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H.R. Giger: Creature creator

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-05-2017 Sankhayan Ghosh

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant releases in India on 12 May. On the same day, three years ago, Hans Ruedi Giger died after he suffered injuries after a fall at his home in Chur, Switzerland. It’s a suitably eerie coincidence. The surrealist painter created, among much else, the terrifying extraterrestrial in Alien (1979). The team of explorers that lands on a remote planet in Covenant—the latest in the sci-fi horror franchise—discover the origins of the creature we were introduced to 38 years ago.

Giger was an integral part of the team which won the visual effects Oscar for Alien in 1980. His art has been hugely influential, popping up not only in creature features but also in manga and theme bars and on Ibanez guitars. Here are four of his creations for the movies, works that are at once primal, unique and strangely familiar.

The design for Scott’s alien—the Xenomorph—is based on ‘Necronomicon IV’ from Giger’s book ‘Necronomicon’.

Xenomorph, ‘Alien’

The design for Scott’s alien—the Xenomorph—is based on “Necronomicon IV”. This is one of the images in Giger’s book Necronomicon (1977), one of the early glimpses of his aesthetic: that of man interlocked in a cold, quasi-sexual relationship with machine. Various versions of Necronomicon IV that appear in the book hark back to the cosmic horror stories of HP Lovecraft (whose fictional textbook of magic was also called Necronomicon). This artwork has gone a long way in shaping our idea of what a frightening extra-terrestrial should look like.

Giger artwork for “Derelict” the crashed spacecraft in ‘Alien’.

Derelict, ‘Alien’

Scott’s brief to Giger for “Derelict”, the crashed spacecraft in Alien, was that it should “spark a gothic revulsion” in the viewer. Giger’s baroque influences find a large canvas in the image of a ship filled with alien eggs and a dead pilot. At the same time, he made it feel like the inside of a living organism—something, as he put it, “which has been grown, rather than built”.

One of Giger’s unforgettable artworks for the project for Jodorwowsky’s Dune is a giant Laughing Buddha, which doubles as a ghost train.

Laughing Buddha, ‘Dune’

Before Alien came Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, quite possibly the most ambitious movie never made. It was while working on the Chilean-born auteur’s mad vision of Frank Herbert’s dystopian novel, set in a feudal interstellar society, that visual effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon first encountered Giger’s picture books (he would later work with Giger on Alien). “I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and, at the same time, as beautiful as his work,” he said. One of Giger’s unforgettable artworks for the project (many of which can be seen in the 2013 documentary Jodorwowsky’s Dune) is a giant Laughing Buddha, which doubles as a ghost train. When seen from a distance in another image, the object looks like an armoured tank parked in what looks like a minefield of bones.

Giger’s concept artwork of the Batmobile.

Batmobile, ‘Batman Forever’

Commissioned to reimagine the Batmobile in Batman Forever (1995), Giger turned the sleek black machine of earlier films into something distinctly his: a disturbing intersection of biology and mechanics. In the concept artwork, it looks like a centipede (two centipedes actually, joined at the center) on wheels, armed with ammunition. It isn’t surprising that this was too wild for the campy Joel Schumacher movie, which ultimately opted for a safer version of the vehicle for its hero.

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