Alien : The planet surface seen from afar

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  1. Dennis Lowe: One of the really good ideas that I learnt from Space 1999, because Brian, Brian gave me my first job in the industry basically on Space 1999, and I would be there doing spraying up galaxies, star backgrounds and that kind of stuff, and I learnt how they did the planets, basically it would be erm, (77:00) it would be a dome of er, it would be a blown perspex, blown to er er er, heated up on a vacuum former, so blown out be to make it look like a sphere, half of a sphere and then they project, in those days, they they managed, Brian managed to get some slides from NASA, and and in those days NASA took all their photographs on er Hasselblads, so it was perfect kind of quality and they, what you could do is order copies intermediates from the originals and they'd send you a really high quality intermedia that the Apollo astronauts had taken, right, so we had these slides of the Earth taken from space and only one generation from the original so they was top quality and what we used to do we used to have a Toni quad square projector ands we'd project them onto the dome and then the projector would be on a motorised pan head, so in fact the projector would be panning (78:00) very slowly, but it looks as if the earth is rotating, but the actual dome was fixed, right, which I thought was a really clever… clever way of doing things, so basically we used the same idea as that, but obviously instead of the planet texture, we had er to figure out ways of getting a quick texture and I remember Nick asking me to do this and I suddenly remembered originally, what we were going to do is to put paint and water and do that kind of swirling effect, but I remembered some textures I did at art school, while I was at art school at Falmouth, and I was always into this kind of how do you make textures really quickly and I dis… and I found out that if you had aluminium paint in a tray of white spirit, just by, er just by er throwing a couple of lights on it, the convection currents that were created in the white spirit, the aluminium particles in the paint started to make globules and they would form miniature convection currents like er, (79:00) a weather system, and er, of course aluminium paint as you know if kind of really highly reflective, so you get these beautiful highlights and also shadows on the other side, so you've got this semi 3D cloud system that was, that was like a metre by a metre in a very kind of shallow tray, because the, the erm, the white spirit would only be an inch thick, you know, so you get this quite nice… so we spent, well I spent ages, we hired a proper Hasselblad and er, we set up in the stage, we must have spent about four days or something like that,

    I still have some of the slides actually, some of the slides were used because obviously out of an experiment like that you might shoot twenty, kind of about, what was a role of film then, twelve wasn't it, onto a square, and maybe you may get one because it's all random, you know, and so I had loads, I should imagine (80:00) shooting loads of stuff like this, slightly different aluminium paint, different colours, and we ended up with a er, a kind of monochromatic image, slightly browny looking image that was the alien's planet texture (AlienMaker IV)
     
  2. Dennis Lowe:Here's a classic example of something working straight away. We had to make some surface textures for a technique that Brian and Nick used when making Space 1999. On that production Brian managed to get some beautiful 2 1/4 square transparencies of the Earth that NASA photographed on the Apollo mission (these were really nice copies from the originals). These were then projected onto a blank white perspex dome and photographed against black. On Alien we couldn't use these shots so we had to devise a way to produce planet like textures.When I was an art student I spent hours photographing aluminum paint poured on white spirit in a shallow tray to produce an abstract effect.



    I remembered this technique and suggested we have a go. This time I used powder pigments to mix into the aluminum paint and photographed it using a Hasselblad 2 1/4" camera. What resulted was a globular surface with infinite detail that could pass as a planet surface. This would then be projected using the same technique onto the white dome, below is the tranny that was used on Alien.


    (Alien Experience, ALIEN Makers Documentary thread, June 30th, 2009)

    Dennis Lowe:When you are seeing this technique it is a constantly changing pattern of textures and you just have to burst off as many frames as you can

    (Alien Experience, ALIEN Makers Documentary thread, June 30th, 2009)

    Jon Sorenson Well, as you think about that one here are some more aluminum paint on white spirit textures
    (Alien Experience, ALIEN Makers Documentary thread, July 1st , 2009)


    Jon Sorenson:" And of course, these are terrific and I never tire of looking at these, Dennis.

    This one in particular looks almost exactly like the sentient planet in the original SOLARIS directed in Russia by Andre Tarkovsky. You'll know what I mean if you've seen the movie. I think they almost certainly used fluid for the moving and boiling planet skin.

    I had them shoot tests using a variation of your paint technique on DARK CRYSTAL, moving 35mm footage for the Suns in the film. I felt they should have been alive. They did'nt go for it. What they did go for I won't even outline here.

    Beautiful stuff, Dennis, and good to see a few people on here being exposed to your magnificent and unique painting skills."

    (Alien Experience, ALIEN Makers Documentary thread, July 2nd , 2009)

     Jon Sorenson: Shooting the ALIEN aluminium paint planet plates.

    Left to Right, Denys Ayling (Model Cameraman)...."Is that stuff going to explode?"

    Jon Sorensen stirring the soup.

    Nick Allder (SFX Supervisor in red sweater), whispering to Dennis Lowe, "Watch Sorensen like a hawk or he'll f*** it up".



    and Jon Sorensen and Dennis Lowe (Below)

    Dennis is thinking, "What do I do if he drinks THIS batch".



    ..And, of course, the actual shot from the movie using Dennis's wonderful aluminium paint transparency projected onto a semi-sphere dome, as were the smaller planets.

    (I still have this one and only transparency which I am going to give to Dennis onstage at the Oscars).

    This took 18 separate exposures on one piece of 35mm film. The main planet, the minor planets, the MOVING sun coming out from "Acheron" (as James Cameron mysteriously later called it, I think), plus the small foot-square refinery, constellations and stars, etc.

    It took us 3 days...one complete composite a day to shoot this satisfactorily. We shot at 1.5 frames per second. It was a long shot in the movie originally. A contemplative "cosmic" shot before all the horrors kicked in.

    What Ivor Powell, Associate Producer on ALIEN, called rightly the "2001" shot.

    (Alien Experience, ALIEN Makers Documentary thread, July 2nd , 2009)

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