After seeing Star Wars in 1977, Ridley Scott felt compelled to make a science-fiction feature of his own. He began work on a Métal Hurlant-inspired take on the story of Tristan and Isolde and, when sketching out his storyboards, he drew inspiration from the comic book artist who had inspired him the most: Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud.
“He was a major influence on Tristan,” explained Ridley. “I was going to do Tristan as a fantasy with elements of Star Wars, Conan, Moebius, modern technology and Celtic legends.” Moebius’ work would be the map guiding Ridley throughout Tristan‘s development. “To me, [Métal Hurlant] had gotten inside the future. They managed to put their finger on what could be.”
Whilst Scott was busy emulating the artist’s style for Tristan, Moebius himself was fresh from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune, where he had met fellow artists and future Alien alumni Chris Foss, HR Giger, and Dan O’Bannon. This vortex of creative powers would result not only in Alien, but, by pairing together O’Bannon and Moebius, it also laid the visual groundwork for Ridley’s Blade Runner via The Long Tomorrow.
“Jodorowsky had seen Dark Star, the film that John Carpenter and I had made. He took me over to France, to Paris, and introduced me to some artists he was using, and one of them was this amazing man named Jean Giraud. I have never seen as fast an artist in my life, and when you combine the fact of that speed with the stunning quality of what he draws and paints, it was like watching something supernatural happen.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, In Search of Moebius, 2007.
After Dune had been disbanded, Ridley’s Tristan and Isolde tale concurrently fell away, but the director was still hungry to tackle a comic-book inspired science-fiction film. Luckily, O’Bannon, devastated by Dune‘s collapse, was driven to dust off and finish an old script, ‘Star Beast’, which became Alien. When Ridley was offered the directorial duties for Dan’s movie, he saw the potential to take a B-movie and give it an A-movie sheen, and also hire his favourite artist along the way. “On Alien I had [Moebius] work up costume designs for the crew, which John Mollo made for us.”
Alejandro Jodorowsky himself would later wryly comment that “Alien was made with the team that I had put together. Giger, O’Bannon, Moebius…” On his end, Scott was proud of the conglomerate of busy artists that the production had assembled. He boasted to Fantastic Films that “This is the first film in a long time where serious artists have played so important a role in the creation of its visual concepts.”
Moebius on Ridley & Alien: “In art, Ridley Scott is a kind of enlightened amateur – a little bit like George Lucas. Also, Ridley is an illustrator himself, he’s a professional. So when he contacted me I felt that he was a kind of brother, asking me to do something that he didn’t have time to. I knew very well that I was competent, but I also knew what my place was. The film’s success is in good part due to the quality of Giger’s work, and the genius he had to imagine this extraordinary creature.”
Though the film reunited the Dune creative team, the other artists did not meet Moebius personally this time around – however, even though he was somewhat more removed from the project than Cobb, Foss, Giger, and O’Bannon (who all either worked on the project from its inception, or from the time it was greenlit) Moebius still turned in work that his co-artists found exemplary. “I was in contact with Moebius indirectly,” said Giger, “as he was designing the costumes for Alien. Those astronauts’ clothes and helmets were just like Ridley Scott wanted them. They looked like ancient divers. He did a fantastic job.”
“Moebius did the designs for the astronauts,” Giger told Cinefantastique in ’79. “They wear a kind of Japanese armour and helmets which could belong to just about any period of time.”
“When I arrived in England, I was told, ‘We hired Moebius!’ I said, ‘Wonderful!’ They said, ‘He’s coming over.’ I said, ‘Great!’ He arrived, I was so glad to see him. We talked. He had started the design and he had started by designing the spacesuits, and he was ready to sit down and get to work. On the first day he arrived, it was discovered that there had been a misunderstanding about the salary. He thought that they were paying him $5000 a week, when in fact they were paying him $500 a week, and he couldn’t afford to work on that basis at this time because of his expenses, so he gave them the space suit designs, got on the plane, and went back to France. They used him. They used the design, but that was the end of his involvement and the money.”
~ Dan O’Bannon.
Ridley had already planned on a Japanese aesthetic for Tristan and Isolde. “The Japanese armour came out of my desire to make things look otherworldly,” he told Fantastic Films. He carried this idea over into Alien. “The owners of the Nostromo are Japanese,” he claimed, an idea that Ron Cobb would expand on by coining ‘Weylan-Yutani’.
Moebius’ tenure on the film was brief and almost emotionally uninvolved, but his concepts were infused into the film. The spacesuits’ skull caps, helmet lights, cross laces, elbow and knee pads and ‘samurai’ aesthetic are all readily apparent in the film, and the costume department colour-coded the suits, much like some of Giraud’s art.
Regarding his own work on Alien (and other movies), Moebius was grateful but distant, likely because his conceptual work for these movies represented scripts written by other individuals (rather than deriving from himself or an obliging creative partner) and, once his work was finished, they were not adapted to the screen verbatim, but filtered through directors, producers, and production departments.
“When movies like Alien and Tron are placed in my personal context,” he said in 2007, “they represent landmarks [in my career.] But in and of themselves, they are the product of an industry. From that point of view, I was hired for those projects as a professional, as the result of circumstance.”
“Scott is an artist himself, and executed a full storyboard for the film. Most of the film’s visual concepts originated with him. For instance, in designing the space suits, it was Scott’s idea to adapt the design of Samurai suits of armour. He gave his own initial sketch to Jean Giraud, who then used his own personal style in interpreting Ridley’s concept.”
~ Walter Hill, Starlog magazine, July 1979.
John Mollo, who had designed the garb for Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Lucas’ Star Wars, would bring Giraud’s designs to life. But the costume design did not end with Moebius. It was decided that the crew uniforms would be emblazoned with badges, division emblems, and patches, which were all jointly designed by Cobb and Mollo. Some of the patches expand the mostly unseen and unspoken universe lingering behind Alien (for background information on this particular lore, see Space, 2122 – 2179) and their designs include:
The Company is never referred to by name in the film (Alien 3 marks the first time ‘Weyland-Yutani’ is said aloud), but Cobb coined one to go along with their logo. “Weylan-Yutani was Ron’s invention,” explained Mollo, “and we all liked the sound of it. The name and the Egyptian wings [logo] were hotly pursued at the beginning, but we eventually dropped the words and just used the wings as a logo,” (the ‘d’ was added to the name sometime during Aliens’ production by Cobb for an unspecified reason – perhaps it was an error, or he was no longer shy about the ‘Weyland/Leyland’ allusion. The Company name is never flashed onscreen during the theatrical cut, but makes a noticeable appearance during the colony scenes in the 1992 Special Edition. When prisoner Clemens utters the name aloud in the third film Weyland cemented itself in the series canon.)
“One of the things I enjoyed most about Alien was its subtle satirical content,” explained Cobb. “Science Fiction films offer golden opportunities to throw in little scraps of information that suggest enormous changes in the world. There’s a certain potency in those kinds of remarks. Weylan-Yutani for instance is almost a joke, but not quite. I wanted to imply that poor old England is back on its feet and has united with the Japanese, who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they have now with cars and supertankers. In coming up with a strange company name I thought of British Leyland and Toyota, but we obviously couldn’t use Leyland-Toyota in the film. Changing one letter gave me Weylan, and Yutani was a Japanese neighbor of mine.”
“I also thought it would be fun to develop a logo using the W and Y interlocking. We tried a lot of variations and came up with some very industrial looking symbols, which were to be stenciled all over the ship. By that time, though Ridley was already set on using the Egyptian wing motif. We tried some combinations, but they didn’t really work. Weylan-Yutani now only appears on the beer can, underwear and some stationary, so the joke sort of got lost.”
Cobb’s Egyptian motif Weylan-Yutani logo appears on virtually every piece of equipment on the Nostromo, including dinner bowls and coffee cups. The crew wear blue Weylan-Yutani wing emblems on their chests, except for Kane, who wears a silver patch, and Dallas, whose gold patch is possibly coloured to denote his captaincy, [interesting costume blooper: Dallas’ patch is gold when Lambert tells the crew that there is ten months of flight time to Earth. In the very next scene where the crew rush to see the awakened Kane in the Medlab, Dallas’ emblem has changed to blue, despite this scene immediately following the former].
“Ridley is a great stickler for detail,” said Mollo, “so we had a rubber Weylan-Yutani stamp made and went about madly labeling everything. Also, because Ridley wanted everything to look well worn and live in, we washed, scraped and even sandpapered the costumes many times before they were ever worn.”
This gave the clothes a disheveled look, as though they had been thoroughly worked, sweated, lived, and even slept in. In addition to their crumpled work shirts, the Nostromo crew also wear headbands, baseball caps, bomber jackets, Hawaiian shirts, customised PF Flyers, cowboy boots, and stenciled jackets – Ash however, in his role as outsider and fastidious science officer, is relatively clean cut. “People always wore uniforms on spaceships,” noted Aliens director James Cameron, “That’s how it worked from Star Trek on[wards] … Alien broke that mold and it just seemed so right to people. They recognised the archetype immediately, ‘Oh, these guys are truck drivers’.”
When Sigourney Weaver turned up for dress rehearsal, she found something other than grimy space-wear. “When they first dressed me up as Ripley it was in one of those pink and blue uniforms,” she said. “Ridley Scott came in and said, ‘You look like fucking Jackie O’NASA.'”
Luckily, Scott decided to improvise. “We went into this room where there were all these costumes from NASA,” continued Weaver, “and he tore it apart until we finally found this flight suit that was an actual flight suit. And that’s what I wore.”