Alien: Changes to the derelict

leading from

 
Giger's wreck detail work 396

a) Ridley sees something he likes

When Ridley handed in his painting of the derelict, Ridley saw it and realised that what they were looking at was a totally alien looking spacecraft.

He didn't think it should look like something with lots of lights on it or something like that.

He had the idea that it should look like nothing imaginable or extraordinarily familiar and slightly archaic looking.

So Giger's completed work was a knockout and Ridley took one look at it and said "That's it", but there were other people whose decision was important in this matter and they didn't see it his way.

But Ridley had to keep digging his heels, and tell them "you wont get a better derelict, don't screw around with it."


b) Disagreements

On either the 14th or 19th of July, Giger is asked to the office where Ridley, Mike Seymour and Gordon Carroll are all waiting for him.

Gordon says that Giger will design another derelict.

The entrance passage and the landscape could stay the same as what they had been building in Sound Stage H, but the rest will have to be changed.

The concern is that at the moment the derelict is too reminiscent of a bone and people might think it's part of the landscape.

And with that there would also be technical difficulties in building it.

Giger was astounded to hear this from Gordon who had been enthusiastic about his derelict design when he first saw it and so he suspected that Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon were behind this and that Gordon was acting as their mouthpiece.

As it happened, from the time that Dan came over from the USA in March, he didn't think that Giger's design of the derelict was technical enough.

As good as friends they might be, they could still be people to infuriate Giger

Giger tried to convince Gordon that the dimensions and the aerodynamic shape were good enough in themselves to distinguish the derelict from the landscape and moreover the technical details ought to not be too obvious in case they spoil the biomechanical character of a space ship built by non-humans.

Giger didn't see how he could improve on it, and indeed he regarded it as one of his best pictures. But Carroll in this discussion proves unyielding and finally practically orders Giger to conjure up something else out of the ground as if this man was supposed to shake good ideas out of his sleeve.

For some reason Ridley kept quiet during the discussion and in silent opposition demonstrated a quite ordinary, banal crashed aircraft with its tail fins pointing upwards.

However Giger understood the situation and promised to try something different as he went back to his work. Time would work for him

There was talk about changes that needed to be made to the derelict's design, the information about this is not exactly clear in the quotes below.

We find Giger's explanation revealed that there was some confusion about whether the ship could be told apart from the landscape and then we also discover another side to it, that his derelict space ship design didn't make sense in three dimensional terms for the modellers so Giger had to do some pictures to explain the structure even further.

Giger mentioned that there were several reasons given for the need to change it, but nothing about the problem regarding how to interpret it's dimensions.

Giger's derelict arm before completion behind Giger and alien eggs

c) Escher Puzzle Image

Were these two events or one event seen from two extremely different points of view about the need to change the design?

We might wonder perhaps if the earlier concern about whether they could be interpreted took place at an earlier time as described in the first Giger quote in "Initial Work".

It was Brian Johnson who compared Giger's painting to an Escher optical illusion but going by the content of his interviews Escher's work was something he liked to think about.

d) Problems creating a model

The model department went to work on creating the thing, they took a nine inch piece of polystyrene and then carve it up with a little device that resembled a tuning fork with a wire stretched between.

When it was heated up, the hot wire just melts its way through the polystyrene and the user can carve the right sort of shapes very quickly with detail that could not be got with clay, but somehow what they worked out from the image of the derelict form didn't work

e) Remedying the situation

To remedy this Brian got together with Giger to discuss possible solutions.

Giger went off to do the drawing work. He produced two other paintings to explain the shape of the derelict as seen from the side, works 396 and 397, and perhaps 382

From that they were able to produce another polystyrene shape which Giger approved of. 

They then showed the rough sculpted form to Ridley who said that it was somewhere near what he would like.

Then they proceeded to built a huge one of about twelve feet across to be used for the background establishing shots


"Waterfall" by Escher
Quote sources
  1. H. R Giger (Friday, 14th July 1978): Long discussion with with Carroll, Scott and Seymour. I am supposed to modify the Alien spacecraft, i.e. it should have the same entrance area as the one they are currently constructing in in the H stage. My current spacecraft is supposedly too reminiscent of a bone and would thus blend into the landscape. But this alien spacecraft is from another planet and should consequently look different from the bone landscape. The changes come from G. Carroll, who is the mouthpiece of O'Bannon and Shusett. If these people would only decide on something. ( Giger's Alien diaries, p249)  
    Giger's Wreck Entrance , work 375
  2. H. R. Giger (19 July 1978, Shepperton Studios) " They ask me to the office, where Scott, Seymour and Carroll are waiting for me. Carroll says I will design another derelict. The entrance passage and the landscape can stay the same as those that have been built in Sound Stage H, but the rest will have to be changed. As it is now, it is too reminiscent of a bone (work 378*) and might make people think it was an organic part of the landscape. There will also be technical difficulties in building it. I am astounded to hear this from Carroll, of all people, who had been enthusiastic about my derelict when he first saw it. I suspect that Shusett and O'Bannon are behind it. Even good friends can often infuriate one. I try to convince Carroll that the dimensions and the aerodynamic shape are enough in themselves to distinguish the derelict from the landscape, and moreover the technical details ought not to be too obvious in case they spoil the biomechanical character of a space-ship built by non-humans. I simply can't see how I can improve on it; I regard it as one of my best pictures. Carroll proves unyielding and finally practically orders me to conjure up something else out of the ground. They seem to think I can just shake good ideas out of my sleeve - the bitter fate of a creative artist. Scott keeps quiet during the discussion, and in silent opposition demonstrates a quite ordinary, banal crashed aircraft, its tail fins pointing skyward. I understand  and, promising to try something different, go back to my work. This is an occasion when time will work for me. "(Giger's Alien, p24, ) (* Giger makes a reference to work 378 in his book Giger's Alien but this an error because this is the painting of the egg silo exterior, so maybe he is still talking about work 374)
    work 397
  3. H. R. Giger: "I liked the derelict very much and Ridley did also - but then they wanted it changed for several reasons. But I said I could not. Once I have a good design, I cannot change it to something I think is not so good." (Cinefex 1)
  4. Ridley Scott: "There's a great tendency in this business not to use the first thing you come up with. As a result, people often just work something to death - I've been accused of this time and time again. What we were looking for here was a totally alien-looking spacecraft. I didn't think it would something with a lot of lights on it and stuff like that. I figured it would be like nothing anyone ever imagines; either that, or extraordinarily familiar and slightly archaic looking. And Giger's first drawing was just a knockout. I took one look at it and said '"That's it." Other people couldn't quite see it though, so I had to keep digging my heels and saying, ' You wont get a better derelict - don't screw about with it.' You know, Giger is a special case, and when something's that good, you have to recognise it and leave it alone." (Cinefex 1)
  5.  Brian Johnson: "It's a wonderful design, but as it turned out, we couldn't build it. It was like an Escher optical illusion. As a two-dimensional painting  it look very logical, but there was not actual way you could build it in three dimensions. To get a rough idea of the shape, we took about a nine-inch piece of polystyrene and then carved it with a little device that looks like a tuning fork with a wire stretched between.  When you heat it up, the hot wire just melts its way through the polystyrene and you can carve the right sorts of shapes very quickly, You can't get the sorts of detail you can with clay. But somehow the derelict form just didn't work, so I got together with Giger and we talked about possible modifications. Then he went off and did the drawing. From that we produced another polystyrene shape which he thought was pretty good."(Cinefex 1)
  6. Brian Johnson: We took Giger's sketch and sculpted a small replica without any detail, just the basic shape, for a test. It's a common problem. A director will come to you with drawing; "Hey I've got this great sketch!" But it's a two-dimensional drawing, and when you put it into three dimensions it never looks the same. You have to be able to look at the sketch  and say, "That's going to look like a pile of rubbish. Why don't you let me have a go at making something similar, but might have a totally different shape in three dimensions?"We showed the rough sculpted form of the Giger sketch to Ridley, who said that it was somewhere near what he would like. Then we built a huge one about 12 feet across that would be used for background establishing shots. (Starlog. October 1979, p68) 

2 comments:

  1. In Giger's derelict ship sketch, work #397, I'm finding a lot of hidden faces in the fore ground. Has anyone else noticed these, or am I just crazy!?

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    Replies
    1. Well, it was by a man who wanted to make the composition look interesting in his usual surrealistic way. So I think you could possibly find impressions of semi-humanoid forms in there.

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