Alien: Sculpting the alien costume

leading from



 
 
 
a) Starting work on Stage III of the Alien
 
 
a.i) Giger takes over after his dismay with Dicken's work

Giger saw Roger Dicken's attempts at the beginning of June and decided that it was a disaster.
 
Ridley asked if Giger could execute the creature himself, and so he agreed to try and so agreed to make the thing himself to make it succeed.
 
a.ii) Giger starts work through the night 
 
Through the night he makes sketches for construction and then shortly afterwards Eddie Butler begins work on modelling the Alien stage III creature and work on this thing went on through the rest of the month. 
 
Eddie worked a long time on the hand. 
 
 
  1. Stewart Jamieson: You went through a few frustrations turning your illustrations into three dimensional form.
    HR Giger:I didn't know that I would be responsible for building the creature until I visited England and found that the alien being built was disastrous. They couldn't execute my illustrations so Ridley asked if I could do the creature myself, and I agreed to try (.) while the alien's head was shipped to Carlo Rambaldi to engineer the internal mechanisms, when it returned , we were all very excited - until I saw it, it looked like an ape. (Rambaldi had just come off working on the King Kong remake) I nearly cried. It worked perfectly but he had made elements of the head move that shouldn't have moved. He was ape crazy. (Total Film , December 2003, p14)
    (NB, Giger had agreed to try to create the creature long before the head which he created was shipped to Rambaldi, so after "I agreed to try", it must be the end of a sentence before he goes off at a tangent to talk about the Rambaldi story)
 



b) Arranging parts to use
 
Dan recalled that the plaster shop took a full body cast of the actor, and mounted it standing up on its toes on a wooden base, and Giger put it in his studio and began to build up in it with plasticine and bones. 
 
He arranged technical pieces as well as the ribs and spines of widely different animals on the thin sheet of plasticine with an air conditioning duct, screws and human skulls into the shape of the alien. 
 
As Dan O'Bannon watched as Giger , witnessing his feel for grace and grotesquery, started building up around this graceful Nubian figure as Giger added his pipes and tubes and running rotting sores, joints, pustules and various strange shapes.

It seemed as he built it up, he was coming up with something most bizarre.
 
Giger himself actually worked on one half of the costume so that one of his assistants Butler could do the other side copying his design as if it were mirror image . 
 
  1. Fantastic Films:So the monster was actually designed for one person rather than with visual images of a particular type of human mind.
    Dan O'Bannon: No, more along these pictures out of this book. more of this Nubian black racial type. The thing we liked so much was the grace of these black people. Giger then came in and Giger has a feel for grace, but a different kind of grace. Giger loved grotesquery. So Giger started building up around this graceful figure, his pipes and tubes and running, rotting sores and joints and pustules and strange shapes and building it up and came up with something most bizarre. The plaster shop took a cast of the actor, full body cast and mounted it standing up on its toes on a wooden base and Giger put it into his studio and he began to build up on it with clay and bones, an air conditioning duct, screws and human skulls- the face of the thing is a real human skull. He took one of the human skulls and jammed it right on the front, rivited it in place, and then started modifying it. It was such a beautiful human skull, you know, it has been a real person, not like one of those plastic model kits - and he takes out his hack saw and he saws the jawbone off and extends the jawbone, like six inches, puts an extension in it, and creates the distorted jawbone! Then he starts attaching other fixtures to it and building a new extension on the back of it. He's doing this to a real human skull! (Fantastic Films # 10 (US), p14)
 



c.) Attempt to make a transparent costume
 

c.i) The need for transparent skin
 
Although the idea to make the alien life form transparent was apparent back at the time when Roger Dicken was working on the big creature, the concept was agreed upon as a direction to go at the end of June when Giger was working on the beast. 

Ridley wanted the suit to be as thin as a contraceptive and as strong as nylon, so that he could have a man in the suit and it would be flexible enough to be able for the wearer to be able to roll up and have all kinds of things stitched into it, showing such things as the creature's sinews.   
 
The latex would not give this effect, the material distorted easily and it would lose the transparency easily. 
 

c.ii) The arrival of Andrew Ainsworth

On July 3rd, 1978, Andrew Ainsworth came to work on the transparent skin, he seemed to be sure that somehow the problem creating it could be sorted out.

He had masks for Star Wars and was supposed to be very experienced with all sorts of materials and would sort out how to make the costume transparent using transparent PVC. 

 
c.iii) Building a special rotisserie over
 
As August 3rd 1978 came, they got to the point where all the moulds needed for the Alien's costume were lying in the plasterers workshop.
 
Andrew kept producing more and more experimental transparent costumes. 
 
Howerver the ideal solution has still not been found, because the material was not resistant enough and tore easily
 
Andew built a special rotissery oven for this work in which the moulds rotated at a constant speed so that the liquid rubber was spready evently

Unfortunately Andrew still hadn't produced anything that they could use and time was running short.
 
 
c.iv) As time ran out

It's August 12th 1978,  and unfortunately by this time Andrew still hadn't come up with satisfactory results 

The moulds had been badly damaged by his experiments and by the heat.

They had to be repatched up by the plasters in meticulous detail and even made all over again.

Andrew came to the conclusion with the idea that what they wanted could only be done with metal moulds.
 
Giger realised that they didn't have time to make such things and the hysteria in the production department was reaching a climax.
 
They would need to start filming very soon and still they hadn't come up with a single costume that could be used.
 
The shortness of times push them to realise that they couldn't do any more experiments and so make the whole thing out of latex.
 
They finally gave up their dream of makeing their dream of a transparent Alien III 
 
However, as far as Giger could see the fact that Bolaji Badejo was black did not lend itself to this transparency effect, it had already started to become redundant and it didn't matter in the end if they couldn't see through it.
 
(Years later, he would be involved in the production of Species, where he designed a female biomechanoid, and his quest to create a transparent biomechanoid had been fulfilled, allowing one to see through parts of the creature, revealing muscles, veins, etcetera)
 
 
c.v) The end as Andrew Ainsworth saw it
 
From Andrew's point of view, they struggled to get the tear strength of the alien skin material to be strong enough, and so he was sure that he actually solved that problem.

A contingency from the production company including Ridley Scott came for a final showdown to Andrew's workshop

In a jovial and triumphant manner, Andrew slapped Garth Thomas the production account across his impressive chest with the Alien's foot made from the new super strong material.

Alas, Andrew picked up the wrong piece of material and it shattered.

"It's a wrap!" someone exclamed, and so Ridley decided to go without it.


  1. H R Giger(3rd July 1978, Shepperton Studios):After some discussion, a bit troublesome and nerve wracking at first, about how we should work and what materials we should use. Butler finally decides to work my way. These arguments have cost us valuable time. Since I have several other things going. I have to keep rushing from one studio to another. The production division keeps reminding us about which job is most urgent, so I can't get on with anything in peace. I begin modelling the body of the Alien on the mould of the actor. I arrange various technical pieces, as well as the ribs and spines of widely different animals, on a thin sheet of plasticine. I undertake to get one half of the monster ready so that Butler can do the other side. Our two man team is reinforced with the engagement of Andrew, who made the masks for Star Wars and is very experienced with working with all sorts of materials. He is sorting out the problem of how to make the costume transparent. (Giger's Alien, p60-62)
  2.  Giger`s concept of a monster that was translucent, showing all internal organisms,was a tall order for Andrew.To develop a material and invent a moulding process in the space of the time scale of a film shoot, was always going to be challenging. (http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  3. Alien`s hand had extended claw like fingers. The Alien was head and shoulders above everyone else. Andrew developed a translucent flexible material that he also used for the` Face Hugger.` He built a large electrically heated rotisserie oven with a rail tracking system to wheel in the monster.Even the making of this monster was a weird `Frankinstein` like experience.(http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  4. A very tall Massai Warrior from Kenya was the actor engaged to be inside the Alien costume. Alas,the tear strength of the material was not adequate in time for the shoot. Ridley Scott ( director) said OK, let`s go without the monster, it might even add to the suspense. Indeed it did, because you never saw the monster in the original Alien film. (http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  5. Andrew struggled to get the tear strength in the Alien material to be strong enough, but at the eleventh hour, Andrew actually solved the tear strength problem. A contingency from the production company, including Ridley Scott came for a final showdown to Andrews workshop. In a jovial and triumphant manner, Andrew slapped Garth Thomas ( production accountant) across his impressive chest with the Alien`s foot made from the new super strong material. Alas, Andrew picked up the wrong piece of material, and it shattered. Its` a wrap !!! was the exclamation, and Ridley decided to go without it. A brilliant decision that only increased the suspense in the film.(http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  6. Andrew`s secret method of getting the tear strength acceptable was to vacuum form a film of plasticed PVC into the back of the Alien`s skin material, whilst still in its` hot and semi molten state. The two material cross polymerised and fused together. This sample is still super strong now, nearly 40 years later. It would have made a super surreal monster just as Giger envisaged. Andrew ended up making two Alien monsters, one he gave to Giger to take back home to Switzerland, and the other was kept by Andrew. None were used in the production.(http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  7. Both Andrew and Giger were disappointed with no monster in the film, but it was a sterling effort that did not quite come off, and so Giger gave Andrew the copy of his book that was used as reference for all work on the film. The book is signed...`For Andrew....H R Giger 78    with a little doodle from Giger`s friend Salvador Dali (http://www.sheppertondesignstudios.com/alien)
  8. H R Giger (3rd August, Shepperton Studios):At last we've got to the point where all the moulds needed for the Alien's costume are lying in the plasterers workshop. Since several casts will have to be made from each mould, the moulds have been made of a hard wearing silicon-rubber with a plastic sheath. Andrew keeps producing more and more experimental transparent costumes. However the ideal solution has still not been found, because the material is not resistant enough, and  tears. Andrew has built a special oven for this work in which the moulds rotate at a constant speed so that the liquid rubber is spread evenly. Unfortunately  he still hasn't produced anything we can use, and time is running short. (Giger's Alien, p62) 
  9. H R Giger (12th August, Shepperton Studios): Once again I'm deeply disappointed. They always told me we should have the best experts in the world with us in such a big production, and instead of that we've got a lot of do-it-yourself amateurs without the necessary experience.(Giger's Alien, p66) 
  10. DixiemePlanete Votre créature Alien devait à l'origine être translucide, ce qui ne fut pas le cas en définitive. En créant la Mutante, avez-vous voulu aller au bout de votre idée?
    HRGiger: Effectivement. L'AIien du premier film est devenu par la force des choses un personnage plus sombre en apparence. En fait, le costume devait à l'origine être moulé en caoutchouc semi-transparent mais les techniciens anglais n'ont pas été capables de reproduire ce que j'avais imaginé. En tant qu'artiste, j'en ai beaucoup souffert. Mais j'ai appris à relativiser, que pour travailler dans l'industrie cinématographique il faut faire des concessions, que je ne tolère pas lorsque je peins ou je sculpte pour moi. Pour le personnage de la Mutante, les gars des effets spéciaux ont utilisé des pièces moulées en plastique transparent formé à chaud sur des gabarits. Cela permettait de voir à travers les membres de la créature, dévoilant ainsi les muscles, les veines, etc. C'est ce que je voulais pour le premier Alien. Mais le latex utilisé ne donnait pas cet effet; il se déformait, perdait de sa transparence qui n'était déjà pas importante, d'autant que Badejo était noir ! On ne voyait plus rien ! La transparence joue également un rôle important dans les œufs d'Alien, et c'est ce que voulait Ridley Scott. Il les a placés à l'envers de manière à créer cet effet particulier. (DixiemePlanete #31)
    Translation: Dixieme Planete : Your Alien creature was originally to be translucent , which was not the case in the end. Creating the Mutant , have you wanted to follow your idea ?
    HR Giger: Actually. The AIien of the first film became by force of things a darker character in appearance. In fact, the costume was originally moulded in semi-transparent rubber but English technicians have not been able to reproduce what I had imagined. As an artist, I suffered a lot. But I've learned to put into perspective, that work in the film industry to make concessions, that I do not tolerate when I paint or I sculpt for me. For the character of Species, special effects guys have used parts molded in transparent plastic formed hot on templates. This allowed to see through the parts of the creature , revealing the muscles, veins , etc. . This is what I wanted for the first Alien . But the latex used did not give this effect , it is distorted , losing its transparency was already not important , especially as Badejo was black ! We saw nothing ! Transparency also plays an important role in the Alien eggs, and this is what Ridley Scott wanted . It was placed upside down in order to create this particular effect.
  11. Ridley Scott: In those days I couldn't even get latex thin enough that wouldn't break , you know, quickly and would also take sculptural elements and sinew, because you've got to lay sinews into the rubber suit, so suddenly the rubber suit isn't  like, should have been as thin as a contraceptive and as strong as nylon , right, because then I can crush this person into the suit and have all kinds of things built and stitched into it. (Alien Behind the scenes:  1:31:18)
     


Giger with parts of the Alien costume


d) Giger prepares for Rambaldi's involvement
 
The head was the first thing that was finished and a polyester cast of the head was finished by the last day of June. 
 
The next step was for Giger to create a drawing plan to send to Carlo Rambaldi who would be creating a mechanised version of the Alien's head that was sent with a mould of the Alien's head very soon afterwards to Rambaldi at his studio in America. 
 
Peter Voysey would also help to sculpt the Alien stage III.

  1. H R Giger (12th August, Shepperton Studios): Andrew has still not come up with satisfactory results. The moulds have been badly damaged by his experiments and by the great heat, and have to be repatched up by the plasterers in meticulous detail, or even made all over again.. The only conclusion that Andrew has reached is that what we want can only be done with metal moulds. We simply haven't got the time to make such things, and the Alien hysteria in the production department is reaching a climax. They have to start shooting very soon and we still haven't got a single costume that can be used. Time is too short for any more experiments and we decide to make the whole thing of latex. We finally have to give up our dream of a transparent Alien III. (Giger's Alien, p66)




e) Opposing thumbs idea
 
On June 28th, Dan O'Bannon had the great idea of adding an opposing thumb on each hand of the Alien which he told Giger and Eddie worked away on the hand adding the extra thumb. 
 
Those familiar with the novel "Childhood's End" by Arthur C Clarke might be familiar with the idea of a devil like aliens with opposing thumbs on each hand, although those aliens would have seven digits in all.

  1. HR Giger Eddie worked on one hand of Alien III. He added another joint to the finger and made a pretty accurate copy of my design. Dan O'Bannon had the great idea of adding another thumb to the Alien.(28th July, HR Giger's Alien Diary)




f) Two women are brought on to help
 
By July, at Giger's insistence, two women, Shirley and Patty were brought in and taken on to help with the the modelling of the monster.  

  1. H R Giger (28th July 1978,, Shepperton Studios). At my insistence, two more women, Shirley and Patty, are taken on to help with the work of modelling the monster. Butler is busy making the cranium, which will give the Alien its final form. Andrew is to make it up later in transparent PVC by a special process. (Giger's Alien, p62)
 
 
 
g) Creating a latex costume in August

In the car park studio, Giger's assistants Shirley, Patty and Butler are endlessly painting layers of latex on the new models.

Complete rubber moulds have got to be prepared in plaster as a result of the new method that they have decided upon, since plaster is more absorbent and can absorb water from the latex milk

  1. H R Giger (12th August, Shepperton Studios) In the car park studio, Shirley, Patty and Butler are endlessly painting layers and layers of latex on the new models. Complete rubber moulds have got to be prepared in plaster as a result of the new method we've decided on, since plaster is more absorbent and can absorb water from the latex milk.(Giger's Alien, p66)
  2. Dan O'Bannon:When he finally got all done, they took a cast of it  It was a craftsman who actually cast the rubber costume of Giger's sculpture. When they were finished casting in rubber, he used his airbrush and painted the costume the same way he does his paintings.
    Fantastic Films:
    Sounds Hairy (Fantastic Films #10, p14)
  3. Dan O'Bannon: I truly believe that that monster in Alien is absolutely unique looking. I think it is two strides beyond any monster costume in any movie ever before.(Fantastic Films #10, p14)
  4. Dan O'Bannon: When he's finally got all done they took a cast of it, it was a craftsman who actually cast the rubber costume of Giger's sculpture. When they were finished casting in rubber he used his airbrush and painted the costume the same way he paints his paintings.
    Fantastic Films: Sounds hairy.
    O'Bannon:It's terrific , I've really got my fingers crossed. I truly believe that that monster in Alien is absolutely unique looking. I think that it is two strides beyond any monster costume in any movie ever before. And some of them are goodies, like  the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or This Island Earth, the bug with the exposed brain, some of those were terrific. I really think this is a step beyond. I don't think anybody's seen anything like this. (Fantastic Films # 10 (US), p14)

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