Back in 2014, I marked the 35th anniversary of the release of Alien by blogging about my love for the film. Three years on, I’ve just completed work on our upcoming magazine article covering Alien: Covenant, the latest film in the spine-tingling sci-fi franchise. The film hits US theaters today, and you’ll be able to read our in-depth behind-the-scenes story in Cinefex 153 — the new issue is out in June and available to preorder right now.
While writing the article, I spoke at length with the key supervisors who worked on Alien: Covenant in the visual effects, creature effects, and special effects departments. At the end of each interview, I asked everyone the same question: “What are your memories of seeing the original Alien for the first time?”
You see, I had a hunch that most people just can’t shake off the effects of early exposure to Ridley Scott’s classic horror flick. We never quite recover from what we see in the shadows as a kid, right? And facehuggers do have a tendency to cling.
Was my hunch right? I’ll let you judge for yourself …
“I remember being a small kid, watching Alien on a tiny TV in my room at night, and being totally overwhelmed by it. There was nothing else like it at that point. After watching lots of Star Trek, watching Alien I felt like this must be real. It’s so unique, and very powerful. It’s been amazing working with Ridley on another one.”
Charley Henley — production visual effects supervisor
“I did science at university, but I also always did sculpture. Until I was 25 or 26, it hadn’t dawned on me that there was this job out there which suited me. The only book about films I had from my childhood was about Alien — I had Giger’s book up on my shelf — and that was the only reason I got into this business. To actually end up doing Alien: Covenant was quite unique, quite special.”
Conor O’Sullivan – creature design supervisor
“Alien was just shocking. It was so out there, so new, and frightening — a proper horror movie. I don’t think there’s anybody who can do it better than Ridley. It’s his baby. He thinks the alien is beautiful, you know.”
Neil Corbould — special effects supervisor
“Alien was one of the reasons why I wanted to make creatures and makeup effects. The chestburster scene with John Hurt — when we first saw it, it was like nothing we’d ever seen before. It was brutally intense, and beautifully done. Right before we started Alien: Covenant I watched Alien again, and I remember coming into work and just going, ‘Shit, how are we ever going to compare to this?’”
Adam Johansen — creature effects supervisor
“I was quite young when I watched the first Alien. They put such care and attention into this futuristic environment that felt at the same time very lived-in. The camerawork moving through the corridors at the beginning — everything feels quite pristine, but there are touches like someone left something hanging on the door. And the chestburster scene, of course — that goes without saying!”
Ferran Domenech — visual effects supervisor, MPC Montreal
“My memories of Alien are getting my hands on it on VHS when I was too young to watch it. I was at my mate’s house. I was scared shitless!”
Ben Jones — visual effects supervisor, MPC London
“I rewatched Alien at the start of this project, just to familiarize myself again. I think what was so strong about the original Alien was the use of not seeing the alien. We wanted to make our creature work scary by not revealing too much too quickly.”
Christian Kaestner — visual effects supervisor, Framestore, Montreal
“Alien scared the living daylights out of me. I remember not long afterwards going to see Aliens. It was a midnight screening — probably not the best time to go, coming out at two o’clock in the morning! It’s been an honor to work on Alien: Covenant — kind of a dream come true. Our artists were literally queueing up to come and work on it. We had to turn away so many people.”
Stuart Penn — visual effects supervisor, Framestore, London
“I was over at my friend’s house and he had Alien on videotape. We weren’t allowed to watch it — we would have been pretty young — so we sneakily put it on when his mum and dad were out. I remember being totally freaked out by it — mainly the chestbursting scene. I’d never really watched a horror movie. I’d seen some black and white Quatermass stuff, but I hadn’t seen anything as graphic as that. It scared the crap out of us!”
Paul Butterworth — visual effects supervisor, Animal Logic
“Alien is one of the reasons I got into visual effects. I loved the spaceship interior. It wasn’t clean. It had wear and tear. It felt lived-in. It felt like there were stories and experiences that you weren’t aware of, but that you could imagine. That’s definitely what inspired me, and what’s kept me in visual effects.”
Brendan Seals — visual effects supervisor, Luma Pictures
“When we were little, our babysitter took me and my brother to see Alien at the cinema. She covered our eyes for the horrible bits, but it still had a huge impact. It’s why I got into the industry — it’s one of those films that really influenced me. So to work alongside Ridley Scott has been a huge honor.”
Adam Paschke — visual effects supervisor, Rising Sun Pictures
“My dad let me watch a fair amount of movies that I wasn’t supposed to when I growing up, but Alien was not one of them. One of my close friends in college found out that I hadn’t seen any of the films. He was a huge superfan and had the whole quadrilogy, so we started watching through all of them, one movie every night. It was kind of fun to watch them sequentially like that. It was awesome.”
Jim Gibbs — visual effects supervisor, Atomic Fiction
“I was at college in 1979. I went to see Alien on my own, in the evening. It was back in the day when you had B-movies, so there was a support feature about a woman alone in a house. She eventually got out and into her car, and then this person came up behind and cut her throat — so I was already kind of pumped! Then I watched the film, which was absolutely incredible. I was so scared that I ran all the way back to college.”
Paul Round — visual effects supervisor, Peerless Camera Company
What are your memories of seeing the original Alien for the first time?
Do you remember the moment you first saw the alien derelict looming out of the mist? How about the scene where Kane loses his lunch in the worst possible way? Or Ripley singing You Are My Lucky Star while the big fella bares his fangs? The comments box is open — now it’s your chance to reminisce.