ‘head room’, also known as the ‘ampule room’, where the crew of the Prometheus make the find of the century – the decapitated corpse of an Engineer; the ampules containing their biological weaponry; the monolithic carving of an Engineer’s head; and the murals of this ancient race, adorning the ceiling and far wall.

The murals hint at some history between the Engineers and mutated, deformed beings. The Alien/Ultramorph mural on the far wall hints at the Engineers’ reverence for some supreme being. “The Xenomorph in my mind was the descendant of the Ultramorph,” explained Steven Messing, “in my mind it was the pure form of this kind of virus that the Engineers had created.”

“They’re a lot about sacrifice,” Messing continued, “so in my mind there was [in the past] an Engineer who sacrificed himself to this virus and it created this horrific creature. This being, that was gonna eradicate planets, it was like a parasite that would destroy the planet and then they [the Engineers] could start over and rebirth it. And they kind of worshipped it and you see this relief sculpture where it’s almost a religious sculpture  As the virus spread and got polluted the Xenomorph was an evolutionary descendant that was not as pure.”

“Another set that I worked on was known as the ‘Head Room.’ This was a ceremonial room that contained hundreds of ampules beneath a giant sculpture of an Engineer’s head. Julian Caldrow did an amazing job of working out all of the details for this environment and created the set drawings. The final set was built at full scale and was incredible to walk on. I also sculpted an altar area for this set that paid homage to Giger – it is a relief sculpture hanging from the wall and has the impression of an alien form with flowing structures surrounding it. There are a lot of easter eggs in this sculpture – including several hidden Giger motifs that were not used in the original film.”
~ Steven Messing, i09.com, 2012.

Essentially, what we can infer is that the Engineers created a life-creating substance that acted as a virus – it could break down and reconstitute matter: living beings are broken down and mutate. An Engineer at some point, somehow, created the first Ultramorph during a sacrificial rite, perhaps like the one we see at the beginning of the movie. The Ultramorph is vicious, and wipes out entire planetary populations. The Engineers, who travel from world-to-world, arbitrarily creating and destroying as they go, come to worship or revere their creation. Somehow, this Ultramorph leads to their eventual demise, or at least the demise of the Engineers inhabiting their installation on LV-223.

One problem with Messing’s interpretation is that the derelict in Alien is eons older than the installations in Prometheus – ergo, the Alien eggs predate the urns, and the Xenomorph predates the Ultramorph. We can probably settle the discrepancy by concluding that the installations on LV-223 are in fact older, but were maintained until only 2000 years ago; the derelict is younger, but has not been maintained for a longer span of time. Later movies may decide the issue.

The monolithic head, once rumoured to be the pilot of the Juggernaut ship, seems to testify some sort of blank, terrible power. Whether it signifies a god, a particular Engineer, or the Engineer race as a whole, we don’t know. “The idea there is that it’s part of the culture of the Engineers,” said Arthur Max, “this race of interplanetary visitors who have given us upgrades –mentally and physically– over the millennium.” The head is inscribed with glyphs on its front and sides. One idea thrown around production was to have the Engineers bearing facial, tribal tattoos. The glyphs on the giant head resemble those on the structure’s walls, doorways and on the deadly ampules.

Ethiopian statue of Benito Mussolini, and the Engineers’ ‘God-Head’. Testaments to power and worship. Mussolini was gunned down, hoisted to the girder of a garage, and his corpse pelted, shot, and spat on. As Percy Shelley wrote in his poem Ozymandias, great and terrible leaders die, and the monuments to their reign topple and crumble, left to gaze over a buried empire. The legacy of the Engineers has fared no better

The headquarters of Benito Musolini and the Italian Fascist party taken in Rome in 1930.

Palazzo Braschi, taken in Rome in 1934. The Engineer head monument is an allusion to worship and power, perhaps even fascistic power.

Statue in the Boboli Gardens, Florence.

Statue in the Boboli Gardens, Florence.

A monolithic Moai statue.

A monolithic Moai statue.

The lone surviving and hibernating Engineer lies within the depths of the alien earth. Tesselated pathways lead to the pilot’s chamber. The sleeping pods are a new addition to the pilot’s chamber, as is the command seat and the orrery light show. The sarcophagus-like shape of the cryo-pods evoke, somewhat, Giger’s painting known as The Tourist IV, which depicts a strange, sleeping biomechanoid creature in stasis.

The Engineer’s shipmates are all dead – their chests punctured and corpses long ossified. “The dead Engineers decayed where they fell and became part of the environment,” explained Scanlan. Whatever sprouted from their bodies is long gone, perhaps dead, and completely unknown. They may have given birth to a host of Ultramorphs who proceeded to wreak havoc on the installation. The awakened Engineer, freshly roused from his aeonic slumber, strangely has no concerns for this, and proceeds to resume his mission to destroy the Earth before falling victim to the fruits of his peoples labour. A new Ultramorph is thus born.

“Dear to me is sleep; still more to sleep
in stone while harm and shame persist;
not to see, not to feel, is bliss;
speak softly, do not wake me up, do not weep.”
~ Michelangelo Buonarroti .

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Path to Prometheus

""Now that Joss Whedon has turned in his script to the Fox Big Brass and awaits their approval. How much longer do we have to wait for the next Alien sequel? We wish we knew." ~ Cinescape magazine, 1995.

“Now that Joss Whedon has turned in his script to the Fox Big Brass and awaits their approval, how much longer do we have to wait for the next Alien sequel? We wish we knew.”
~ Cinescape magazine, 1995.

Fifteen years lapsed between Alien Resurrection and the next Alien-verse follow-up, Prometheus. As with any of the films post-Aliens, Twentieth Century Fox sought to capitalise and make a sequel immediately;­­­ it was merely a matter of which direction the series ought to take—and the series looked in many directions, from a continuation of Alien Resurrection, to the Alien vs. Predator offshoots, and to rumours of an Alien remake, before finally settling on a prequel. “It’s the story of creation,” said Ridley Scott, “of the gods, and the man who stood against them …”

In 2007, when asked about how he would like to see the series continue, Alien creator Dan O’Bannon was decisive: “I’d like to see it stop.” Tired of endless sequels that would continue to “drain any remaining impact out of the original”.

O’Bannon opined that the series had been “played out after the first [sequel]. Cameron, in the first one, did about the only thing that you could do, which was that he switched to a different genre … But once he had done that, there was really nothing left to do. And they just keep squeezing the thing until it’s an empty bag.”

Even series producer Walter Hill referred to Alien 3 as “another complete fucking mess,” and went on to explain, “The studio wanted to crank out another one … David [Giler] and I were a bit sick of it, and wanted to end the whole thing … Fifteen years later, and we’re still in hotel rooms rewriting Alien … We had nothing to do [with Alien Resurrection], didn’t even think it was a good idea for starters, we thought we had ended the series … Personally, I think it’s a lousy movie.”

“With Sigourney Weaver in the lead and James Cameron behind the camera, Alien 4 looks set to restore the genre’s finest fear franchise – with more than a little help from twenty-something screenwriter Joss Whedon. Fresh from polishing the script of Kevin Costner’s mega-budgeted fantasy movie, Waterworld, Whedon resurrects Ripley with the time-honoured sci-fi premise of cloning, and that’s not the only twist he has in store. He says, ‘Is she all woman or is just a little something wrong? The whole intention is that when she comes back from the dead, she has to be larger than life.’ 

Whedon cites the original Alien as the film that’s had more influence on him than any other and promises that Alien 4 will be extraordinary – ‘I want to do an Evil Dead, where it’s really menacing and never stops. I want every scene to contain something special.'”
~ Starburst magazine, 1995. 

Back in 1997, whilst promoting the aforementioned movie, Twentieth Century Fox were confident in the validity of the franchise: “All we can say is that the end of Alien Resurrection points you towards the locale of Alien 5,” Tom Rothman told Entertainment Weekly. Rothman was confident that the Alien sequel train would continue rolling unabated in the wake of Resurrection, which was expected to revitalise the series after the dour turn and critical lashing of Alien 3: “We firmly expect to do another one: Joss Whedon will write it, and we expect to have Sigourney and Winona if they’re up for it.” Whedon himself teased, “There’s a big story to tell in another sequel. The fourth film is really a prologue to a movie set on Earth. Imagine all the things that can happen.”

Alien 5 seemed planned even before Alien Resurrection was shown to audiences. In March 1996 Weaver said, “I am absolutely sure there will be an Alien 5 , because I know how Alien 4 ends. I am the last person who thought I would do another one, but we have a wonderful script. They came up with the most the most provocative situation for Ripley to find herself in. It is very unexpected and will surprise a lot of people and will give me an interesting job.”

Later the next year, Whedon outlined to SFX magazine his plan for approaching Alien 5: “If I write this movie, and it has my writing credits on it, then it’s going to be on Earth … And it’s going to be very different from the last one … The studio talked about Alien Resurrection as a kind of placeholder. They said, ‘We want to do Earth or the big Alien planet, but we’re not convinced yet that this franchise has legs. So we want to do a smaller story.’ I don’t think you can do that with Alien 5. I think the time of people running around in a tin can has passed. You have to work on a broader canvas otherwise it becomes an episode and not a new movie. The way Cameron exploded from the first to the second, you have to do that again, and that means going somewhere new … With Alien Resurrection, I used the first two movies as models, but with this one I can promise you something new, something completely different from what’s been seen before.”

The two prominent ideas for Alien 5 were Aliens-on-Earth, and planet-of-the-Aliens. Aliens running amok on Earth had in fact been advertised as the plot for Alien 3, though no script for such a film ever existed. A trailer proclaiming that, “On Earth everyone can hear you scream,” came and went. Despite anyone’s enthusiasm for an Earth-bound Alien film, Weaver herself claimed no interest in the idea: “The only thing I’m not interested in is going to Earth. I saw that Star Trek movie where they went to Earth and … yawn. I think it’s more fun to go to a foreign planet … Fantasy is what we need!”

Ridley Scott also found the idea of Aliens on Earth to be less enticing than exploring the origin of the creatures: “Earth would be interesting, and there is talk about it … I say we should go back to where the Alien creatures were first found and explain how they were created. No one has ever explained why. I always figured that a battleship carrying bio-mechanical organisms that could be weapons was sent into space with some Space Jockey who didn’t last long.” He elaborated on his vision of Alien 5 further: “I had an idea for a fifth installment in the series. It would be all about the Aliens themselves: what their world and civilization are like. What made them tick. We always thought of that derelict spacecraft, where they found all the eggs in the first one, as a sort of aircraft carrier or bomber. They would drop the eggs on the planets they wanted to conquer, then come back a few years later after the landscape had been ‘cleared,’ so to speak.”

Ridley’s idea about exploring the culture which originated the Aliens was a persistent one. Alien‘s associate producer, and friend to Scott, Ivor Powell, claimed to be fascinated by the same theme: “I would have gone before [Alien], that’s what I find interesting. I want to know who that Space Jockey is. What are the Aliens doing in the silo? Are they armaments, are they shipping them somewhere?” Journalist Paul Sammon, author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, expressed interest in the same idea, pointing to the untapped lore lying behind the original film: “Despite the fact that there have been four films in the saga so far, there are still all these unanswered questions that the original brought up. Like, what’s the deal with LV-426? Where did the original Alien race come from? Who are they, really? What are they? Who was the Space Jockey? Why did it have all those eggs on a crashed ship? I mean, the first Alien hinted at a whole backstory that hasn’t been explored in the saga yet.”

Despite the intense curiosity in such themes and storylines, Fox was still touting Joss Whedon as the pen behind their planned Alien 5, with Vincenzo Vitali, the director of Cube, briefly rumoured to be aiming for the director’s chair by the Spanish press.

“I remember a young writer friend called me when I was in LA, and he called me from London after the fourth [film] one and said, ‘I’m crying.’ I asked why and he said, ‘I’ve just come out of Alien [Resurrection], and they’ve turned it into a comedy!’ He said, ‘The world of Alien is just going to collapse – this is the end of it.’ And it’s true – you don’t hire a comedy director to make Alien.”
~ Roger Christian, Alien art director, 2010.

However, a frustrated Whedon seemed to have lost interest in a fifth movie after Resurrection‘s release, stating: “I’ll tell you there was a time when I would have been interested in that, but I am not interested in making somebody else’s franchise anymore. Any movie I make will be created by me.” When later asked by a fan at the 1998 San Diego Comic Con about any potential Alien 5 involvement, Whedon replied: “Uhh, that’s a big no. Did you see Alien 4?” Without a writer, the latest proposed sequel seemed stuck, but two series regulars were, briefly, working on a collaborative effort to bring Alien 5 back from development hell.

“Ridley and I talked about doing another Alien film,” James Cameron told AICN in 2006, “and I told Fox that I would develop a fifth Alien film.” Cameron had told the BBC in 2003: “We’re looking at doing another one. Something similar to what we did with Aliens: a bunch of great characters and, of course, Sigourney.” Cameron name-checked Arnold Schwarzenegger as one casting possibility (which would never come to pass regardless of the project’s completion, considering Arnold’s impending governership,) and even Harrison Ford was rumoured. Also in 2003, Cameron spoke to the Houston Chronicle about how Alien 5 should also draw on the uncompromising nature of Ridley’s original movie: “[Alien] holds a special classic niche as one of the great terrifying experiences, and the trick [to making a new Alien film] is you don’t go crazy and make a $150-million movie, because you don’t want to have to compromise, you don’t want to try to do a PG-13 Alien that is all things to everyone. It’s got to still maintain its roots in this kind of cinematic Id. Ridley did it really beautifully. He just kind of put you into this Freudian nightmare in space.”

Though Scott’s interest in returning to the series was lackadaisical even with Cameron working on a script, any co-Cameron/Scott Alien 5 project was eventually put out of order by Fox, who decided to bring the Alien vs. Predator series to the big screen instead. “I was working with another writer,” Cameron explained, “and Fox came back to me and said, ‘We’ve got this really good script for Alien vs. Predator …'”

“Ridley and I talked over lunch maybe 10 years ago and I said, ‘Look, I’ll write it and produce it, you direct it, it’ll fucking kick ass!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And nothing happened. And then they did Alien vs. Predator, and that kind of pissed in the soup.”
~ James Cameron, Total Film, 2009.

Fox had toiled with bringing the comic book venture to the screen for almost a decade, but it was a pitch by writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (and an alleged truce of sorts between Alien and Predator‘s producers) that allowed the project to finally go green. Anderson had toyed with Alien-style horror (with a dash of Hellraiser and Solaris) in his 1997 film, Event Horizon. “If you’re going to make a horror movie, it doesn’t get any better than Alien,” he has said. “I’ve been waiting to do a movie with Aliens in it since I was at school, since the first Alien movie came out, since I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver and since the Alien scared the hell out of me.” However, Anderson admitted to Empire magazine that his Alien vs Predator film was not designed to mimic either AlienAliens, nor even Predator: “Hopefully it’s got elements of both, but it’s built to please a younger audience exposed to the video games and comic books.”

Alien vs. Predator has had a torturous history,” Anderson told Empire magazine. “Fox have had a script for it for ten years, ever since Peter Briggs did an adaption of the comic book, and yet they didn’t make it. Alien was still an active franchise and the producers not seeing eye-to-eye was a stumbling block for a long time. I think a lot of them don’t actually get on. But by the time I was involved there was a sense at the studio that they were dead franchises.”

AVP presents possibilities to re-energise both franchises,” Anderson continued. “I set about making a standalone movie that didn’t contradict anything within the original franchises, but fed into them, and then left other filmmakers to go and make an Alien 5 or Predator 3.” He finished by joking, “This is AVP, and whoever wins, Rupert Murdoch wins!”

Ultimatley, Anderson’s movie didn’t do much to instill confidence in the series on behalf of either critics or long-time fans, (fan-site AVPGalaxy temporarily closed down in response, and when asked for his opinion on the movie, Dan O’Bannon quipped: “videogame.”) Still,  the AVP installments continued with Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, written by a co-writer of the first movie, Shane Salerno, and directed by first-time helmers, Greg and Colin Strause; two special effects artists who founded VFX company, Hydraulx. After the tribulations of Alien 3Resurrection, and Anderson’s Alien vs. PredatorRequiem did what seemed to be impossible – and brought the Alien brand to its nadir.

A requiem is defined as “a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead,” and if the second AVP film demonstrated anything, it was that the reputation of both Alien and Predator franchises were firmly in the ground. Even though it was released in January of 2007, Empire magazine was quick to dub the film a “strong contender for worst film of the year.”

Failing to predict the reaction towards their movie, the Strauses had originally intended for their film to lead in to another Strause-helmed AVP. The brothers told i09: “The original ending for AVPR, that we pitched them, ended up on the Alien homeworld, and actually going from the Predator gun, that you see at the end, it was going to transition from that gun to a logo of a Weyland-Yutani spaceship that was heading to an Alien planet. And then we were actually going to cut down to the surface [of the Alien planet] and you were going to see a hunt going on. It was going to be a whole tribe of Predators going against this creature that we called King Alien. It’s this huge giant winged Alien thing. And that was going to be the lead-in, to show that the fact that the Predator gun [at the end of AVPR] is the impetus of all the technological advancements that allowed humans to travel in space. Which leads up to the Alien timeline.”

Colin Strause told i09: “[Humanity] could take that and reverse engineer [Predator technology], figure out what the power source was – all of those things. And in theory, that would enable that company [Weyland-Yutani] to make massive advancements in technology and dominate the space industry. That was the whole idea, to literally continue from Ms. Yutani getting the gun, and then cut to 50 years in the future, and there’s spaceships now. We’ve made a quantum leap in space travel. That was going to set up the ending, which would then set up what AVP3 was going to be, which would take place 100 years in the future. That was kind of the plan.”

In an interview with a UK newspaper, Colin announced: “The next film I want to do would be back on the Alien homeworld. And I’d like to introduce the viewers to Aliens so big, they’re almost dinosaur size, or even bigger, with more of a space theme.”

Fan response was understandably negative. “People who hate the movie will say any idea of ours is dumb, regardless of its merits,” Colin Strause said in response to criticism of the planned AVP3, over at AVPGalaxy forums. “I bet if some other director said the same thing most of you [the fanbase] will be saying it was the best idea ever; of course you will never admit that.”

Ultimately, after the abysmal Aliens vs Predator: Requiem and the overwhelming negativity directed at the film and its directors, even Fox lost its taste for bringing the two creatures together again, and AVP was shelved.

There were rumours of an Alien remake doing the rounds shortly thereafter, though Alien 5 was briefly on some people’s lips, with even Tom Woodruff Jnr of Amalgamated Dynamics wanting to have a shot at the film: “I would love to work on an Alien film and totally … not so much re-invent the Alien, but devise a new Alien that’s of that same world, but is still different. We had little stabs at it, like with the Newborn creature in Alien Resurrection.” Alec Gillis also mentioned Woodruff’s interest in Alien 5, though he kept tight-lipped on details: “I can’t really speak to that concept for an Alien 5, because it’s still something that’s pending.”

Finally, during a press junket for The Taking of Pelham 123 in 2009, Tony Scott, brother to Ridley, revealed: “Carl Rinsch is going to do the prequel to Alien.” The other Scott brother was pleased that Rinsch, a son-in-law to Ridley, was helming: “I’m excited ’cause Ridley created the original and Rinsch is one of the family.” Rinsch’s tenure on the prequel didn’t last long however. Later in 2009, it was announced that Ridley Scott himself would return to the Alien series and direct the prequel to his 1979 classic.

Scott had mused on returning to Alien since the early eighties. Another film, according to Scott, “certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from. 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 may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings … What I missed most of all [in the first film] was the absence of a prognosis scene. 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.”

Of course, as history went, James Cameron was the first to bring a sequel to the screen. Scott, on the other hand, was left out entirely. “I was a little dismayed,” he said, “no one even mentioned it to me.” However, Scott relieved himself knowing that “Jim loved Alienadored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.” In fact, whilst Cameron was directing the sequel at Shepperton Studios, he bumped into Ridley himself. “I was coming out of dailies,” Cameron told Fangoria in 1986, “and he was going in, and we spoke for about ten 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 was also considered for Alien 3, but could not clear his schedule. “He could never get it together,” claimed Sigourney Weaver. However, he did find time to drop in on David Fincher during filming, and was even interviewed on the set. “This is not the way to make movies,” he told the struggling Fincher, “make sure you make a little film where you have some control whilst they’re beating you up.” Two decades later, Scott would return to Shepperton to again stand on an Alien-verse set.

“From the very early going all the scripts said Untitled Alien Prequel, and then we tried a bunch of colons, it was Alien: Engineers, Alien: Genesis, Alien: Origins.”
Jon Spaihts, Prometheus enhancement pods, 2012.

“It’s a brand new box of tricks,” Ridley told Empire in 2009 on the subject of the prequel. “We know what the road map is, and the screenplay is now being put on paper. The prequel will be a while ago. It’s very difficult to put a year on Alien, but if Alien was towards the end of this century, then the prequel story will take place thirty years prior … I never thought I’d look forward to a sequel, but a prequel is kind of interesting. I’m looking forward to doing that.” That same year, when talking to MTV, Scott said: “I’ve got a pile of pages next to me. It’s like the fourth draft. It’s a work in progress, but we’re not dreaming it up anymore. We know what the story is. We’re now actually trying to improve the three acts and make the characters better, build it up to something. It’s a work in progress, but we’re actually making the film.”

“I’m in Pinewood now doodling spaceships,” said the Alien prequel’s production designer, Arthur Max, in 2010. “I’ve got a little art department and we’re trying to get it off the ground … we can deconstruct the original. That’s an interesting challenge to anticipate. Where it all came from. Its origins. It’s almost like archaeology. You’re designing in reverse time.”

Though there was no chance of Ripley appearing in a pre-Ripley world, Sigourney Weaver was happy to see the series returning to Ridley: “I’m glad it’s in his hands. I always said if you’re going to do another one, go back to the planet where they came from, so I certainly think it’s a great idea. I’ll be excited to see it. I think he’s an amazing director and I always felt very incomplete because we didn’t know where they came from, and so we’re going to find out I hope.” James Cameron was likewise excited: “I cannot wait to see it. I truly cannot wait. I will be the first person in line to see it – but he’d [Ridley] better invite me to a preview screening!”

Scott also made it clear that if the Alien creature was to return, then it wouldn’t assume the recognisable shape of the creatures from the previous movies. “They’ve squeezed the franchise dry,” said Ridley. “The first one will always be the most frightening, because the beast we put together with Giger and all its parts -the facehugger, the chestburster, the egg- they were all totally original, and that’s hard to follow … I don’t want to repeat it. The Alien in a sense, as a shape, is worn out. Once I get more serious and get going, and the big wheels start turning, we’ll [Scott and Giger] certainly talk. And maybe we’ll come up with something completely different.”

“In my view, the story of Alien can only go one direction; to return home to the planet where the first discoveries were made, which might be an opportunity to provide fans and audiences with past surprises and answers to questions they had. I am convinced that everyone who was involved from the beginning of the production of this series has the same feelings as me.”
~ HR Giger, Tatuaz magazine, 2008.

Excitingly, Giger seemed to confirm his involvement in the film to a Swiss newspaper in February 2011, saying: “Ridley Scott and I met in London to discuss the details of the project. It was a warm reunion after such a long time. It’s going to be huge. I can not tell you what I’m doing exactly.”

Ridley and Giger rifling through Prometheus designs and sketches during production.

People had returned from one Alien movie to another before, including AlienAliens conceptual artist Ron Cobb; Alien focus puller-turned Aliens cinematographer Adrian Biddle; Alien Queen stuntmen-turned-Fiorina 161 prisoner stuntmen Nick Gillard and Malcolm Weaver; and AlienAliens creature stuntman, Eddie Powell. However, none were as monumental or even as instrumental as Scott and Giger, and fans as well as the media waited in anticipation for further news.

It was in this hush period that the embryonic film underwent massive changes. The most significant of these was the recruitment of a secondary writer (Damon Lindelof, hired to buttress a script originally by Jon Spaihts) and the new movie’s subsequent and very deliberate distancing from Alien; though the new film, tentatively titled Paradise before becoming Prometheus, would still retain an umbilicus to the original series.

“We were told several different titles, we didn’t really know what the project was called. My paperwork said Alien Prequel, Untitled Alien Prequel. That’s what I was working on. Then LV-426 was the title, so some people say ‘oh it’s not the same planet,’ but in Ridley’s mind it could have been at one point … And then another title was Paradise … and then one day, boom, Prometheus.”
Steven Messing, Visual Effects Art Director, Prometheus enhancement pods, 2012.

In 2012, Spaihts explained: “If you’ve seen the original Alien, you’ve seen the remains of the enigmatic giant—whom the fan community calls the “Space Jockey”—who has died in the derelict wreck. This character is the great, unopened door of that original film—the great mystery. Who is that? Where did that derelict ship come from? How did that giant die? And it’s in that mystery that the story seed of Prometheus takes root. There is some inevitable kinship between the two stories [Alien and Prometheus] in terms of xenobiology. But the titular creature of Alien is very much confined to the shadows and is not at all the focus of Prometheus, which is driving in a new direction. With Prometheus, the origin of the menace and forces that our heroes encounter is essentially the central mystery of the tale itself. So the story is very much about people prying into the shadows and trying to shed light on these mysteries.”

Like Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator before it, Prometheus was also intended to bring a new life to the tired series. “From the get-go,” said Spaihts, “the studio made it plain that they were interested in not just a new film but a new limb for a new franchise altogether. My story development envisioned a trilogy from the beginning.” Spaihts elaborated further with EMPIRE magazine: “I did have a plan for multiple films and the conversations I had with Ridley was about a new franchise from the beginning. We talked about a possible trilogy, or a duology, but more often as a trilogy. And I did have pretty broad notions as to how we were going to get from this world to the original Alien – the baton pass, closing the circle, if you will.”

Jon Spaihts on the Prometheus writing process: “At the time I was brought aboard, Ridley was looking to return to the Alien universe. They were calling it a prequel at the time, and Ridley was going to produce and not direct. I took a stab at the story and came up with something they really liked, and Ridley got so excited he decided to direct it himself. It really threw everything into overdrive at the studio … I worked with Ridley to create five drafts of the script, then 20th Century Fox wanted a more established writer to finish the project, which is typical of studios, and so Damon Lindelof was brought on board and he worked with Ridley on the final draft … I created a mythology that was outside of the original film, and became the centre of the movie. It remained the centre as Damon took over and took the work forward.”

Damon Lindelof on the Prometheus writing process: “I really liked Jon’s script, I thought there were some very cool and original ideas in it … I read it and enjoyed it, but I just felt like that draft was very married to Alien: 35 pages in we’re already dealing with eggs and facehuggers and chestbursters and xenomorphs and acid blood. I felt like that was all the stuff we’ve seen before, and then there was this other idea in the script that I haven’t seen before, so I told them, ‘What I think this script would really benefit from is a remixing of its ideas, to make the movie about these ideas and themes of creation, and focus it more on the idea of going to visit these beings who may or may not have made us.’ … This movie was going to say, ‘What if creation wasn’t the result of some kind of all-knowing deity? What if it’s the result of something we can actually go and visit? Are we the result of an experiment, and what’s the purpose of that experiment? Are we deemed a success or a failure?’ … The idea that Ridley was advancing for Prometheus was A: what if those things weren’t as alien as we thought they were? And B: what if there is a fundamental relationship between those beings and us? And C: what if they weren’t victims of these eggs but were directly responsible for making them? As in, it’s more of a thing where they made Pandora’s Box and something got out, rather than them being innocent, hapless victims. Those were the ideas that really got me pumped up for Prometheus.

The shift from Alien 0 to Prometheus was announced at the beginning of 2011. Misdirection seemed to be a central part of the film’s advertisement process, with Scott and Lindelof stating that Prometheus was almost entirely removed from the Alien saga. “While Alien was indeed the jumping-off point for this project,” said Scott in a press release, “out of the creative process evolved a new, grand mythology and universe in which this original story takes place. The keen fan will recognize strands of Alien’s DNA, so to speak, but the ideas tackled in this film are unique, large and provocative.”

As it later turned out, it didn’t take a keen fan to take note of the presence of the Space Jockey or derelict craft, and with their appearance the Prometheus universe seemed less new than what had been claimed.

“There’s a definite connecting vein [to Alien]. You realise you’re part of something else, but it’s definitely in keeping with the old ones … Alien fans will recognize things in it. It’s not ignoring Alien, there’s still a link to that world. But it’s a different story. It’s definitely connected, though.”
~ Michael Fassbender.

In June 2012, Spaihts elaborated on the relationship between Alien and Prometheus: “If we’re going to revisit the Alien universe, that’s cool, but the end of the movie shouldn’t be the original Alien, this movie should go off in its own direction, so if there was a sequel to Prometheus, it would not be Alien  Alien was about unleashing a killing machine with acid for blood and surviving it; this is going to have certain themes in common, but it’s going to be about something slightly different … Essentially it’s a cousin to that first story. It’s less a prequel than a spin-off. It leaps back into that universe we know from the original Alien, but rather than following that plotline, or going backwards to set that plotline up, it sets off sideways, to investigate a new set of questions, and open up a whole new arm of the mythology.”

Essentially, the goal with Prometheus was to shed the well-worn staples of the previous Alien films and yet, by tapping into the unexplored lore behind them, such as the Space Jockey, to also continue the series from an entirely fresh perspective.

Alien vs. Predator vs. Prometheus: The prequel film was of course tethered to the original Scott film, but what about the relationship between it and AVP? Lindelof explained: “[Ridley] wanted to use Weyland as a conduit in the story, and was not at all interested when I said, ‘You know, Weyland was a character in one of the Alien vs. Predator movies.’ He just sort of looked at me like I had just slapped him in the face. That was the beginning, middle, and end of all Alien vs. Predator references in our story process.” Peter Weyland indeed usurped Charles Bishop Weyland and removed him, and by extension AVP, from the continuity.

Lindelof on Ridley and the Alien series: “He hasn’t seen the Alien vs. Predator films. He likes Cameron’s sequel but he admits to feeling a little conflicted that he was passed over in terms of directing the sequel. He’s a huge Fincher fan and feels sorry that David was so hamstrung in terms of what he could and could not do in terms of Alien 3, and while he acknowledges that it’s a beautiful looking film I think he wishes that Fincher would have been allowed to do what Fincher does on that film. I have a feeling that if Alien 3 had been Fincher’s third film instead of his first then it would have been up there in the pantheon of great sci-fi. We didn’t talk about Resurrection.”

Prometheus, like Alien before it, seems to carry within it the DNA of several progenitor films. The stowaway Weyland seems like a riff on Dark Star‘s frozen Commander Powell gag, though it’s more in line with an idea abandoned in Blade Runner, where Eldon Tyrell is revealed to be harboured away within a stasis chamber. Some of the spacesuits evoke Planet of the Vampires; the Space Jockey’s battle with the Trilobite creature evokes panels from Dan O’Bannon/Moebius’ The Long Tomorrow (panels from the comic strip can even be seen pinned to production storyboards); and the Space Jockey temple is very clearly derived from HR Giger’s Harkonnen Castle design from Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune. But most important is the film’s tie to Alien itself. Beyond the obvious Space Jockey creature and derelict spacecraft (now fully functional and called the Juggernaut), Prometheus returns to ideas abandoned in the original film: from major themes like ancient alien civilisations and von Däniken-esque interstellar gods, to little nods like the crew of the Prometheus salvaging a Space Jockey’s head, just as the crewmen of Dan O’Bannon’s script return to their ship with the ossified head of the derelict’s pilot. Though Alien presented the Space Jockey and its cargo as beings that are entirely distant from us, the universe was rendered smaller in Prometheus by linking the Engineers to Earth’s history. However, this is not necessarily any less Lovecraftian than the original film: in the Lovecraft mythos and cosmogony, which Dan O’Bannon drew heavily on, ancient alien deities once ruled the Earth, but have since fallen into a death-like slumber. Their awakening will spell the end for humanity. The parallels here with Prometheus are obvious.

Alien went to where the Old Ones lived,” claimed Dan O’Bannon. It was a decades-long journey, but Prometheus, for all it successes and failures, turned its needle back towards some central core of the Alien mythos, which had been diverted over the years by Ripley-centric sequels and comic book mash-ups.

Speaking to the BBC about Prometheus and the planet housing the Space Jockey facility, LV-223, Ridley stated: “Yeah, it’s not the same planet [from Alien] at all … If there was a sequel to this, which there might be if the film is successful, there’ll be two more of these before you even get to Alien.”

In an interview with movies.com, Scott said: “From the very beginning, I was working from a premise that lent itself to a sequel. I really don’t want to meet God in the first one. I want to leave it open to [Dr. Elizabeth Shaw] saying, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I came from. I want to go where they came from’ … I’d love to explore where the hell [Dr. Shaw] goes next and what she does when she gets there, because if it is paradise, paradise cannot be what you think it is. Paradise has a connotation of being extremely sinister and ominous …”

Ridley Scott on the Orrery/pilot chamber set. Destination: Paradise?

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The Pilot

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Suddenly, Melkonis lets out a grunt of shock. Their lights have illuminated something unspeakably grotesque: A huge alien skeleton, seated in the control chair. They approach the skeleton, their lights trained on it. It is a grotesque thing, bearing no resemblance to the human form.
Melkonis: “Holy Christ…”

And so we meet the mysterious, gargantuan extraterrestrial pilot of the derelict spacecraft, as dictated in Dan O’Bannon’s original Alien script. Having landed on a barren planetoid to investigate an apparent SOS signal, the crew of the commercial vehicle Snark find an alien ship amid the stormy dunes. “It is dead and abandoned,” reads the synopsis for O’Bannon’s script. Deep inside the crewmen discover the derelict’s dead tenant. The creature, long deceased, has mummified over perhaps decades or even centuries. “That thing’s been dead for years,” remarks Broussard, the character later known as Kane. “Maybe hundreds of years.” The pilot’s last act was to etch the shape of a pyramid onto his console before death took him. When the planetoid’s storms abate, the crewmen spot the pyramid on the horizon. Overcome by curiosity, they decide to investigate…

Though the pilot’s function in the film doesn’t quite change from the first script to the finished film (first warning flag of imminent danger) the creature’s in-universe biography was altered radically. Originally, the creature was to be a mere explorer that had stumbled upon the planetoid, and consequently the pyramid and its deadly spore. “In my script,” said O’Bannon, “[the pilot] was a space-going race that landed on the planet and had been wiped out by whatever was there. And now the Earthmen come and they endanger themselves in the same way.” The pilot therefore served as a warning to the audience that something about the pyramid and its contents were deadly. The race of indigenous aliens required host bodies to birth their young, and the reproductive process was undertaken in temples. Alien concept artist, and friend to O’Bannon, Ron Cobb explains:

“At some point a cataclysm causes the extermination of the adults in this unique race, leaving no one to tend and nurture the young. But in a dark lower chamber of the breeding temple a large number of eggs lie dormant, waiting to sense something warm. Years later, the Space Jockey’s race comes to this planetoid. The Jockeys are on a mission of exploration and archaeology and they are fascinated by this marvellous temple and unknown culture. One of them finds the egg chamber and gets face-hugged. He’s rescued, but no one knows what’s happened. They take him back to their ship and continue their exploration of the planet’s surface. When the chest-burster erupts from the Jockey it goes on a killing rampage until it is shot and killed. The Alien dies, but immediately decomposes and its acid eats through the hull of the Jockey ship, leaving them stranded on the planet. The Jockeys radio out a message that there is a dangerous parasite on the planet, that nothing can be done to save them in time, and that no one should attempt a rescue. Then the Jockeys slowly starve to death.”
~ Ron Cobb, Alien portfolio.

In the version of Alien that ended up on screen, the creature has become a victim of its own cargo – eggs that house parasitic alien spore. This alteration was born from a need to economise. First, the designers considered scrapping the pyramid in favour of a biomechanic egg silo, as the pyramid was, according to HR Giger, “too close, we found, to our own Egyptian culture and we thought it should be completely unearthly.” Eventually, it became clear that the film’s running time wouldn’t allow for repeat jaunts between the derelict craft, back to the crewmen’s ship, and then over to a pyramid. Additionally, the film’s budget did not allow for the creation of these separate elements, and the two -pyramid/silo and derelict- were fused into one location.

“It would have been wonderful in a three hour version,” said Ridley Scott. “Sometimes financial practicalities force you to do a certain amount of editorial work, and I’m glad we simplified it.” O’Bannon was less pleased: “In the original script the men find a crashed derelict spacecraft and they enter it; they discover that the alien crew are all dead. They return to their own ship to contemplate what may have killed the alien crew and then they discover a pyramid on the planet which appears to be indigenous and primitive. They enter the pyramid and there they find the eggs. They [Ridley and co] combined these two elements, they squeezed them together into one sort of uneasy entity … In the new version it’s just some sort of a surrealist mystery.”

When David Giler and Walter Hill began to rewrite O’Bannon’s script, the alien pilot was removed – along with every other extraterrestrial element. In their initial versions of the film, the titular Alien was a product of The Company’s bioweapons division, with the spore housed in an off-world facility known as The Cylinder. The extraterrestrial pilot was rewritten as a downed human pilot that the Nostromo crew find dead within his vehicle, a ship recognised by Dallas as a “L-52.”

“Suddenly, Lambert lets out a grunt of shock. Her light has illuminated a skeletal shape. Seated twenty feet beyond them in the control chair. A human being, terribly disfigured.”
~ Walter Hill & David Giler Alien draft, undated.

Director Ridley Scott claims to not know the origins of the term “Space Jockey” in relation to the gargantuan carcass found within the derelict. “Who is the big guy in the chair, who was fondly after Alien called the Space Jockey?” Scott said at a Prometheus press event in April 2012. “I don’t know how the hell he got that name.” The term has its earliest origins in this iteration of Giler and Hill’s rewrites, where Dallas refers to the dead human as:

Dallas: “One dead space jockey, no sign of the other crew members, the old L-52’s generally went up with a compliment of seven…”

The term is a spin on desk jockey, which is defined as “an office worker who sits at a desk, often as contrasted with someone who does more important or active work.” Since the filmmakers were trying to evoke the feeling that space travel was unglamourous, maybe even boring, the name makes sense in terms of human space pilots, and isn’t hard to fit the alien jockey either. The name also has a precedent in a 1947 Robert Heinlein story, titled, of course, Space Jockey, which is about “a rocket pilot who pilots a commercial passenger spacecraft”. The Shepperton crew, who were given copies of the Alien scripts to read prior to production, seem to have been responsible for making the name stick after its excision from one of the drafts.

When O’Bannon and executive producer/co-writer Ron Shusett heard of Giler and Hill’s rewrite, they appealed to Ridley Scott with copies of their original script. “We were disturbed by the content of the rewrite,” said O’Bannon. Upon seeing the original script, Scott said, “Oh yes, we have to go back to the first way, definitely.” The alien elements were restored – and yet the Space Jockey character was cut altogether, as the producers had decided to eliminate its scenes due to budget. Eventually, Ridley got his way, and the Jockey set was built, also doubling as the egg silo by the removal of the Jockey chair.

The design of the actual Space Jockey and his craft saw all of the film’s conceptual artists taking a turn at conceptualising it. Chris Foss, Ron Cobb, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud all submitted sketches and paintings, but the father of the Jockey was none of them, with HR Giger eventually coming up with the winning design.

Chris Foss’ sketch of the Jockey’s head. In O’Bannon’s script, the crewmen return to their ship with the decapitated skull. They note, with some disappointment, that mankind’s first encounter with extraterrestrial life has begun with disappointment. It may very well end with death.

“For the inside [of the derelict], Ron Cobb did the skeleton –what they later called the Space Jockey- and it was just perfect! Very small jawbone – no teeth to speak of. Of course, I expected it to look horrible when you first see it in the film; but if you looked at it a bit closer you’d discover that it didn’t have the large teeth or mandibles or any of the other things that are characteristic of a carnivore – and then maybe you’d begin to imagine it as some totally nonviolent herbivorous creature sailing around in space.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Cinefex, 1979.

Space Jockey design attributed to Moebius, printed in American Cinematographer and Mediascene magazines.

Space Jockey design attributed to Moebius, printed in American Cinematographer and Mediascene magazines.

None of these concepts were taken too seriously by Ridley Scott, who commissioned HR Giger to design the Space Jockey, using one of Giger’s Necronomicon paintings as a launching pad for the final creature.

“From the script I knew he was huge and had a hole in his chest, but that was all. Ridley suggested another one of my Necronom creatures as a guide. They don’t look much alike now, but it was a starting point; and the Space Jockey kind of grew up from there in bits and pieces. The creature we finally ended up building is biomechanical to the extent that he has physically grown into, or maybe even out of, his seat – he’s integrated totally into the function he performs.”
~ HR Giger, Cinefex, 1979.

“As for the chair in which he sits, I thought it had to be mechanical but not with normal arms and legs that could be moved with the feet or the hands. I liked very much the stone tablet in 2001: A Space Odyssey, because it seemed to have some interior-like computer. So I thought that the outside could be very normal-looking and the whole machinery could go inside.”
~ HR Giger, 1999.

“I wanted a fossil, almost,” said Scott regarding the Space Jockey’s integration with his technology, “one which you’d have a hard time deciding where he leaves off and the chair, on which he died, begins.” In the film, this fossil idea is voiced by Dallas, though the Jockey itself is ossified, not fossilised.

“When you see the so-called Space Jockey they [Fox] said, ‘That set costs half a million dollars and it’s only used one time – it’s economically unfeasible! It’s too damn expensive for that one scene!’
One day by accident I went on an errand to do something on the back of the lot [at Shepperton Studios], and the set was being built – the one they said they wouldn’t let us have. I thought it was miscommunication between the art department and the studio heads. I didn’t tell anybody until about a week before shooting.
I said, ‘Ridley, they built the Space Jockey set.’
He said, ‘Yeah, I know.’
I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’
He said, ‘Because if we told you that, you would never stop asking for anything!’
But you needed that one scene – I call it the Cecil B. DeMille shot – to make it the big movie it was, not a little Roger Corman movie.”
~ Ron Shusett.

The Jockey itself is regarded as a marvel of the movie; a nigh unparalleled sight in the series. Giger himself was humble when describing it, saying: “I modeled it myself, in clay. It was then cast in polyester. I worked particularly on the head, and I painted it. To make the pieces of skin, I put on some latex and then scrubbed it off. Then painted some more. If we had more days, we could have made it better — but I think for the film it’s okay.”

The sad fate of the Jockey prop, as reported in Starlog, 1979.

The sad fate of the Jockey prop, as reported in Starlog, 1979.

The Jockey did not return in any of the sequels (thought the derelict appeared in the Special Edition of Aliens), a fact that Scott lamented: “They missed it!” James Cameron explained that the Space Jockey’s story was something only thinly sketched in Alien, and best left to the original director: “Presumably,” he said, “the derelict pilot (space jockey, big dental patient, etc.) became infected en route to somewhere and set down on the barren planetoid to isolate the dangerous creatures, setting up the warning beacon as his last act. What happened to the creature that emerged from him? Ask Ridley.”

Cameron also mused on the nature of the Jockey: “I could provide plausible answers for [the Space Jockey], but they’re no more valid than anyone else’s. Clearly, the dental patient was a sole crew member on a one-man ship. Perhaps his homeworld did know of his demise, but felt it was pointless to rescue a doomed person. Perhaps he was a volunteer or a draftee on the hazardous mission of bio-isolating these organisms. Perhaps he was a military pilot, delivering the alien eggs as a bio-weapon in some ancient interstellar war humans know nothing of, and got infected inadvertently.” This latter view is an idea that Ridley himself has encouraged throughout the decades, and explored further in Prometheus.

“I always wanted to go back and make an Alien 5 or 6,” Ridley said in the 1999 Alien DVD commentary, “where we find out where they came from and go there and answer the question, who are they? Mars is too close, so they can’t be gods of war, but the theory in my head was, this was an aircraft carrier, a battlewagon of a civilisation, and the eggs were a cargo which were essentially weapons. So right, like a large form of bacteriological/biomechanoid warfare.”

“This Space Jockey I’ve always thought was the driver of the craft,” Scott explained further. “[He is] a perfect example of Giger’s mind, which is ‘where does biology end and technology begin?’ because [Giger] seems to have grafted the creature into what was essentially a pilot’s seat. But clearly from here, this is where the [warning] transmission would emanate from, probably in an automatic transmission… maybe one of the eggs had been disturbed and a creature had got out, had attacked the rest of the crew, don’t ask me where they got to, but he’s pretty gruesome…”

A shaft of light filters through the ship’s oculus, illuminating the long-dead pilot within.
Image copyright, HR Giger.

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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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Adaptive Organism

Having brought life to an Alien army and their 14-foot tall matriarch in Aliens, Stan Winston was initially sought out by Twentieth Century Fox to resume a role as Alien 3‘s creature designer due to his previous Oscar-winning work. Unfortunately for the production, the effects maestro was unavailable, with 1990-91 seeing him directing his second feature, A Gnome Named Gnorm, which he then followed with more Oscar-winning work, crafting the physical effects for the T-1000 on James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Instead of leaving the new Alien project hanging, Winston recommended two of his former protégés for the job, Tom Woodruff Jnr and Alec Gillis. The two had previously cut their teeth with Winston on The Terminator and Aliens and had recently left his employ to form their own monster shop, Amalgamated Dynamics Inc., or ADI. 

In their foreword to The Making of AVP, Woodruff and Gillis explained how they were approached: “In 1990, Gordon Carroll, one of the producers on the first two [Alien] pictures, called us to ask if we were interested in creating the effects for Alien 3. The plan was to return to Pinewood Studios outside of London and he wanted someone who knew the drill. By now, we had formed our own company, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.”

Of their split from Winston and their company’s formation, Gillis explained: “Tom and I had worked well together at Stan’s and both had similar interests in where we wanted to go as filmmakers, so it just seemed logical [to found an effects company together.]” Gillis added elsewhere: “It was good timing for us to leave, and we parted with Stan’s blessings. He’ll always be our mentor, and he sometimes recommends us for jobs.”

The Alien 3 creature design story didn’t begin with either Winston or ADI. In the early (and varied) scripting days, artists Stephen Ellis and Mike Worrall sketched the creature in a series of poses and contexts; from the Alien coiled in a foetal position, to the creature lurking under floorboards, crouching upon lintels, and snatching monks from the latrine. Their concepts, taking off from Vincent Ward’s script, were almost hypnagogic in style (Worrall’s website describes his art as being “dreamlike … often inspired by historical themes,” perfect for Ward’s vision) with the Alien taking on a variety of forms, including a centaur-Alien and an Alien-sheep with the impression of an anthropomorphic moon on its backside; all presumably born from the wooden world’s livestock.

Ward’s Alien was also chameleonic, able to blend into the wooden makeup of the film’s medieval orbiter. It also took on a Morphean quality, invading Ripley’s dreams to haunt her with visions of her deceased daughter, whose face was to protrude from its jaws. The creature became a psychic as well as physical stalker. “It’s almost like he’s playing with me,” Ripley says to her confidant, Brother John (a proto-Clemens character). “Maybe they have some sort of race memory. Maybe he knows what I did to his ‘mother’. That’s why he didn’t just kill me … He has to torment me.” These metaphysical leanings were discarded upon Ward’s eventual departure and the script’s many subsequent rewrites.

“Hypnos” themed Alien.

The Alien itself, in some of the early concept art, seems to have a mollusc-like exoskeleton, its thighs sporting flues and its tail curled spirally coiled like a gastropod shell, and it’s not hard to imagine that the dome may be nacre-lined and iridescent. In other pieces, the creature is more generic.

There is some brief musing on the nature of the Alien in the script that isn’t present in the films. Locked in a cell with an android named Andrew, Ripley and the machine conclude that the Alien may have been bred for interstellar warfare.

“Maybe they are from some sort of aggressive soldier race,” muses Andrew. “Warring parties drop the eggs on opposing planets-” “-and the Alien takes on the form of the creature that finds it,” interjects Ripley. Andrew’s speculation regarding the origin of the Alien was not explored within the films themselves, though the issue was later (somewhat) addressed in Prometheus.

A more bestial design. Note the elongated insectile arms and crowning dome.

During the Vincent Ward period co-producer Gordon Carroll extended an invitation to Giger to work on the film. Allegedly, Giger was not available at this time. Later, when newcomer David Fincher took over directorial duties, the production re-established contact and Fincher travelled to meet Giger at his home.

“While I was working on my idea for The Mystery of San Gottardo, Gordon Carroll contacted me about Alien 3,” Giger told International Tattoo Art magazine in 1995. “I told him that I was working on a new creature and could probably combine it.” However, the producers weren’t interested in Giger’s side projects and designs. “Gordon Carroll asked if I was interested. ‘Yes, why not?’ Then it was, ‘Do this, do that and that!’ Just like when I started Alien.”

Though no script for the new film was presented, he knew what he was to create: an aquatic facehugger, a new chestburster, and a four-legged interpretation of the Alien being. “I worked like crazy on it,” Giger told ImagiMovies magazine in 1994. The artist relished the chance to revisit and revise his Alien monster. “I had special ideas to make it more interesting,” he said. “I designed a new creature which was much more elegant and beastly compared to my original. It was a four-legged Alien, more like a feline – a panther or something. It had a kind of skin which was built up from other creatures, like a symbiosis … I made a very long tongue like a sword and the Alien’s mouth should look beautiful. With the monks this time there’s an erotic fascination, and when it kisses them, you only see the mouth close-up. Then the tongue comes and you only see blood running …”

Giger quickly set to work, re-drawing his original Alien design and ruthlessly cutting out and changing what he didn’t like about it: including the “stiff, useless hands,” a tail that is “too much [like a] crocodile’s,” the Alien’s “useless pipes … only given to give help to the long head,” and the “too short ribcage.” Giger also discussed the shortcomings of the original creature with Cinephage in 1992: “Nothing in Alien worked so we did not show much [of the creature]. And that’s the highlight of the film. The tail of the monster never worked Ridley wanted it to beat the air. It never worked. It was horrible (laughs). Nothing was what we wanted from the start. We wanted the monster to be translucent. Ultimately, it was a man dressed in a suit.”

In Giger’s redesign, the Alien’s back tubes are removed, the face features erotic lips, and the ribcage is extended, “like twisted steel”. The tail has also gained a sword-like protrusion, rather than a stinger. The words “sphinx” and “spider” are thrown in, suggesting the creature’s dual nature as something cunning but primal, elegant but frightening, regal but beastly. Transparency also seems to have made the list of improvements. “This time around it had to be more animal-like, more elegant,” explained Giger. “You shouldn’t get the feeling that it was a man wearing a suit. Basically, the head had to remain unaltered but the body had to change. David Fincher, the director, told me I would have total freedom.”

With Fincher tackling the production in England and Giger designing and sculpting the new Alien from his home with assistant sculptor Cornelius de Fries, Fincher and Giger communicated solely by fax. “I think the fax machine is a great invention,” Giger said of the communications between Fincher and himself. Giger had made himself “a prisoner” during the production of Alien, and suffered a great deal of anxiety due to the pressure. Being able to communicate via fax from the comfort of home apparently relieved him of a great deal of needless stress. “I hardly have to leave my house anymore! So after I go to bed at 6AM after having worked all night, I can transmit that night’s work from my bedroom.”

Working through July and August 1990, Giger had his redesigned Alien worked out within a few weeks, from paper sketch to a seven-foot-long bust, which he had sculpted with De Fries and had financed from his own pocket. He likewise sketched the aquatic facehugger, an image of an impregnated Ripley, the Bambi-burster, and provided drawings demonstrating his new Alien’s deadly athleticism.

“This looks great!” Fincher said in response to Giger’s work, their correspondence shared with ImagiMovies magazine. “Finally, we are all excited again. We want you to feel free to give your all … I am doing everything in my power to ensure you have control over your creation.”

Fincher also provided some creative feedback, his major contribution being the Alien’s new, thick lips: “We did give it Michelle Pfeiffer’s lips,” he said, “That’s what they’re based on. It always had these little thin lips, and I said to Giger, ‘let’s make it a woman when it comes right up to Ripley.’ So it has these big, luscious collagen lips.” This erotic moment was already conveyed in Ward’s script: “The Alien wraps his arms around Ripley,” it reads, “Thin lips pull back for a kiss.” The thickness of the lips were pared back for the film, but were still fuller than those of the original Alien.

Giger’s blueprints for his new Alien. The creature’s arms were to be adorned with small flues that would emit an unsettling hum that would signal the creature’s temperament. The detail on the head he called a “finger-brain” that would ripple like wheatstalk in the wind.

During their initial meeting, Fincher showed Giger some preliminary sketches of the Alien provided by ADI. “[Fincher showed me] some sketches made by people who would be responsible for the execution of the work,” Giger told ImagiMovies Magazine. “These looked rather like a bird. There was no similarity to the Alien, and they were far from my ideas.”

Giger himself telephoned ADI at the studio and the two entities found that they shared some similar plans for the Alien’s design, such as the removal of the pipes which adorn the Alien’s back. “[Giger] called to say that he hoped we’d get rid of the tailpipes,” said Gillis. “He’d just put them there to break up the human form of the suit and had never liked them. It was a very welcome coincidence.” However, it is clear that ADI considered themselves as the wardens of the creature’s design for the third film: “The Alien is Giger’s baby, and he was calling to find out what we planned. After that we stayed in contact and he faxed drawings and ideas that proved very helpful when we were deciding how the Alien was going to develop.” Clearly, ADI were under the impression that Giger was an accessory to the film’s creature design, rather than, as Giger himself had been led to believe, the hub on which it turned. Giger himself would later blame Fincher’s lack of transparency for the confusion. “When Woodruff and Gillis said they had their own ideas I was very upset. They said that they liked my work and might use some of my sketches, but they would make their own interpretation.”

When Giger offered his Alien bust to Twentieth Century Fox for the price of the mold and not for the actual time spent designing and constructing the creature, Fox rebuffed him, and they also declined film footage of the creature that Giger had shot and provided for reference. The production then severed all contact from Giger as Alien 3 went into shooting for a tumultuous year and ADI began work on crafting the Alien as intended for the film. “I invited all of them to visit me in Switzerland,” said Giger, “but I heard they didn’t want my input.” ADI themselves cited the infamously hectic production as being the reason for their declination.

Of the situation, Giger said, “David Fincher neglected to inform me that Woodruff and Gillis were also contracted to take care of the redesign of the Alien – I found out much later. I thought I had the job and that Woodruff and Gillis would work from my plans. On their side, they were convinced that it was their job and accepted my ‘suggestions’ with pleasure. They believed that all my effort was based on a huge love for the matter, because I worked hard even after my contract was over. Today, I am convinced that it was a game by Fincher to keep both sides happy and obtain the maximum for his movie … In the contract it states exactly how I should be credited … They break the contract because they’re saying in the movie that it’s only ‘original design by Giger’ and not Alien 3, so it looks like I didn’t work on it … Mr. Fincher never gave me any credit. That did not just happen; it was made to happen. I never heard from the man responsible, and I don’t know why he did it.”

Fincher himself explained, “We worked with [Giger] and used as much of his input and ideas as we could.” From there, Fincher goes on to describe his mission statement for the Alien and does not address Giger’s involvement: “More importantly, we thought: How can we make this thing scary again? On the second film they compromised on the actual mechanics of each of the creatures and made it more like a bunch of pissed off Jacques Cousteaus’. It worked because of the sheer scale and how little you saw of these fleeting glimpses in the strobes of the machine guns firing. We really wanted to do something that was more elegant and simple.”

Giger summarised the situation: “I wish Ridley Scott had come back. He had said to me, ‘If we ever do another, you’ll create a new monster.’ Working with him would have been wonderful – not a man with no experience. They told me that the Alien this time would be intelligent; it would be special. But, in the end, it was just a slimy creature.” To International Tattoo Art magazine, he said, “In the end they used many of my ideas, but what was finally in the movie was very much different from what I imagined Alien 3 to be.”

Though Giger and Fincher had set out to create a whole new Alien breed, the artist found the monster, bipedalism aside, to be far too familiar to the original film’s creature: “In a way, they went back to my designs for the original Alien, and that was disappointing.” Giger also said of the film, pre-release: “Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the finished film. And don’t get me wrong, I do hope it will be a success.”

When it came to portraying the actual Alien, ADI already had a solution in mind. Tom Woodruff had watched the stuntmen on Aliens don and perform in the Alien suits, and recalled that he wasn’t impressed: “I remember … putting on one of the Alien suits and doing different body poses and positions for still shots, and looking at them later and thinking was an improvement over what I’d seen on set.” Post-Aliens, Woodruff got his first monster jobs playing Gillman in The Monster Squad, as well as playing the eponymous creature in Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead.

Alec Gillis: “Tom had a small list of credits for playing monsters we designed, and we went to the producers with the notion that it made the most sense for him to play the Alien. Tom had experience inside suits and we had a complete set of body molds that would allow us to start work immediately. The producers as well as the director, David Fincher, supported our notion.”

The Alien suits were made from foam latex and crafted to be skintight to hide wrinkles in the costuming. They were also absent zippers, which required Woodruff to spend up to ten hours inside the suit. Design-wise, the Alien’s domed carapace was restored, rather than the ridged head of the second movie. ADI also stripped the creature of its purely biomechanical texture. Giger’s original Alien was man-shaped but replete with metallic joints and muscles in a strange and frightening alchemy of teeth, claws and steel. ADI’s Alien is a sepia-toned mesh of bone and flesh. Though ADI’s original mold of the suit retained some biomechanic textures, most if not all of this detail was lost because of the film’s ruddy, muddy lighting.

Tom Woodruff explained ADI’s approach to the Alien design, and their interpretation of Giger’s aesthetic: “The Alien was so well known that there wasn’t a lot we could do with it except try to make it look even more alien than in the first two films. Most of our changes were stylistic, because we really wanted to go back to the original paintings and designs for Giger, which hadn’t been fully realized.” Elsewhere, Woodruff explained to Cinefex magazine: “We tried to give it an organic, sculptural feel and remain truer to his [Giger’s] concepts than even he had been. Some of the things he had done in the first film were completely serendipitous.”

Alec Gillis adds: “Even Alien wasn’t completely true to Giger’s vision. I don’t mean to be pompous, but his own suit wasn’t accurate to his paintings. Our goal was to sculpt Giger’s designs into repeating organic textures, almost like dear antlers. We also put more colour into the Alien, which was originally just black and sepia. Since the effects of Alien 3 wouldn’t have the spectacle of the last film, we wanted to make this creature into a believable organism.” Making the Alien “a believable organism” saw the creature being stripped of any overt biomechanical details, with knots of muscle, papulae and blistered skin making up the details between the creature’s bones.

Visual trickery, such as shooting from a low angle or having Woodruff stand on boxes, gave the illusion that the suited performer was in the range of seven-eight feet tall, in line with the previous creatures in the series.

Originally, the Alien was to be born from the body of an ox, but this idea had to be scrapped and re-shot when the filmed footage was deemed subpar. “The scene was written that there was a group of oxen towing the EEV on the shore of Fury 161,” explained visual effects producer Richard Edlund, “and a facehugger was going to impregnate one of the oxen. In the end however, David didn’t like the sequence we shot with the chestburster coming out of the Ox, and for a reason I’m not sure of, they changed the host to a rottweiler.”

Fincher explained, “It looked stupid. We put masonite filters on the lens and we still couldn’t shoot the thing so that it looked right. The ox stuff just never played. I wanted something faster and more predatory than an ox. As a result, the final Alien is not as elegant a creature as it was before, but it’s more vicious. The change to a dog broke everyone’s heart, because it had already been done before in The Thing, but it helped when we got to the big chase sequences at the end, because it gave us exciting POVs and explained the ravenous attack mode this thing was in … we wanted it to be fast and big and powerful and dumb.”

Though the new Alien was born from a non-human host, portraying the creature as a non-anthropomorphic being wouldn’t be possible with Woodruff alone, and so a rod puppet was devised to fill in for the more beastly long shots of the Alien’s attacks.

“From a practical standpoint,” said Woodruff, “the idea of putting a man in a rubber suit works because you get the coverage you need and you have something to work with on set; the actors have something to work with. We’re hoping that most of the time when you see the creature it’s gonna be the puppet, because it’s got things to it you can’t do with a man in a suit.”

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The rod puppet Alien and its compositing was handled by Boss Film in conjunction with ADI, who provided a mold for the 40inch puppet. Boss also handled the CG elements in the film, which included the creature’s shadows and a brief shot of its dome cracking. Laine Liska, an experienced stop motion animator, oversaw the puppetry of the Alien. With David Fincher overseeing the filming, the Alien’s actions were filmed in front of a blue screen in LA with a special motion control camera in a process called ‘mo-motion’, and later composited over existing footage shot back in England.

“We initially tried it with the body of the Alien on motion control, but it moved more like a bunny rabbit than an Alien,” explained Liska. “It really started working when we started doing everything by hand, including running the puppet along a ramp so it covered distance as it moved. Most of the time there were four of us working the puppet – one person on the front legs, another on the back legs, another operating the tail and me on the head and the torso. For the upside down shots of the Alien on the ceiling we had to have a person for each limb, so there were six of us clustered around this little puppet, all moving as fast as we could … He [Fincher] suggested a lot of different animals for us to copy. He wanted it to be very predatory, very cougar-like and at other times he wanted it to move more spidery, almost like an insect.”

Fincher said of the process: “We wanted the creature to walk on the ceilings and really sell the idea that this thing is a bug from outer space.”

“That was one of the challenges of the production: to come up with a technique of shooting the Alien. How would we shoot the Alien? How would we create the Alien in this movie? Nobody had ever seen the Alien running in the way he was running. He runs on the ceiling, on the side, all over the place. We had to develop a look. How does an Alien look when it runs? … It was a very difficult project to get the Alien to look menacing and terrifying in motion.”
~ Robert Edlund.

Despite the expert crafting of the model and convincing puppeteering, the compositing of the Alien was a disaster, and one of the most maligned special effects in the series. Appearing with a green outline and blurred details, the rod puppet fails to stand out as an impressive, living creature and instead serves as a distraction; a reminder that the creature is not real.

“I like the Alien head very much,” Giger said of the final design, “that was nicely done, but not the neck … The thing I don’t like really is when [the Alien] opened its mouth and the silly tongue comes out. I never liked this tongue. I always wanted to eliminate it, but Ridley Scott wanted it. It was okay in [Alien] because it [shot out]. But in the third it comes out slowly like false teeth.”

After a private screening of the film, Giger was aghast to see that he was not credited for having worked on the new design, and when the effects work and design were nominated for an Oscar award his name was likewise omitted. After some legal wrangling, Giger’s name was restored to the credits on home release.

In 2010, Tom Woodruff claimed that the third film represented his favourite experience working on the series: “I think my favourite was Alien 3 for a combination of reasons. That was an early film that Alec and I did on our own. On Aliens, the Cameron movie, we were part of Stan Winston’s team. Stan was amazing and inspiring to work with but with Alien 3 it was our own show. It was also the first time I wore the Alien costume. We really had a chance to work on screen a lot and work quite a bit with Sigourney in the scenes. Just being around David Fincher was a huge experience just to see that level of filmmaking from a guy that young. It was also a bit intimidating because David was way ahead of the curve and if anyone was going to find something that wasn’t working it would be him.”

Fincher himself made it clear that his experience making the film was hellish. In one of his milder quotes, he says, “We did what we had time to do, and we had a lot more interesting ideas that we would have liked to do … and we ran out of money. Unfortunately, when you have no prep time you spend a lot of money on stuff that never gets shot or does get shot and isn’t properly thought out. It [the production] never moved quite as quickly as I wanted it to.”

Finally, Fincher also claimed that Fox had tampered with his film’s colour and light scheme. “I could not get the screen to be black,” he recalled. “I couldn’t get the creature to come out of the shadows unseen.”

A “jaguar crossed with a freight train.”

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