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HR Giger – The man behind the art of Alien…

There are some movies that have such a definite visual style and atmosphere, once you’ve seen them it’s impossible to imagine them looking any different.
The current fascination with remakes, reboots and “re-imaginings” of old (and not so old) films demonstrates the wisdom or otherwise of attempting to capture the spirit of the original, whilst adding a new cinematic spin to the story.
After all, for every Batman Begins there’s a Batman and Robin and for every Star Trek there’s a Miami Vice, so it’s a brave director who tackles a recognised classic by putting their own spin on it.

It says a lot about the way a movie should look, that the many subsequent incarnations of classic 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Alien, owe so much to the vision of one man, who died this week.

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H.R. Giger: 1940 – 2014.

Born in 1940 in Switzerland, Hans Rudolf Giger studied as an architect and industrial designer, but his main interest was surrealism, something that was influenced by his meeting with one of his artistic heroes, Salvador Dali and by his long friendship with ’60s psychedelic experimentalist, Timothy Leary.

Originally his art was a form of therapy, to help him cope with and articulate the night terrors from which he suffered since childhood and which informed the large majority of his dark and sometimes disturbing work.

July 1977
Giger was very nearly responsible for bringing his unique style to the first film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, Dune, which he was to work on with director Alexandro Jodorowsky, but which failed to go ahead when Jodorowsky couldn’t get backing for his trilogy of films.
Fortunately, soon after the film was shelved, the man who was to be responsible for special effects on Dune, Dan O’Bannon, approached Giger about another project.
Giger remembers reading from O’Bannon’s notebook:
“Seven astronauts, two women and five men, are in the spaceship Nostromo on a return flight to Earth. On the way they come across a planet unknown to them and decide to make an unscheduled landing to explore it…”

He had of course just read the opening lines to the very first draft of a film that he would indelibly stamp with his dark vision, Alien.
O’Bannon suggested to Brandywine Productions (Walter Hill’s production company, who were to put up money for the film) that Giger should create the alien monster that would play such a central part in the story and he began work on concept art for the film straight away.

He’d been asked for designs for the three stages of the alien’s evolution; “Facehugger”, “Chest Burster” and “The Alien” – along with landscape modelling, the Nostromo models and the giant, derelict alien ship – and what he took to the first meeting with the studio blew them away.
The only concept that didn’t make the final cut was his design for the alien “eggsilo”, the giant breeding chamber where the deadly pods are first discovered, rejected as being too costly to construct.

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Eggsilo – HR. Giger

After Giger delivered his artwork to the studio they said they no longer require him on set, as the models are to be built by their own staff.
Unhappy with this development, Giger returns to Zurich to begin work on the three-dimensional versions of his drawings, convinced the studio set technicians will not manage to interpret his work accurately.
He soon sends slides of the initial pieces to 20th Century Fox for approval, the first of which is the alien hieroglyphics panel.

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Alien hieroglyphs – HR Giger.

On his return to Shepperton studios after an enthusiastic call from Brandywine Productions however, Giger is considerably less than enthusiastic about the set builders’ efforts, declaring himself “appalled by it”.
His displeasure must have been evident to the studio bosses though, because they asked him if he would prefer to model them himself.
From Giger’s diary;
“It’s clear to me that, unless I do, it won’t go the way I want it, so I take the work over. I ask them to obtain as many different bones as possible, and a supply of plasticine, before my next visit”

Returning a week later, his requests catered for, Giger began work on modelling the landscapes and interior sets, sawing up bones and rejoining them, with plasticine, various tubes, pipes and pieces of machinery integrated into the structures, which were then moulded and reproduced in plaster of Paris, clear polyester and latex.
This exemplifies the “biomechanical” style that pervades all of his art and which gives the film such a unique visual style.

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Bones being prepared for moulding.

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A finished section of alien ship corridor.

Work soon started on the models of the derelict alien craft and the dead “pilot” figure in the cockpit…

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Giger (far right) at work in the “Monster Department”.

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Working on the “pilot”.

…while Giger refined the designs for the monster’s three incarnations.
Firstly the two smaller versions;

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Alien Egg – HR Giger.

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Facehugger – HR Giger.

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Facehugger on astronaut – HR Giger.

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Chest Burster – HR Giger.

He then began to create the star of the show, simply known as “Alien”, modelled around the imposing figure of 6’10” Bolaji Badejo, spotted in a bar by director Ridley Scott and hired specially for the part.

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Making a mould of Bolaji Bodejo for the Alien suit.

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Alien – HR Giger.

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Alien wardrobe – Latex Alien suit components ready for use.

HR Giger’s brief (from a letter from Dan O’Bannon) had been;
“…The creature should be a profane abomination. Our producers have suggested that something resembling an oversized, deformed baby might be sufficiently loathsome. In any event, we wish you to feel free to create your own design”

“Oversized, deformed baby”?
I’m glad Giger had ideas of his own, otherwise who knows what film we may have ended up with.

The rest, of course, is cinema history.
A film much-copied, never with the same impact, never having the same brooding feeling of primal terror, the sense that something terrible and merciless is silently waiting in the shadows, something unknowable and Alien.

HR “Ruedi” Giger leaves behind him an extraordinary body of work, filled with grotesque beauty and beautiful horror in equal parts, a man at peace with the darkness in his art and one who will be remembered as an exceptionally talented artist with a unique vision.

{All artwork and photos taken from “Giger’s Alien” from Titan Books, copyright HR Giger / 20th Century Fox}

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VISIT THE GIGER WEBSITE.

You can also watch a short clip of Giger at work on the set of Alien HERE.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Arts, Films, Photography

 

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