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Design Team Helps Ridley Scott Realize His Scary Vision for ‘Alien: Covenant’

Variety logo Variety 5/25/2017 Daron James
© Provided by Variety

Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant,” released by Fox on May 19, marks a return to the sheer terror of the sci-fi franchise’s roots, which started 38 years ago with “Alien.”

The task of coming up with a look that could satisfy the expectations of fans of the seven earlier films (including two mash-ups with the “Predator” franchise) fell to production designer Chris Seagers and a team of concept artists, which had to execute the descriptions in the script.

Australian concept artist Dane Hallett worked alongside fellow concept artist Matt Hatton to produce more than 600 images — conjuring alien eggs, facehuggers, the classic xenomorph and the franchise’s newest monster, Neomorph.

“You’re working in the dark, fumbling around and doing your best to make sure it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done,” Hallett says. “Next thing you know you’re eight months in without a day off, and you say, ‘Wow, I hope that went well.’”

With Seagers knee-deep in world building, Hallett collaborated with set decorator Victor Zolfo. The team frequently referenced the work of the late Swiss painter H.R. Giger, whose illustrations inspired the alien in the original 1979 film.

The pair worked with the creature effects team, led by creature design supervisor Conor O’Sullivan. Hallett says the teams fed off each other. “We would go to their workshop and see what they were creating and then draw what it might look like if it was dissected, cut up or mutilated,” he says. “In turn, they would see what we were drawing and build things off of our concepts. We cross-pollinated in a way to make everything as evil as possible.”

Meanwhile, homing in on the Covenant spaceship and landing craft, concept artist Steve Burg went through multiple 2-D and 3-D iterations. “Ridley [Scott] wanted to find a new angle but take things back to the original feel of ‘Alien,’” Burg says.

A significant amount of the ship was built, including full-size sets for the control room, the bay, the hibernating pods and a number of creepy corridors. Shooting took place over 74 days at Fox Studios Australia and locations in Milford Sound, New Zealand. In concept, the Covenant spans more than a kilometer in length, divided into three sections, with a crew and 2,000 cryogenically sleeping passengers.

“We sought to demonstrate the feeling of functionality, but there also has to be a fantastical component,” Burg notes. “You want it to be gritty and real, but you want the audience to be impressed by its scale.”

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