Alien: Designing the derelict ship exterior

Leading from:

a) Transition to being a spacecraft designer 
On Friday morning, 3rd March 1978, Giger had flown over from Switzerland to England.

Once it was certain that Giger knew what he was supposed to be doing with the alien beast, Ridley asked Giger if he could design a space ship that was not designed by human beings. 

The sudden transition into being the designer of the derelict space craft was confusing for him because before hand, he had only been expected to design the title alien life form, and Dan O'Bannon had hoped to go ahead with Chris Foss' design for the derelict. (See Foss' derelict design)

b) Ridley's and the giant croissant
Giger wanted to do some research for the alien ship and Ridley Scott realised that he had too much to do as it was, so he took it onto himself to find something in Giger's Necronomicon that was going to serve as the basis for the design of a ship that he wanted, and so he studied one of the paintings and found something like a musical instrument such as a saxophone, he drew around it and as he recalls, said "What about this, it looks like a giant croissant" and then perhaps it looks like a boomerang.

This was to be the basis of derelict ship that Giger would further develop. 

Scott's idea was that the derelict was a flying machine, and if one does enough something of that nature at some point, it will be so peculiar that it would be like nothing that human's would expect . He wanted to do something that would evoke a spark of gothic revulsion

Giger first came up with a design that resembled a saxophone and Ridley Scott's response was "No, this one goes a little too far in the unusual." So a second version of the design was accomplished which Ridley accepted.  

Giger had drawn something up that
looked almost like a musical instrument

( Work 280: Mordor IV)
c) Thinking about the idea
Giger asked himself "well how do you do that?"

He thought it might look organic or something that's even grown like a plant, but he did not know exactly what it should look like.

He would make it look biomechanical as with his well known style.

The dead alien spaceship was not designed for function, and it should be different from the ones used on Earth and they did not want it to look as if it was made by human beings.

d) Carrying out the work
Across 3rd, 4th and 5th of March 1978, Giger worked on the drawing of the alien derelict space ship. In the early hours of a morning, while he was at the flat he was staying in Old Church Street in London,  he couldn't sleep, he had an idea and so he got up to work on it.

He thought that maybe the ship could look like something planted, perhaps in the process of maturing. 

It was a question of getting down on paper, and so he started painting and the derelict ship was born within a few hours.


  Giger's derelict painting (Work 374: Wreck) that bears qualities of an Escher drawing

e) Resulting image
What he ended up with looked to him like an aerodynamic flying bone with a little technical stuff all over it with arms stretching out in front. actually he didn't know how it would look when flying, but it wasn't something that he consciously planned, it just sort of ran out of his mind and through his airbrush. which was not an uncommon phenomena for Giger.

He knew how the thing should appear in the movie, looking very aggressive and frightening.

Often he would try to switch off his thoughts as much as possible and let the painting flow spontaneously from his subconscious mind. He had a good feeling coming with the ease that this picture was coming out. By the time Mia gets up, he had finished the picture.

f) Exploring Mordor IV 

If we look at the picture Mordor IV to the right, the central face at the top appears to be putting it's mouth to the opening of a croissant shaped thing, so I take this to be the picture and upon this structure are a series of four valves, which could easily be seen as the entrances to the derelict interior but the number of entrances was reduced to three (and then the number three appeared to come through as a repeating theme all over the alien pilot's chair and the body of the alien monster itself.

(For a breakdown of the possible inspirations behind Mordor IV, see Giger's Mordor iv (work-280)1975)

 Morder IV detail, 4 valves lower centre

detail from Giger's Mordor IV
detail from Giger's Wreck Entrance: work 375

 

Source Quotes
  1. Ridley Scott:"Au départ, Giger voulait se lancer dans des recherches de designs pour le vaisseau étranger, mais je lui ai dit “Non, tu es déjà beaucoup trop occupé par tout ce que tu as à faire. Si tu ajoutes cela au rest, tu ne finirais jamais ton travail à temps!“ J’ai décidé d’y réfléchir de mon côté. J’ai repris son album Necronomicon , et je me suis attaché à scruter les détails de ses grands dessins pour y trouver une forme basique qui pourrait être celle du vaisseau. J’ai pensé que c’etait une démarche logique, car elle nous permettrait de rester dans son universe graphique. J’ai déniché un détail intéressant que j’ai soumis à Giger et à mon équipe de décorateurs, et au début, ils m’ont présenté quelque chose qui avait le form d’un saxophone! Je leur ai dit “Non, là on va un peu trop loin dans l’insolite“. Ce n’est que dans un second temps qu’ils ont conçu ce superbe objet courbe. Une fois que cet aspect a été finalisé, j’ai donné au vaisseau étranger le surnom de “cuirassé“, parce qu’il a l’aspect d’un bateau de guerre."(Ecran Fantastique Hors-Serie #29, p13)
    Translation
    Ridley Scott: "Initially, Giger wanted to go into research designs for the alien ship , but I told him "No, you're already too busy with all that you do. If you add this to the rest, you never finish your work on time "I decided to reflect on my side. I picked up the album Necronomicon, and I am attached to scrutinize the details of his large drawings to find a basic form which could be that of the vessel. I thought it was a logical step, as it would allow us to stay in his graphic universe. I found a interesting detail that I submitted to Giger and my team of designers, and at first they showed me something that had the form of a saxophone! I said "No, this one goes a little too far in the unusual."It is only in a second time they have designed this beautiful curved object. Once this has been finalized, I gave the foreign vessel the nickname "battleship", because it has the appearance of a warship"
  2. Ridley Scott : "I took the drawing of the space ship off a section of one of Giger's Necronomicon, and he'd drawn something up that almost looked like a musical instrument, so I kind of drew around that, and said "what about this? it looks like a giant croissant", but actually it worked, like a boomerang. paintings, 'cause we couldn't work out what the hell the spaceship was going to look like, and so I was staring at his book, the... " (Alien DVD commentary)
  3. H. R. Giger (16 March, Zurich) I've had a longish talk with my lawyer about my contract, and an hour and a half's telephone conversation with Beale, a production executive of Twentieth Century Fox. It all seems clear for the time being. I've made my concession and done two extra pictures for my Alien designs. I've finished the entrance passage (plate 375) as well as a view of the derelict showing the glass dome about the cockpit (plate 382). (Giger's Alien, p22,) 
  4. H. R. Giger: Well, it was decided that I would do the alien and only the alien. That's because Ron Cobb was working on the project in the early, early days. I don't remember whether they asked me or not, but I painted my version of the derelict in the morning and showed it to Ridley in the afternoon. He said, "That's it. We'll use it. Please do the entrance and the interior now." So I wound up doing more than we expected. (Warren's Alien Collector's edition, p33)
  5. HR Giger: I did the picture one morning when I couldn't get back to sleep. I was staying in a flat in Old Church Street in London at the time. The derelict is not strictly in my field of work. But I had this idea and simply had to get it down. By the time Mia gets up I have finished the picture. I also get a good feeling when pictures go so easily, and looking back,  I'm often not disappointed with my work. (H. R. Giger: 5 March 1978, London.Giger's Alien, p22, )
  6. H R Giger: I wanted it to look like something planted - perhaps in the process of maturing. (Warren's Alien Collector's edition , p32)   
  7. H. R. Giger: Once the alien was under control, Ridley asked me if I could design a spaceship not made by human beings. Well how do you do that? I thought maybe it might look organic - something that could grow even, like a plant- but I didn't know exactly what it should look like. Then early one morning I couldn't sleep, I got up and started painting and the derelict ship was born in a few hours. It ended up like an aerodynamic bone with little technical stuff all over it, but it wasn't anything I had planned - it just sort of ran out of my mind and my airbrush, which is not uncommon for me. Often I try to switch off my thoughts as much as possible and let the painting flow spontaneously from my subconscious mind. (Cinefex 1)
  8. HR Giger: Ridley asked me if I could design a spaceship not made by human beings. I thought maybe it might look organic - something that could grow, even, but I didn't know exactly what it should look like. Then, early one morning,  I couldn't sleep, I got up and started painting and the derelict ship was born within a few hours. It ended up like an aerodynamic bone with a little technical stuff all over it, but it wasn't really anything planned. (Alien The Archive, p49, repeated from Cinefex 1) 
  9. HR Giger: The dead, alien space ship was not designed for function. I knew the spacecraft should be different from the ones used on Earth. They did not want it to look as though it had been made by human beings. I decided it should look biomechanical - half mechanics, half biology. It's like a flying bone with arms stretching out in front. I don't know how it would look when flying. I just know how it should appear. It looks very aggressive, frightening. (Star Wars vs Alien, fall 1979, article: The Nightmare Maker) 
  10. Ron Shusett: He did the entire ship organically. We wanted it to look like it was built by something other than human, built by totally alien intelligence. (Future Life #11, July 1979, p32)
  11. Ridley Scott: The derelict is a flying machine and I think if one does encounter, you know, something at some point or other, I think it will be so peculiar that it would be er, it would be like nothing we would expect. I wanted to do something which would evoke, I think immediate spark of gothic revulsion, it's sort of spooky but it's sort of elegant but it's, there's something very worrying about it. (Alien Featurette from 1979 on the Alien Saga DVD)

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