Alien Covenant: Development of the Neomorph by way of Australia

leading from
a) Development of the Neomorph by way of Australia

The design work for the Neomorph was taken to Australia. 
There was a cartoonish illustration of the Neomorph that Ridley liked but as far as Conor was concerned, it wasn't clearly evident what exactly Ridley wanted from it. Conor wasn't quite sure who had created it but he thought it might have been Carlos Huantes, but Stephane Levallois had also done some significant work . So Conor couldn't use it directly. (NB Without seeing it we can not know)

Conor had taken Colin Shulver out to Australia with him, and he was buys doing digital models while Conor himself  was busy using Photoship and taking bits of pieces off the internet. He saw that Adam Johansen was very closer to the final design with Ridley

With that, following his process, Conor had decided that they had solved and fixed it, getting the design that Ridley wanted

  1. Interviewer: How about the design for the brand new, the engineers of the, neomorph for instance

    Conor: The neomorph was a kind of design process, erm, you know, that and there was a fun drawing, you know there was a few similar things, but you know, they, I think it did work in the end, I think it sort of worked, it's a bit of a, I personally wanted to go for something a bit more deformed human. Erm, this kind of sort of much more of a creature was not something too sure about, whether I kind of, you know, I think it worked as a thing, it was good, you know, it had lots of nice qualities about it. It was trying to sort of get a more natural thing, looked like, you know, you know, has the sort of goblin shark quality about it


    Conor:  Er, that was kind of based on some designs that were floating around, ah, but there was a Carlos Huantes, ern had a designed, had done a drawing which Ridley had particularly liked, but it was a very cartoony drawing, so we couldn't really, when I asked, it wasn't really sort of clearly evident what it was you know, that er, he wanted, so initially between three of us I think and Adam Johanson, er was doing stuff in Australia, he was getting pretty closer and then, along with him and then erm, Colin Shulver who was a designer that I took out to Australia and me doing a bit of Photoshop and stealing things off the internet, we solved it and fixed it and got the design that he liked. And that was er, and that was you know, an interesting process


    Conor: As well. Getting the mouth mechanism was interesting, kind of fun, but we

    Interviewer: With that, did you look at what was done before, did you think I wanted to work it out for myself

    Conor: Well, he had, he kept referring to this one, this kind of cartoon image, which we've got here, which was this one (which one?)

    Interviewer: Wow

    Conor: So that was a Carlos, Carlos Huantes, I hope it, and then I kind of amalgamated with some other images that we got off the internet and stuff that, we came up with this drawing which he then approved that was a bit more real than that er we're getting it moving forwards and then it goes on and on from there, you know, sort of refining it, doing lots more details

    Interviewer: So is the next step from that maybe the maquette as a physical 3d form of it


    Interviewer: So is it

    Conor:But Adam was doing that, he was making a model Colin Shulver was doing a digital model, so we had a digital artist there, Dominic Hailstone and Colin Shulver, anderm  we, so ,we ended up with a physical model, a guy in a suit, and a digital model, and we supplied the digital models to the visual effects department,

    Interviewer: yeah (Reel Feedback podcast
b) Dane Hallet and Matt Hatton's decided that they certainly didn't want to create anything like the Deacon from Prometheus
  • Dane Hallet: it's, yeah, 'cause, it's really funny, I think that Matt and I both have an idea about what we want to see in an Alien film as well, so we, like for example we just, we didn't draw any Deacon drawings from Prometheus (The Podcast strikes back: The Art of Alien Covenant)

Alien: Covenant. The Neomorph.
This concept was realized by Colin Shulver, combining designs of the adult Neomorph head,
sculpted/designed by Adam Johansen and photoshop designs by Conor O'Sullivan.
Creature effects by Odd Creatures- Odd Studio & Creatures inc. 

Source: June 9, 2017 ·

Alien: Covenant. The Neomorph. Our practical proof of concept and reference head. 
Ridley referenced the goblin shark for the bases of this creature and it's jaw mechanisms. 
It was also based on elements of a Carlos Huante design. 
The adult head was sculpted/co-designed by Adam Johansen & 
colour design and paint job by Damian Martin. 
Creature effects by Odd Creatures, Odd Studio and Creatures Inc.  
Source: June 15, 2017 ·

c) Adam Johansen tackles the Neomorph

Adam found the design the adult Neomorph, in particular the head, was a great challenge.

He knew there were many many artists working on the designs for this beast but nobody was quite getting there. Ridley continuously referenced a goblin shark for the mouth-jaw articulation and a sketch by Carlos Huante.

Adam sculpted many maquettes and full scaled heads, while Colin Shulver worked on the body in Zbrush, with Conor O'Sullivan compositing both elements together in Photoshop until Ridley was happy.

Damian Martin meanwhile did a paint job that Adam thought was gorgeously disgusting paint job and colour scheme to finish it off.

They then presented the finished full scale Neomorph head to Ridley on location in New Zealand, and he was thrilled. It was a satisfying moment for Adam.

Generally the design of the creatures was challenging because they were trying to give Ridley exactly what he wanted and also try to retain a Giger aesthetic

Alien:Covenant. Our adult Neomorph snapping jaw puppet.
Sculpt/design Adam Johansen, paint Damian Martin, mech Greg McKee.
Source January 25th 2018

Alien: Covenant.
The Neomorph. Adult body sculpt by Colin Shulver
& Andy Hunt. Played by Goran D Kleut.
Creature effects by Odd Creatures.

(Source: June 27, 2017 )

d) Finishing the work
Perhaps by March of 2017, Adam had totally finished his work on Covenant, still going through Fox storage for some pick ups.

  1. Adam Johansen: Personally, the design of the adult Neomorph, in particular the head, was most challenging. There were many, many artists working on the designs for this but nobody was quite getting there. Ridley continually referenced a goblin shark for the mouth/jaw articulation and a sketch form Carlos Haunte. I sculpted many maquettes and full scale heads while Colin Shulver worked on the body in Zbrush with Conor compositing both elements together in photoshop until Ridley was happy. Damian did a gorgeously disgusting paint job and colour scheme to finish it off. When we presented the finished full scale Neomorph head to Ridley on location in NZ he was thrilled. It was a satisfying moment. Generally, the design of most creatures was challenging because again, we were trying to give Ridley exactly what he wanted and also trying to retain a Giger aesthetic. (
  2. Adam Johansen: I enjoyed working with Conor and his crew too. Both our crews worked very well together and it resulted in one big creature crew family, with old friendships re ignited and many new friendships made among our 45 strong crew. Having such a dedicated and talented crew made it all possible and made the experience most enjoyable for me. This was the first time I’d worked with Ridley and it was a career highlight for me to work so closely with him, especially on set. Be it puppeteering or dressing blood, KY and food onto our puppets/suits/effects with him was an unbelievable experience for me. He really loves to get things in front of the camera and shoot effects/creatures practically and that was an honour to see him in action with our creations. (

e)  Smoother elegant neomorph
The asset team focused on the inside out anatomy build to play up the translucency, as this was a big part and the skin shader detail. Ridley wanted a smoother and elegant look to the Neomorph, a contrast against the busy and dark shapes of the Xenomorph
  1. A new creature is introduced in this movie, the Neomorph. Can you explain in detail about his design and his creation?
    Ferran Domenech: The Neomorph is the final stage of the engineers’ Pathogen, an eerie faceless creature. The design was based on concepts created by the production art team and MPC’s art department. From early stages the Neomorph details referenced the Goblin shark, a beast with an extendible jaw and a translucent and gelatinous skin quality. The assets team focused on the inside out anatomy build to play up the translucency, as this was a big part and the skin shader detail. Ridley wanted a smoother and elegant look to the Neomorph, a contrast against the busy and dark shapes of the Xenomorph.(
  2. The Neomorph is seen in different size. How did you handle this aspect and his rigging??
    Ferran Domenech: Because the Neomorph appears in the film from it’s birth to it’s adult form, we had to create different stages that would be able to blend shape into one another. For this, we created four different rigs, a baby Neomorph, a toddler, a teen and an adult. All capable of transforming into the next. The baby and toddler particularly had special controls to animate the length and shape of the joints so the transformation could be done in non-uniform way, with burst of growth with one limb expanding before the other. (
    The adult Neomorph was designed to be very flexible and double jointed so it could get into extremely contorted poses. Ridley Scott was inspired by the work of Alessandro Bavari’s ‘Metachaos’ film. He was invited to join the production where he created sketch poses for the Neo, very dramatic extreme profiles where the knees would raise higher than the head. This created a challenge where the hips and elbows would pinch and lose mass. To help with this, Asset Supervisor Dan Zelcs, introduced a set of very specific corrective blendshapes to help the problem areas.
    The anatomy of the Neomorph’s mouth was designed to match a goblin shark with a hinging inner jaw full of teeth that could swing forward while staying connected to the face by flexible gums. The Neomorph had a softer outer skin than the Xeno, so he would have wrinkles and excess skin that would ride and slide over the muscles when crouching, but would smooth out and become tough when standing on it’s hind legs. The rig had dynamic skin built into the base setup that could be augmented by the tech animation department using cloth simulation when extra detail was required. (
  3. Did you receive specific indications and references for his animation??
    Ferran Domenech: Aside from the inner jaw matching the goblin shark, the Neomorph was inspired by motion studies by actor and contortionist, Javier Botet, as well as animal references of bats and birds. The Neomorph had a nervous personality, always rhythmically breathing and barely containing it’s rage. Led by Animation Supervisors Philip Morris and Alexandre Ronco, the team did tests to develop the look and key poses. Running like a greyhound, slower cantering like a baboon, later creating character test keyframe animation clips of the Neo attacking, climbing, changing from run to walk. Through this exploratory animation process and review with the director, the character and motion language of the Neomorph took shape. (
  4. How does his skin’s look affects the lighting work??
    Ferran Domenech: Due to the multiple layers of subsurface on the skin and the fact that the Neomorph was not hollow but had bones inside, we had to adjust the lighting and lookdev depending on the strength of the HDRI dome, relative light distance to the character and specially strength of backlighting and rim lights.
    To find a particular look that Ridley was after, CG supervisor Manuel Mantero, had to to build alternative lookdev for some shots where the Neomorph was standing very close to camera. In some other cases we had explosions and bright sparks close to the Neomorph. When projecting the plate into the environment’s geometry for lighting purposes, these bright lights would affect the subsurface in a way that we didn’t like. To overcome this, we adjusted the skin shader to maintain the visibility of the intricate layering of the skin. (
  5. How was simulated his presence on-set especially in its small size?? Ferran Domenech: On set, the SFX department had different models and latex puppets for the three smaller stages of the Neomorph, they became a great reference for our CG Neomorph, particularly for size, shadows, light and reflection of the set. As Ridley wanted to adjust the Medbay scene to make the Neomorph more speedy and reactive to the actress, the practical photography shots of the Neomorph puppet became the go-to reference to QC the realism on our final comps. (
  6. MPC’s artists also used real world references to bring the Neomorph to life, such as the goblin shark, praying mantis and the contorted and extreme motion studies given by actor Javier Botet, which were used to inspire the movement of the Neomorph’s hands and stomach.  On top of this already difficult build, this new creature had to go through 4 stages of development from baby to toddler to teen to adult and each stage had to blend seamlessly together. So in essence MPC had to create 5 different aliens: An improved version of the original Xenomorph and 4 versions of the new Neomorph. ( "Exclusive ‘Alien: Covenant’ Concept Art Reveals Ridley Scott’s Second Stab at the Xenomorph" by Adam Chitwood, June 1, 2017)

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