The Chestburster

leading from:
 Ridley Scott's Alien Monster 

Michael Seymour; "After the first stage had died and 
left us, we can assume that it has layed its egg inside the 
human character's chest. So the next stage, which is the 
creature that gives birth to itself by bursting through the 
wall of John Hurt's chest, we referred to in our own private 
language as the "Chest-Burster"  
(American Cinematographer, August 1979, p805) 
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944
a) Ridley inspired by Francis Bacon
Ridley Scott had a situation to deal with, that if he wanted to be really scared, he had to have a very private thought. He had to think about what physically made him feel really uneasy that upset him in a primal way, and Ridley was someone who was not easily made to feel upset. But they looked at various painter's work one one that caught their eye was the Crucifixion by Francis Bacon from 1944 that showed three fleshy necks with jaws on the end and as Giger described it, rat's flesh. The primality of the painting if there was such a word was what interested Ridley. Ridley told Giger that he wanted something like that, and the idea was logical.


b) Giger's chestburser concept
Giger's first design for the chestburster based on this had more than one mouth. The mouth was the most important thing because it had to come out of the human body, to chew and claw its way out suddenly and unerringly. He thought that they looked like chickens without feathers and wasn't happy with them and then he tried to build the thing.
Giger's Chestburster concept painting
c)  Roger Dicken takes over
The job of creating Giger's approved design was soon handed over to Roger Dicken. He was not too happy, to Roger, it looked like a plucked turkey, a veined repulsive looking thing with fangs, and that's what they said they wanted. There wasn't anything too complicated in the design though since all it had to do was force its way through the chest and then flop onto the table, so they decided that the best approach was to build it as a hand puppet, about three times life size, so that he could get his hand up into the neck. Obviously though, you couldn't have something the size of a large turkey coming out of a human chest but they would cheat the shot somehow.
H R Giger's sculpture for his chestburster design.
(Source: H.R.Giger's film design)
d) Dicken working from his house
He worked out of his home in Pangbourne, that was about an hours drive from Shepperton where the studios were. Dicken began work on the chest burster in Mid-March, sculpting it out of plasticene, and then casting it in foam plastic with a latex rubber skin. After spending about three weeks on it, he took it into the studio for a trial run. 

H R Giger's sculpture for his chestburster design.
(Source: H.R.Giger's Alien Diaries)
e) Dicken finishes Giger's initial concept
Giger's drawing was his interpretation of a Francis Bacon type thing and it looked very hideous indeed. It was covered in blood and hand a large underhung jaw with some really lethal teeth on it,, Ridley found it totally obscene and very frightening. However Dicken reproduced it very faithfully and what looked great on paper didn't translate itself very well into Dicken's puppet making. Dicken normally worked everything like a glove puppet and he brough this thing in and propped it on his knee. While he was talking, he kept moving the head around so the thing kept looking back and forth across the room, from Gordon to Carroll to Ridley and then up his nose. The thing looked winkled and ancient looking like a malevolent Muppet. The way Ridley talked about was Dicken was doing with it on his hand might make one think about the old Rod Hull and Emu act. So the whole thing was entirely comical for Ridley and the thing looked like some kind of plucked demented turkey. and Ridley feared getting a giggle at this time in the film and so they ditched the whole concept and started again.
H R Giger's sculpture for his chestburster design

f) Giger never gives up
Despite the fact that Dicken had nearly finished the smaller Alien forms, Giger still wished to create his own versions to make sure that everything looked the way he wanted, while he was working on the big alien,  on his work bench were his versions of the facehugger and the chestburster. Dan O'Bannon indeed thought that they were better than what was used on the film, especially the Chestburster. It was much larger in proportion to the rest of the body and the teeth were like oversized fangs, fully extended, a set on both top and the bottom, and it was certainly something design for biting its way out. Dan could imagine those fangs going through a piece of steel.
H R Giger's sculpture for his chestburster design

g) After a new chestburster design
So it went that because of the failure of Dicken's puppet, Ridley and the other decided to go back to the drawing board and re-examine the various illustrations and ideas and come up with something that they thought would be frightening. Ridley wanted to show more of a biological link between the baby which is what they were trying to design and what the final creature would look like. The monster that Dicken had created based on Giger's artwork was wrinkled and ancient looking like a malevolant Muppet, who can even imagine today how much it might have differed from Giger's artwork, but what Ridley wanted now was something that was a smooth object and when it came out looked  very rude and totally carnivorous.
Roger Dicken's earlier chestburster

h) Conceiving the final chestburster
Dicken was shown a Giger drawing with an elongated head, perhaps Necronom IV, and so he got to work trying the creature out with all sorts of variations without eyes, with eyes, with tails. Dicken fiddled around with sticking the tail on the head, trying it without arms, with legs, eventually coming up with something the producers liked.

Roger Dicken's earlier chestburster
Ridley drove over to Roger's house one day to have a look at it, It had a head that was pretty much a miniature version of the big one, and kind of an elaborate body with legs - like little dinosaur legs. It was just in clay at that point, and Ridley looked it over a bit and then reached out and pulled off its legs and so off came the legs as well, then he wadded up little pieces of clay like dolphin flippers and stuck them either side behind the head and appeared as spastic-like lumps , and then he said, "There - that's it"

Also to make it look as lifelike as possible Roger made it breathe by installing gills and a chest that was inflated up and down. As the large alien came equiped with those huge metallic teeth, Dicken had to fashion some chromium dentures for the smaller version, which were snapped onto the monster's porpoise-like face. They also decided this creature would have a head either titled down or tilted back because it seemed as Ridley would describe it, more obscene that way, more reptilian , more phallic. That final beast would have been a product of several people. Giger, Dicken, Ridley and even a little bit of Gordon Carroll.



i) Building the final chestburster
The final thing ended up looking similar to a porpoise . It was literally he head of the big alien with a tail on the end. But constructing it wasn't so simple, mainly because it had to be actual size and that meant it wasn't big enough for Roger Dicken to be able to put his hand inside and operate it. What he came up with was a curved metal rod which ran into a hand grip. About half way along - up where the neck - was a flexible steel spring, and then the rest of the rod went up into the head area and then down underneath the jaw to give it strength. He ran a wire through, through a series of eyelets, along the whole length of the rod and then down into a ring which fit around his finger, so when when pulled on the ring, the spring would make the front section bend over. On the front section, were the mechanisms for making the jaw open and the little arms move out. These were just activated by air.  He ran little air tubes through the model and connected them to rubber squeeze bulbs, so all one had to was squeeze one to activate the mechanism. There was also a little bladder inside the things chest so it could breathe and the bladder on each side of the head so the gills would pulse. Then he ran another tube up to the mouth and connected that to a bottle of fluid so that when one squeezed the bottle, saliva would run out. The teeth he made out of the epoxy and they were then metalised in a centrifugal vacuum machine. Everything was really very simple but what was difficult was getting it all to fit into this narrow sausage shape. It was also very difficult to hide anything. Normally, if Roger 'worked on a dinosaur model, or something similar, he could slash it open and stitch it back up - because it would have all kinds of scales and folds to conceal whatever had been done.  But this thing was so smooth, with hardly any detail, that if one made a mistake it was very near impossible to get inside again without destroying it.

Source Quotes  
  1. Ridley Scott: I think finally, when you want to be really scared,
    you've got to have a very private thought. You've got to think about what it is that
    physically makes you very uneasy, that upsets you in a primal way. And I'm not very easily upset.. But we looked at various painters' works, and the one that caught us was by Francis Bacon, the three fleshy necks with the jaws on the end. The primality, if there is such a word, was what interested me. (Cinefantastique 9:1 p14)
  2. HR Giger: "My first design of the chestburster had more than one mouth. The mouth was the most important thing because it had to eat out of his body. But we made it smaller and Roger Dicken built the small alien".  (Alien Collectors edition, p32) 

  3. FXWhat about the Chest-Burster?

    HRGiger: Ridley Scott asked me to do something based on a crucifixion painting by Francis Bacon, in which the only thing of the figure you see is a mouth and some flesh behind. He wanted something like that which could go into the stomach or come out of it. (FX,07,1999) 
  4. HR Giger: The chestburster, that was a very heavy scene, l think the strongest thing in the whole film. The idea came from a painting from Francis Bacon. Ridley Scott told me about this painting of '46 - it's just a crucifixion - and one of the members has just teeth and rats flesh... He liked to have the chestburster like that. l did some designs. They looked like chickens. Something like chickens without feathers, but l was not happy with them. And then l built up the thing, and it looked like a small dinosaur. That was awful. l said ''Cut the legs.'' So finally we only had the head and a tail, and that was enough. (Alien documentary on Alien Quadrilogy)
  5. HR Giger: The second [form of the] alien was born through the crab. Bacon did a crucifixion in 1945, and there is a kind of beast in it that has a head that is only a mouth. Ridley said he wanted something like that. it was logical. This beast has to come out, to chew and claw its way out suddenly, unerringly.(Cinescape vol3, #9, 
  6.  Cinefex: Roger Dicken was given Giger's approved design for the intermediate form, which came to be known as the chest-buster. "To me , it looked like a plucked turkey, "Dicken remarked, " a veined, repulsive looking thing with fangs. I said: "You want me to make this? It looks like a turkey." And they said, yes, thats what they wanted. Well there wasn't a need for anything very complicated, since all it had to do was force its way through the chest and then flop onto the table; so we figured the best approach was to build it as a hand puppet, about three times life-size, so I could get my hand up into the neck. Obviously, you couldn't get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but initially they were going to cheat it somehow."
    Working out of his home at Pangbourne, about an hours drive from Shepherton - Dicken began on the chest-burster in Mid-March, sculpting it out of plasticene, and then casting it in foam plastic with a latex rubber skin. After spending about
    three weeks on it, he took it into the studio for a trial run.

    "Giger's drawing was a kind of a Francis Bacon-type thing," Ridley Scott explained, " and it looked just hideous. It was covered in blood and had a large underhung jaw with some really lethal teeth on it - totally obscene and very frightening. And in fact, roger Dicken reproduced it very faithfully. The problem was that what looked great on paper didn't in actuality. Dicken normally works everything like a glove puppet, and so he brought this thing in and propped it on his knee. And while he was talking, he kept moving the head around so the bloody thing kept looking back and forth across the room - from Gordon Carroll to me, and then up his nose. The whole thing was entirely comical - it looked like some kind of a plucked demented turkey. I was frankly terrified at the thought of getting a giggle at this time in the film, so we ditched the whole concept and started again." (Cinefex 1, p43)
  7. Cinefex: Once established on the Shepperton lot. Giger made a unilateral bid to reaffirm the intergrity of his highly personal vision by commencing to sculpt his own versions of the two smaller forms as well. - this despite the fact that Roger Dicken's renderings of both were virtually complete.  "He was trying to do all of them ," Dan O'Bannon affirmed. "He was, of course, working on the big one: but on his workbench he was also well underway on both the face-hugger and the chest-burster. They were exquisite pieces of sculpture, too. Better, I think, than that were used in the film. Especially the chestburster. Giger really gave that thing a nasty mouth. It was much larger in proportion to the rest of the body, and the teeth were like oversized fangs, fully extended - a set on both top and the bottom. I mean he was building something designed for biting its way out - those fangs looked like they would go through a piece of steel" (Cinefex 1, p47) 
  8. Roger Dicken was given Giger's design and, despite his objections to it, he was asked to build it as Giger had painted it. Dicken constructed a hand puppet sculpted in plasticine, cast in  foam plastic with a latex rubber skin. Dicken showed Ridley Scott and the producers the finished puppet, and it was then that the decision was made to completely change the concept. (Alien Laserdisc Archive)
    Dicken's final chestburster 
    (source: H R Giger's Alien Diaries)
  9. Ridley Scott "We went back and re-examined various illustrations and ideas, and tried to come up with something we thought would be the most frightening, I wanted more of a biological link between the baby which is what we were really designing, and what the final creature would look like. And I wantd it to be a very smooth object. The other was all wrinkled and ancient looking like a malevolent Muppet. And when it came out, , I wanted it to look very rude - and totally carnivorous. So to be honest, that beast was very much the product of several people - Giger, Dicken and me, and even a bit of Gordon Carroll."(Cinefex 1, p43) 
  10. Ridley Scott: "We decided that the big chap, in embryo form, would have a head either tilted down or titled back. We tilted it back because it seemed more obscene that way, more reptilian, more phallic. " (Starlog, September 1979, p25)
    Roger Dicken's chestburster with black eyes and
    small arm
    s (Source: H.R.Giger's Alien Diaries)
  11. Dicken was beginning to have misgivings about the collaborative nature of his Alien involvement, but nevertheless plunged into the revised chest-burster in mid-April. (Cinefex 1, p44)
  12. Dan O'Bannon: "Ridley ran over to Roger's house one day to have a look at it, It had a head that was pretty much a miniature version of the big one, and kind of an elaborate body with legs - like little dinosaur legs. It was just in clay at that point, and Ridley looked it over a bit and then reached out and pulled off its legs. Then he wadded up little pieces of clay like dolphin flippers and stuck them either side behind the head, and said, "There - that's it"" (Cinefex 1, p44)
  13. The secondary alien form, the "chestburster." which explodes from Kane's body was built by Dicken from a design suggested to him by Ripley Scott. "Ridley decided  the 'chest-burster' should look something like the Giger drawing with the elongated head. " said Dicken. The creature was tried with all sorts of variations without eyes,, with eyes, with tails. Dickem fiddled around with sticking the tail on the head, trying it without arms, with
    legs, eventually coming up with something the producers liked. Its arms came off, and Scott wanted the body to have spastic-like lumps; also to make it look as lifelike as possible. "I made it breathe by installing gills and a chest that was inflated up and down." As the large alien came equiped with those huge metallic teeth, Dicken had to fashion some chromium dentures for the smaller version, which were snapped onto the monster's porpoise-like face. (Cinefantastique vol 9 # 1)
    Dicken with his Chestburster 
    and Facehugger creations
  14. Roger Dicken:The final thing ended up looking sort of porpoise like. The head of the big alien with a tail on the end was literally all it was. But constructing it wasn't so simple, mainly because they wanted it actual size and it wasn't big enough for me to be able to put my hand inside and operate it. What I came up with was a curved metal rod which ran into a hand grip. About half way along - up where the neck would have been if it'd had one - was a flexible steel spring, and then the rest of the rod went up into the head area and then down underneath the jaw to give it strength. I ran a wire through, through a series of eyelets, along the whole length of the rod and then down into a ring which fit around my finger, so when I pulled on the ring, the spring would make the front section bend over. On the front section, also, were the mechanisms for making the jaw open and the little arms move out. These were just activated air.  I ran little air tubes through the model and connected them to rubber squeeze bulbs, so all you have to do was squeeze one to activate the mechanism. There was also a little bladder inside the things chest so it could breathe and the bladder on each side of the head so the gills would pulse. Then I ran another tube up to the mouth and connected that to a bottle of fluid so that when you squeezed the bottle, saliva would run out. The teeth I made out of the epoxy and they were then metalised in a centrifugal vacuum machine. Everything was really very simple. What was difficult was getting it all to fit into this narrow sausage shape. It was also very difficult to hide anything. Normally, if you're working with a dinosaur, or something like that you can slash him open and stitch him back up - you've got all kind of scales and folds to conceal whatever you've done.  But this thing was so smooth, with hardly any detail, that if you made a mistake it was damn near impossible to get inside again without destroying it.(Cinefex 1, p44)
  15. Dixieme Planete : Quel a été le point de départ de la création du Chestburster ?
    HR Giger: Ridley Scott m'a demandé de faire quelque chose rappelant le «cri», une peinture de Francis Pike représentant une bouche ouverte. Je me suis exécuté, mais je trouvais ça moche ! Puis les techniciens anglais ont adapté ma tète d'Alien pour en faire ce que l'on voit à l'écran.
    (Dixieme Planete 31)
    Translation :Dixieme Planete : What was the starting point for the creation of Chestburster ?
    HR Giger : Ridley Scott asked me to do something reminiscent of the "cry" , a painting by Francis Bacon representing an open mouth. I carry it out, but I thought it was ugly!
    Then the English technicians have adapted my Alien head to do what we see on the screen.
    (N.B. Francis Pike would be a misinterpretation of the name Francis Bacon and the painting referred to as the "cry" doesn't make sense, there is no painting by that name by the artist but he might be talking about Francis Bacon's Crucifixion which is what is usually talked about in relation to the Chestburster, or is there something else being talked about here? The interviewers would have not had a clue what was being talked about by the looks of it!)
The Facehugger sold to Chris De Burgh at Bonhams  on 13 Jul 2004



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