E is for Eyes

E is for EyesIn the VFX ABC, the letter “E” stands for “Eyes”.

When a character appears on a movie screen, which part of their face do you look at first? The eyes, of course.

You can’t help it. As a human being, you’re programmed to make eye contact, whether the person in front of you is flesh and blood, or just a fiction of jostling pixels. Like the proverb says: “The eyes are the mirror of the soul.”

I reckon that’s true, but the quote I really want to share comes from the writer G K Chesterton:

There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.

Chesterton’s words feel right for the movies, don’t you think? At its very best, cinema is an art form that bypasses the brain altogether and engages directly with the emotions. And how do we read emotions in other people? You guessed it: through their eyes.

For a visual effects supervisor, creating a synthetic character with believable eyes is a monumental challenge. I’m sure you can think of a few movies where they pulled it off. And even more where they didn’t. Below is a still from a film in the former category: an animated short featuring some truly incredible eyes. The film is called Madame Tutli-Putli and, if you’re anything like me, your two responses upon seeing the title character will be (1) “Wow, look at those eyes” and (2) “Uh, hold on … what exactly am I looking at here?”

Madame Tutli-Putli

Have you worked out how they did it yet? Don’t worry, I’ll put you out of your misery a little further down the page. Before then, let’s take a closer look at a few visual effects that have left me, well, wide-eyed.

I really wanted the eyes to be very important … something of a cross between the eyes of Einstein, Sandburg and Hemingway.

That’s what Steven Spielberg said about the design of ET, the world’s most famous squishy alien, and one of cinema’s most engaging animatronic creatures. ET’s amazing eyes were constructed by the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA and Beverly Hoffman of Ocular Prosthetics. Yes, while the little guy with the glowing heart may have been the product of movie magic, his eyes were genuine medical marvels.

The Eyes of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

One of the earliest artificial eyes ever discovered belonged to a woman who lived in what is now Iran during the Proto-Elamite period (around 2900 BC). This ancient prosthetic consisted of a clay hemisphere plated with gold and held in place with gold threads. Later came the first glass eyes, and ultimately the sophisticated acrylic models in use today. The long history of this well-established medical discipline – and the expert skills of its practitioners – means that traditional creature creators like Carlo Rambaldi (the man who made ET) know exactly where to look to find the eyeballs of their dreams.

Gremlins Eye MechanismIt’s one thing getting eyes to look good. It’s quite another getting them to perform. For Joe Dante’s Gremlins, Chris Walas created a suite of giant-sized animatronic “superfaces” to bring Gizmo and his diminutive buddies to life. These foot-wide mogwai faces were more than big enough to accommodate the complex cable controls needed to drive their elaborate expressions. But inside the smaller life-size heads, things were tight. Walas had just 2-3 inches of room in which to squeeze all the mechanisms required to drive nose wiggles, mouth open-and-close, gross head movement, ear movement … not to mention that critical articulation of the eyes.

Digital tools mean it’s now possible to create artificial eyes for movie characters that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Mind you, that word “almost” is a problem. We’ve all stared across the “uncanny valley” – that perceptual gulf which means a set of animated eyes that’s nearly right is, in fact, precisely wrong enough to give us the crawling creeps.

The Eyes of Gollum

Perhaps the first digital character to reach the other side of the uncanny valley was Gollum, as featured in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We first see Gollum’s eyes in The Fellowship of the Ring, flashing briefly in the mines of Moria with that eerie retinal reflection effect familiar to anyone who owns a cat. It was in The Two Towers, however, that Gollum really came into his own, with Andy Serkis’s motion-captured performance being flawlessly translated into digital form by the team at Weta Digital.

It’s easy to forget how much work the animators did on that show – after all, you can’t paint mo-cap dots on an eyeball, right? And let’s not forget all that fiddly rigging which means that, for example, the eyes of Treebeard in the same film included a “’sticky’ eyelid control, so as the eye looked right and left, the lids would distort across the corneal bulge and follow with a slight delay.”

The Eyes of Neytiri

Whichever way you look, there’s no getting away from the seductive power of eyes. Richard Baneham, Weta Digital’s animation supervisor on Avatar, sums it up neatly:

As an audience, when we see a piece of film, we immediately lock onto the eyes of a character and try to determine what the character is feeling emotionally.

Critically, if you really want to draw your audience in, your character’s eyes have to resemble those of a human. Even if they’re an alien. Here’s Avatar producer Jon Landau describing the development of the Na’vi designs: “We had everything from a Cyclops version to a multi-eyed version of the Na’vi at one point, but eventually we went back to a much more traditional [binocular] foundation … If we wanted the audience to relate emotionally to these characters, there needed to be familiar touchstones.”

Madame Tutli-Putil

All of which brings us nicely back round to Madame Tutli-Putli. I defy you to look into her haunting eyes without feeling that essential emotional connection. So who is this curious woman, and how was she created?

Before I tell you, take a look at the movie itself (depending on what territory you’re in, your browser will display either the trailer or the complete film. There’s a separate download link further down the page.):

Madame Tutli-Putli is a short animated film written, directed and animated by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. Described as “an exhilarating existential journey”, it follows its titular heroine on a nightmare train ride through a strange landscape, in the company of an array of sinister fellow passengers.

The film’s characters are brought to life through the venerable process of stop-motion. However, their eyes are as real as yours and mine. As described on the website of visual effects artist Jason Walker, the film uses “a remarkable production process whereby live action human eyes were added to almost 20 minutes of stop-motion animation, in a manner that was perfectly seamless and completely unobtrusive.”

The animation came first. Then live-action of actress Laurie Maher was shot to match. The live-action footage was then meticulously resized, retimed and tracked to the puppet head, with special attention paid to the shadows and reflections present in the original animated scene. For a step-by-step analysis of exactly how this painstaking work was done, read this excellent article on the Creative Planet Network.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, the resulting effect is astonishing. Here’s a before/after video comparing the raw animation to the finished thing:

In the VFX ABC, “E” is for “Eyes”. They’re the hardest thing to get right with any synthetic character – animatronic, digital or otherwise. Am I right? Tell me if you disagree.

And if there’s a set of cinematic eyes that’s, uh, caught your eye, tell me about them too. I’d love to cast my eye over them. I mean give them an eyeball – sorry, get them in my sights. Oh … you know what I mean. Focus in on them. Take a look. Have a peek …

Gee whiz. Those eyes sure do follow you around, don’t they?

All quotes from Cinefex magazine unless otherwise stated: #11 – Turn on Your Heartlight by Paul M. Sammon; #19 – Never Feed Them After Midnight by Paul M Sammon; #120 – The Seduction of Reality by Jody Duncan.

Do You See Ghosts?

The ghost of Santi - "The Devil's Backbone"

For the visual effects artist, there are few challenges more blood-curdling than that of putting ghosts on the screen. Why is it so scary a task? Because there’s a powerful argument to say you shouldn’t see the ghosts at all.

Take The Haunting. In the original 1963 version of this classic ghost story (adapted from Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel The Haunting of Hill House), there’s not a spirit in sight. Nevertheless, thanks to a clever screenplay by Nelson Gidding and masterful direction by Robert Wise, the film is terrifying. Restless camerawork, sharp editing and sound design, plus a light scattering of practical special effects (a bedroom door buckles as an unseen presence presses against it; a spiral staircase closes up like a telescope) all crank up the tension to snapping point.

Now consider the 1999 remake, with its full-frame phantoms and in-your-face ectoplasm. A whole host of ghostly goings-on play out right before your eyes, leaving nothing to the imagination. The result is an overblown mess that’s distinctly short on scares. Which version do I prefer?

I think you can guess.

Hill House - "The Haunting" (1963)

One of the first ghosts to materialise on the silver screen appeared in The Mistletoe Bough. In this 1904 adaptation of a traditional tale, an unfortunate bride accidentally locks herself in a trunk during a game of hide-and-seek on her wedding day. Years later, the trunk is opened and her skeletal remains are discovered.

Towards the end of Percy Stowe’s nine-minute film, the distraught groom has a close encounter with the ghost of his dead bride, who promptly fades to nothing in his embrace. The camera trick responsible for this effect should be transparent (pun intended) to anyone with a working knowledge of lap dissolves. What’s startling is how effective the illusion remains even after 110 years.

"The Mistletoe Bough"

Stowe’s disappearing bride established a golden rule for movie ghosts: they look just like ordinary people, until some critical juncture in the narrative where they fade from view. Pick any film from Topper to The Fog and you’ll find the rule applies (with a few exceptions, of course).

Then, in the 1980s, filmmakers began to explore more fully the ghostly potential of visual effects. Remember all those wispy wraiths from Ghostbusters, Poltergeist and Raiders of the Lost Ark? They were all the result of clever composites, artful animation, and that thing I call the “silk-in-a-cloud-tank” look. Nor had the old lap dissolve illusion been forgotten, just refined with films like Ghost, for which ILM combined on-set motion control with some neat optical wipes to create the illusion that poor old Sam Wheat really was on another astral plane.

But is seeing the ghost ever truly scary? If real horror is psychological, isn’t it always more effective to use other cinematic tricks like editing and sound to give your audience the heebie-jeebies? Until recently, my answer has always been, “Yes! Less is most definitely more!” But one filmmaker has convinced me that sometimes it really is good to see dead people. His name is Guillermo del Toro.

"The Devil's Backbone"

Take The Devil’s Backbone. I first watched this stunning film on my own at home, late at night, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Not only does del Toro’s heartbreaking tale hit all the classic ghost story beats, it also serves up one of cinema’s most memorable spooks in the form of Santi, the drowned boy. Santi’s unsettling appearance – a concoction of cracked porcelain skin, animal eyes and barely-seen bones, all enveloped in a drifting miasma of mote-filled blood and water – is a subtle combination of make-up by DDT, and digital enhancement and animation by Telson.

A few years later, Del Toro was executive producer on Andrés Muschietti’s Mama. With its uneven pacing, the film’s not as polished a piece as The Devil’s Backbone, but it too delivers an unforgettable spectre in the form of the titular Mama, a twitching, deformed phantom with a tragic past.

The character of Mama was brought to life by French contortionist Javier Botet, who’s seven feet tall and suffers from a connective tissue disorder called Marfan syndrome, which allows him to move his body in extraordinary ways. Botet’s performance was enhanced by DDT’s prosthetics and digitally manipulated by Toronto-based Mr. X Inc. under the supervision of Aaron Weintraub.

Santi and Mama are both examples of ghosts that couldn’t have been put on screen before the modern age of visual effects. While solidly driven by actors’ performances, they rely on digital delicacy and finesse to bring them to life. Uh, I mean death. Ghosts are fragile things, you see, and just one wrong breath can collapse them into a cloud of vapour.

They also represent two very different approaches to visualising the spirit world. While Santi is centred and still, Mama is the embodiment of chaos. Yet my reaction to both these ghosts was the same. Their appearance raised my heart rate and brought me out in gooseflesh. And the visual effects did what every good illusion should do.

They made me believe my eyes.

In Curt Siodmak’s 1942 novel Donovan’s Brain, the protagonist Dr Cory resists the mind-mangling influence of the disembodied cerebellum by reciting the following tongue-twister:

He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts

So how about you? Do you insist on seeing the ghosts? Do you like your spooks screeching into the camera lens in all their ghastly, gory glory? Or should the spirits remain resolutely off-screen? And just what does a ghost look like anyway? A mangled animatronic corpse? Your favourite actor dusted lightly with talcum powder? Or an undulating combination of cloth and fluid sims deep-comped into a mist-shrouded graveyard?

Everyone has a favourite phantom. What’s yours?

Now Showing – Cinefex 137

Cinefex - From The Editors Desk - Issue 137

Yes folks, the latest issue of Cinefex is now showing! Issue #137 features in-depth articles on the visual effects of The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugGame of ThronesRoboCop and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of robots or romantic fantasy … or just a sucker for a fire-breathing dragon.

Before we fire up the projector, here’s Cinefex editor Jody Duncan with her thoughts on what it took to bring this latest issue to your screens.

Jody Duncan – From The Editor’s Desk

One of the many delights of my job is that, every three months, I am presented with tangible evidence of the Cinefex team’s labor. The issue is there, completed. I feel it in my hands. I smell the ink. My eyes wander over the photographs. There is a sense of closure, of a process completed – even as we throw ourselves into the next issue and start all over again.

Each issue of Cinefex is its own story. There are struggles – securing timely studio approvals for behind-the-scenes photos; chasing down that interview with the special effects supervisor who is currently incommunicado in Madagascar; making sense of 100,000 words of transcript; convincing advertisers that supporting Cinefex is as good for them as it is for us.

And there are joys. Issue #137 introduced me to visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer. Over a long and wonderful lunch, I talked with Joe about the visual effects work on Game of Thrones. But the conversation turned to other subjects, as well – the current state of the visual effects industry, prominent visual effects artists we had known since they first started in the business, movies we loved, and life itself. Every so often (and more rarely than we would like) we “click” with someone. I clicked with Joe, and made a friend.

Covering the new RoboCop brought the surreal sense that we had covered the original just yesterday! For his extensive coverage of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Fordham interviewed the creative geniuses at Weta Digital, and Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor – hands-down the most courteous and warmest person in the industry. Smaug is our cover-boy this issue – and that’s a highlight in itself!

As this issue rolls out, we are in the middle of producing Issue #138. More struggles, more joys, more stories. Stay tuned!

Thanks, Jody. I think we’re ready to roll. So everyone, please take your seats and turn off your smartphones. If you have to eat popcorn, do it quietly. You at the front: take off that unnecessarily tall hat. Oh, and above all, enjoy the show!

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Set between the wars, The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of hotel concierge Gustav H and lobby boy Zero Moustafa as they become entangled in a plot to steal a priceless Renaissance painting. Visually spectacular – and brimming with director Wes Anderson’s trademark quirky touches – the film showcases a number of large-scale miniatures constructed by a Berlin-based team, led by Simon Weisse.

Weisse began his career working as a trainee with Richard Conway on Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He later worked on features including The Never Ending Story II and IIIThe City of Lost Children and Event Horizon. Over time, as new technologies steadily reduced the demand for traditional miniatures, Weisse and his crew moved into special propmaking. Recent films include V for VendettaSpeed RacerCloud Atlas and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Simon Weisse in costume as an extra on "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Simon Weisse in costume as an extra on “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

I spoke to Simon Weisse shortly before the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel about his work on the film.

How did you get involved with The Grand Budapest Hotel?

The production manager, Miki Emmrich,
who I’d worked with on Cloud Atlas, came to me and said, “There are some people from America, and they’re wondering if there’s anybody who can still make miniatures.”
So I said, “Yes, I can do that. Who is it?”
Miki said, “Oh, it’s Wes Anderson.”
And I said, “What?!!’

Wes is really interested in the way models look. They look a bit old-fashioned, a bit artificial, but that works for the artistic look of this film. They did add some visual effects, and I think that’s okay. You shoot models, and then you use the new techniques to make them believable.

How much creative input did you have? Were you working from drawings provided by the art department?

We had a wonderful production designer – Adam Stockhausen – who did 12 Years a Slave. The concept artist was Carl Sprague. He did sketches for us, but we didn’t have exact plans. We had a very precise initial idea, but we also put in our creativity to make it work. That was nice. Wes was amazing – he knew exactly what he wanted. Sometimes we weren’t sure what was needed, so we just asked him the question, and within a few minutes we got the answer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tell me about the main hotel miniature.

The building itself is one-eighteenth scale. It’s about four metres wide and three metres high. When we speak about “models”, some people think it’s a tiny little thing. But it’s really quite big. If we’d built the hotel too small, it wouldn’t have worked for the camera. Things just look better if they’re bigger. Also, if they’re too small, they’re harder to build.

What’s the model made of?

Mostly wood. It’s very traditional. For the windows, we just made one original, took silicon moulds and cast them in resin. Along the roof, we had very thin decorations made from etched brass. There are also some statues – the only things we did on a 3D printer, using models we found on the internet.

Are there any rooms behind the windows?

Yes, there are rooms with lights in them. But they’re just photographs. They shot the film in a very nice old town called Görlitz, about 100 miles from Berlin, where they transformed an old department store into the inside of the hotel. We took pictures of the sets and glued the photographs in boxes behind the windows of our miniature. Easy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How did you construct the Observatory?

We built the Observatory at one-twelfth scale. The building is timber, and the metal structure is soldered brass. The rocks are Styrofoam. I had two sculptors working on them – one shaping the rocks and the other doing the painting. For the snow we used very fine icing sugar. In the film, there’s a nice view of it in the landscape: a digital matte painting, with our model incorporated. It’s funny – even the background painting looks a bit like a model.

Funicular railway cars

Where does the funicular railway fit in?

You have to take the funicular to go to the hotel, because the hotel is on the top of a hill, and the town is at the bottom. The slope of the funicular was steep – about 35° – so we built the whole thing on its side, and tilted the camera over as well, of course.

We didn’t have any drawings for the cars, so we found some pictures of funiculars on the internet. The car chassis are made mostly of brass, with various pieces like the wheels turned on a lathe; at that scale you have to do everything yourself. It was fun! The cars move on a very thin rod, which we pushed or pulled by hand. We did it that way because, if you have a rope or wire, there’s no real control.

Shooting the funicular railway

What scale are the trees in the forest miniature?

About one-eighth scale. But you never know exactly with trees. We made the trunks from turned wood. Then we stuck real tree branches in the trunks. The snow on the trees was done by The Nefzers using snow from Snow Business. The snow on the ground is rolls of fiberfill, just like you’d use for sofa cushions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Did you shoot the miniatures outside?

Yes. Wes Anderson and the producer Jeremy Dawson wanted everything to be shot in natural light. We had a studio ready in case of heavy rain, but we were lucky – in April last year we had sunshine every day.

Wes Anderson and Ralph Fiennes at the US premiere of "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson and Ralph Fiennes at the premiere of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Image copyright © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Where are the models now?

We broke the hotel into twelve pieces to set it up for the premiere in Berlin. After that, it was packed in crates and went to New York. They wanted to exhibit the model at the US premiere, which was great for us. It’s a kind of recognition from the director and the producers.

The tram and the funicular went to the modelmakers who built them. I gave the deer on the mountaintop to the girl who sculpted it. But all the other stuff is just too big to keep. I’ve had some models from recent films go to museums. There’s quite a lot of stuff in the Musée Cinéma et Miniature in Lyon. That’s an amazing place. One of the spaceship models from Event Horizon is there – I was part of the team that built that.

Do you change your modelmaking techniques depending on whether the movie is shot on film, or digitally?

The Grand Budapest Hotel was shot on film. I’m not a cameraman, but I’ve been told that shooting models with a digital camera doesn’t work as well as traditional film. I don’t know if it’s true. Frank Schlegel – the visual effects supervisor for the model shooting – did the POV shots of the bobsleigh run with his Red camera, because the film camera would have been too heavy to run through the model. They worked well, because on the computer you have all these filters that make it look like film.

Is there one miniature shot in The Grand Budapest Hotel that you look at and think, “Yeah, we did a good job”?

The hotel itself worked well. They even used it for the poster, which is great. But I must say that the Observatory, on that mountain, is really fantastic. Also, all the simple shots we did with the trees and the bobsleigh. When I tell people that was a miniature, they say, “I thought it was digital!”

It’s a strange kind of compliment.

Very strange!

Mountaintop deer statue - The Grand Budapest HotelIs modelmaking in decline? Is it harder for you to get work now?

Yes, it’s much harder. I was in California two or three years ago, and met a lot of people I knew from before – all the old modelmakers – and saw all the shops closing down there. It’s a pity, but what can you do? Now I’m mostly doing propmaking, and I’m quite happy with that.

But sometimes modelmaking comes back. For The Three Musketeers 3D, we made models of the airships and they scanned them, because it was cheaper and easier to do that than to build the whole thing in the computer. And the film I’m working on now has miniatures, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Some directors are fed up with too much CG, you see. They want something real.

Can you sum up your experience on The Grand Budapest Hotel?

It was fantastic, because we had a kind of freedom, and everybody was happy. To be honest, it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had these last few years. But jobs like this – they don’t happen very often now.

Simon Weisse's modelmaking crew

Images by Simon Weisse unless otherwise stated. Special thanks to Jeremy Dawson, Roya Vakil and Berton Pierce. If you’re a fan of traditional miniatures, check out Berton’s feature length documentary Sense of Scale.

Roger Christian – Lightsabers and Space Tugs

Last week, Roger Christian talked to me about his short film Black Angel, which supported The Empire Strikes Back during its initial theatrical release in 1980. In the concluding part of this article, he looks back at his experiences as set decorator on Star Wars, and art director on Alien.

Graflex + Roger Christian = Lightsaber

Star Wars

Roger Christian’s Star Wars odyssey began while he was working with production designer John Barry in Mexico on Lucky Lady, building rum-running sets based in 1930s America. “George arrived on one of the sets I was dressing – an old salt factory – and we talked about Star Wars. I told him I’d always imagined that spaceships would be oily, like they were always in and out of the garage being repaired. And George said, ‘That’s exactly what I want. I don’t want anything designed specifically. I want it all to look natural and real.’ So I was on Star Wars right from the very start, and George always says I was one of the only five people who stood by his side throughout.”

One of Christian’s first tasks, together with art director Les Dilley, was to make a prototype R2-D2. “I hired a carpenter – Bill Harman – who’d made all the props for Monty Python. He was brilliant – you could give him anything and he’d make it work. We had no money, not even enough to buy timber, but Bill had marine plywood at home, which he bent around the frame we’d built. In an electrical store, I found an old lamp from the 1940s and fitted that on top. I carved the little moving prongs on the front, and we stuck some aeroplane bits on and got him approved.”

Christian was also instrumental in developing the look of the film’s various weapons. “I went to a gun hire place and got a Sterling sub-machine gun. I glued a T-strip around the barrel, put on a short magazine and stuck an old army rifle sight backwards on the top.” In a similar way, Christian retrofitted a Mauser pistol to create Han Solo’s blaster. “Then I nervously called George and said, ‘You’d better come and see what I’m doing.’ George loved them, which was the signal that he and I were on the same wavelength. He stayed with me and we made Princess Leia’s gun together. The gun hire place gave me a little back room and just let me choose guns. The whole film was kind of done like that.”

The two lightsabers used in the film were also built by Christian using found objects. “In this old photography studio, I found a box with a Graflex inside. The Graflex was a press camera from the 1940s. You could bolt a flash on the side; it had a round chromium disc that made the flash really bright, and the handle had a red fire button. And that’s what became the laser sword. I just sat in my office with superglue, stuck a T-strip round the handle, put a D-ring on the end and stuck on bits from a pocket calculator. It was weighty and it looked beautiful. I think I made it for about £8.”

Plane Wreck + Roger Christian = Nostromo


After Star Wars, Christian went on to art direct Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In its first incarnation, however, the film was cancelled, allowing him to segue neatly on to Alien. Director Ridley Scott and production designer Michael Seymour had already decided to try Christian’s technique of using scrap material to detail the interior of the Nostromo, but the process had proved more difficult than they’d anticipated.

“They’d tried it a little bit, and I could see it hadn’t worked,” Christian recalled. “So we went round England buying scrap aeroplanes and breaking them down. It cost £50 for half an aeroplane, because it was sold by weight and aeroplanes are very light. I trained the prop boys in the technique of using the scrap, because you can’t just randomly do it – in a real aeroplane or a submarine, everything is in order and has a function. We painted everything army green, and I used aging techniques that John Box had taught me when I was tea boy for him on Oliver!, aging down the pipes, adding oil and drips and little graphic symbols. And that became the look of the Alien interiors.”

The interior sets were built as a complete unit, with every part interconnecting. “ You walked in, and you were inside the Nostromo. You followed the corridors round and came to each set in turn. I loved watching people’s reactions when they came to visit. The bridge set was massive – an amazing set. It took months to put everything into it. I wanted it so that, every time one of the crew flicked a switch, a light would come on, or something would react.”

Christian speaks with great pride about his work on Scott’s seminal science fiction horror film. “I think we got it right on Alien,” he asserts. “The dressing, the guns, the props – everything fused together. I think the audience accepted that we’d gone out and found a spaceship, rented it and filmed inside it, and that it was old and battered and used.”

Christian reveals all about his experiences working on Star Wars and Alien in a new book called Cinema Alchemist. Edited by JW Rinzler, the book is poised to secure a publishing deal in the near future.