Tag Archives: Moebius

Dressing The Future

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.”

A couple of Moebius' colourful Alien spacesuits. In the film, each suit was colour-coded to a specific character. Kane wore yellow, Dallas pink, and Lambert  blue.

A couple of Moebius’ colourful Alien spacesuits. In the film, each suit was colour-coded to a specific character. Kane wore yellow, Dallas pink, and Lambert blue.

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.

"If there are any rules to being Moebius, it is because I make them and assume them freely, like in a game. There is not a single Moebius style, but many, depending on my state of mind. There are whispering Moebiuses, singing Moebiuses, solemn ones and laughing ones, even ribald ones. But never mean or angry ones."

“If there are any rules to being Moebius, it is because I make them and assume them freely, like in a game. There is not a single Moebius style, but many, depending on my state of mind. There are whispering Moebiuses, singing Moebiuses, solemn ones and laughing ones, even ribald ones. But never mean or angry ones.”

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:

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“A pressure suit patch from a former employer of one of the Nostromo crew members.”

DSCN1656 - Copy (2)

“Former employer of Nostromo crew member [Lambert, according to her profile.] Red Star Line was purchased by the White Dwarf Complex in 2115 and is now used to transport and rotate crews.”

Worn by Brett, this patch commemorates the United States' 300th anniversary.

Worn by Brett, this patch commemorates the United States’ 300th anniversary.

Commemorates the establishment of United Kingdom settlements on Mars and Titan. Worn only by Kane (John Hurt) on the buttocks of his uniform.

Commemorates the establishment of United Kingdom settlements on Mars and Titan. Worn only by Kane. This patch also adorns Jones’ cat box.

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.)

Company logo. Note the overlapping W&Y, a concept that Cobb would return to for Aliens.

Company logo. Note the interlocking W&Y, a concept that Cobb would return to for Aliens.

“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].

Kane's silver Weylan-Yutani patch displays his rank as second officer aboard the ship. Dallas wears a gold patch, with the other crew members wearing blue.

Kane’s silver Weylan-Yutani patch displays his rank as second officer aboard the ship. Dallas wears a gold patch, with the other crew members wearing blue.

“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.”

Dirty shirts, grimy jumpsuits, patch emblazoned jackets. Alien's blue-collar approach to sci-fi wear.

Dirty shirts, grimy jumpsuits, patch emblazoned jackets. Alien‘s blue-collar approach to sci-fi wear.

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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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