StarBeast — Alien³, the Beginning
Alien³ underwent a long, articulated creation process — which saw several scriptwriters elaborating their own screenplays, only to be replaced — one after the other. Going from William Gibson to David Twohy, the film only began to develop to the next step with Vincent Ward and John Fasano’s script. It was based on that story that concept artists Stephen Ellis and Mike Worrall elaborated their own designs for the creatures, which included a woolly Chestburster born from a sheep, and an adult Alien whose origin was left unexplained. Those very initial concepts were conceived more as placeholders to illustrate certain sequences in the script, rather than actual designs.
Given Aliens was the winner for Best Special Effects at the 59th Academy Awards, Stan Winston Studio was the obvious choice for the third film’s creature effects. The artist was initially contacted for the project but was unable to accept the offer — as he was already attached to his own feature film, A Gnome named Gnorm, and James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Despite that, Winston recommended two of his previous crewmembers — Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis — who had recently detached from his Studio to found their own special effects company, Amalgamated Dynamics. Hans Ruedi Giger — who had not been contacted for the previous installment in the series — was concurrently contacted by both Gordon Carroll and David Fincher, director of the film, to reimagine the StarBeast. “While I was working on my idea for The Mystery of San Gottardo, Gordon Carroll contacted me about doing Alien³. I told him that I was working on a new creature and I could probably combine it. I had imagined that because I had done the first Alien, this time I would have a little more freedom to be able to bring in some new ideas.” Although he was given no script to work from (as the story was being constantly rewritten) the artist was happy to accept the offer. From the information he was given, three new creatures had to be designed: an aquatic Facehugger, a new quadrupedal Chestburster, and a new version of the adult Alien.
The Facehugger design was slightly modified, with prominent webbing between its limbs and thorns adorning its tail. “One of the first scripts had it swimming, so I visualised how it would move,” Giger said. “The fingers would retract so that it would crawl just under the water’s surface.”
The new Chestburster, labeled as the ‘Bambi-Burster’, was conceived by Fincher as a gangly, fawn-like newborn Monster. “That was the idea of Mr Fincher,” Giger said, “to have a Bambi-like [creature]… it shouldn’t be like the Chestburster, [an] ugly thing; it should be [like] Bambi — so, a creature you like right away, but [that’s] not too nice. My first design was too nice, it has been like a little bear, so I [gave] it long, long legs, like Bambi, is a little helpless.” The design in fact featured long and thin limbs, based on newborn ungulates such as fawns.
Regarding the adult stage of the Alien, Giger had not been wholly satisfied with the results seen in the first film. “This time around it had to be more animal-like,” he said, “more elegant. You shouldn’t get the feeling that it was a man wearing a suit.” The first foundation of the design was in fact that “the head had to remain unaltered, but the body had to change.” Though he remained in Zurich, Giger sent several sketches to the director. The designer followed Fincher’s initial instructions, which conceived the new Alien as a feline, lethal creature. “In his mind was a kind of puma,” Giger said, “or a beast like that.” The original creature, as it appeared in the first film, had initially been intended to be transparent, but technical limitations did not allow it to display such trait. In addition, it had a tail that “resembled too much a crocodile’s,” and “useless pipes” on its back. “These tubes on the back,” Giger said, “I did them [to balance] the long skull, if [the Alien has to stand]. But if he’s like a beast, then the long head is just over the shoulder — he doesn’t need any supporting.” The pipes protruding from the creature’s back were completely removed, and the tail was made thinner, with a long blade-like barb on its tip. Its chest and limbs were lengthened — “like a spider.”
The hands now featured long blades that could be everted from sockets between its fingers. “The hands now had very sharp blades between the fingers, which could shoot out, allowing the Alien to cut its victim. This is in keeping with the new dog-like look of the beast, which is very fast and devious.” The shoulder guards were given a ridged structure, which could “open up and be pointed like a saw” when the creature attacked. The new Alien would also have a ‘second skin’ that “was designed to produce tones,” Giger said. “It had valves on it, like a saxophone.” The artist also said that its purpose was to produce sounds that would reproduce the Alien’s mood. “You should hear how he feels,” he said.
Fincher specifically wanted the Alien to have lips based on Michelle Pfeiffer’s — more voluptuous and feminine. The director recalled: “we did give it Michelle Pfeiffer’s lips. That’s what they’re based on. It always had these little thin lips, and I said to Giger, ‘let’s make it a woman when it comes right up to Ripley.’ So it has these big, luscious collagen lips.” Giger wanted the new creature to be “more sensuous” as opposed to repulsive. “The lips and chin on my new model are better proportioned and give the creature a more erotic appearance,” he said. “When the mouth is closed it looks very voluptuous, beautiful.” In addition, inside the creature’s dome, Giger introduced a series of elongated, vertical structures. According to him, it was a “finger-brain, which should move like when wind is blowing over the grain.”
As Giger had not been wholly satisfied with the Alien’s tongue in the first film, he redesigned it. “The tongue of the first Alien was, in a way, not organic,” the artist said. “It was a tube with these teeth in front. It was really not [the best].” The new tongue was conceived with the appearance of a sword or a spear. “When it opens its jaws the tongue inside the mouth is more like a spear — also very suggestive — which penetrates the head with greater velocity, snagging bits of brain. From Beauty to the Beast.” The creature’s jaw structure would literally transform for a ‘kiss’ — with its tongue penetrating the skull of the victim and, upon returning, dragging shreds of its innards.
What Giger initially did not know was that ADI was concurrently hired to design the creature, not only to construct it. “David Fincher neglected to inform me that Woodruff and Gillis were also contracted to take care of the redesign of the Alien,” he said. “I found out much later. I thought I had the job and that Woodruff and Gillis would work from my plans. On their side, they were convinced that it was their job and accepted my ‘suggestions’ with pleasure. They believed that all my effort was based on a huge love for the matter because I worked hard even after my contract was over. Today, I am convinced that it was a game by Fincher to keep both sides happy and obtain the maximum for his movie.”
Giger, Woodruff and Gillis also spoke through phone calls. “The Alien is Giger’s baby,” Gillis said, “and he was calling to find out what we planned. We stayed in contact and he faxed through drawings and ideas that proved very helpful when we were deciding how the Alien was going to develop.” The artist also invited both Woodruff and Gillis at his home in Zurich, where the sculpture of the new design was being made. Due to the hectic production schedule, they had to turn down the offer. “We had a couple of phone calls where we actually spoke with Giger,” Woodruff said, “and at the time he told us he was working on a sculpture, he was working on a full-size maquette of the Alien in his studio, so he invited Alec and I to come to Switzerland, and at the time we were so under the gun schedule wise that we — you know — respectfully said ‘you know, we can’t do that right now,’ and that is the one thing I always regret to have done, to have had the invitation, you know and just kind of put it off for now and say, ‘maybe when the film is done, maybe afterwards’ — and then of course by the time the film is done, he wasn’t involved at all and the offer was no longer there.”
Woodruff also added in another interview: “where we parted, it was amicable. I think where the real hotbed happened was 20th Century Fox. They basically cut ties to Giger. This is a painful story to relate: Giger called us and said, ‘I did this sculpture of an Alien. It’s in my basement, and too big to take out. I don’t have the money to mold it. Can you guys come to Switzerland to see this sculpture I made?’ And Fox told us we had to say no. Can you imagine? If we’d been a little cockier we would have jumped on a plane!”
According to Gillis, “there was some disconnection and confusion on the Giger side. We only spoke to him two or three times during the whole production. There was a point where Fincher looked at everything he had sent and said, “Okay, I think we’ve got enough.” And it was after that that Giger called us [about the statue], and we were sort of taken aback. We thought they had closed it up and that Giger was off the show, but Giger never realized he was off the show. After the movie came out, there was a hatchet job article in a [special-effects] magazine, so I think that might have inflamed him a little bit. From our point of view, it was too bad because we considered Giger an absolute genius who revolutionized creature effects forever. It was a shame that he felt he was being disrespected.”
In a combination of miscommunication and rapidly quickening production schedule, Giger’s involvement in the project faded. The artist offered the Alien sculpture — sculpted in collaboration with Cornelius de Fries — and reference footage of it to Twentieth Century Fox; the company declined and severed contact with him. In an interview with Outpost31, Woodruff said: “people often look for the drama in this event, but the simple facts are that we designed the Alien effects (the method and mode of how each effect was achieved) while at the same time inventing a couple of new evolutions of Alien creatures. We returned the approach to the Alien after what had worked for Aliens in providing dozens of warriors in very simple ways. Our approach was to recreate the art of the Alien as we saw it in Giger’s own work in a form that worked for a man inside the suit. Someone along the line quoted us as saying we were improving Giger’s work rather than properly conveying that we were improving what had been done before to look more like Giger’s work in his own original art. His publicist ran with this ‘affront’ and it took a number of letters from us to Giger before we finally heard that he understood the miscommunication.”
Giger was disheartened for the situation that came to be. “In the contract it stated exactly how I should be credited. They [broke] the contract because they’re saying in the movie that it’s only ‘original design by Giger’ and not Alien 3, so it looks like I didn’t work on it. Mr. Fincher never gave me any credit. That did not just happen; it was made to happen. I never heard from the man responsible, and I don’t know why he did it.” He also attributed some of the shortcomings to the budget. “I read in the papers [that Sigourney Weaver] got something like $5.5 million for playing Ripley again. Imagine what could have been possible if all that money had been spent on the creature design! It could have been ganz toll! After all, the star of an Alien film should be the Alien itself, right?”
For more images of the unused Alien³ designs, visit the Monster Gallery.