In this essay I will compare the visual effects of two movies – an older movie and It´s prequel. As a fan of sci-fi movies, for this writing I decided to compare Alien (1979) and its prequel Prometheus (2012). The Prometheus movie was nominated for an Academy award for visual effects in 2013 whereas Alien won an Academy award for visual effects in 1980. Many scenes in this first movie were so good that they had appeared in Prometheus too. Even the trailer consists of the same scenes. Moreover the plot of the both movies in general is about crew on a space towing vessel. They end up on a distant moon then the crew realize that they are not alone on the spaceship when an alien stowaway is on the board.
1. Alien 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Visual effects supervisor: Brian Johnson
What worked best on visual effects for this movie are mostly modellers and prop makers. Models of the ship were very detailed and huge, for example the largest one – Nostromo was 17 feet long. The team couldn´t use the cutting edge technology of motion control to capture the seventeen-foot model of Nostromo because the budget did not allow the time for shooting stop-motion. This led the special effects team to develop a camera that moved slowly on a drive mechanism. Furthermore, shots of Nostromos were mostly close ups. Interior sets of a spaceship were all connected and real so actors felt like they are in a real place. For the xenomorph they created a suit and found a slander tall man who wore it. He had to attend thaichi lessons because of the moves. The head of the xenomorph had mechanical parts and was made out of car parts, silicone and jelly for spit. The designer of the xenomorph and its previous stages ( facehugger and chestburster ) and ship was H. R. Giger. There are only a few shots of the alien in the movie because Ridley wanted to create fear in a viewer, many times using dark places so viewer would not know where the alien is and what to expect.
These are the most famous scenes:
A chest which was fake was used for John Hurts character “Kane” for the scene. It appeared as if Hurts neck was connected to the fake chest when He was underneath the table. The director tried to make the scene very much authentic and one of the steps was to use real organs which were bought from a butcher shop and were stuffed in the fake chest cavity. Another idea was to use hoses to help pump and spray the blood as the creature would explode from the chest. The actors were not told about all the actions that would take place and they definitely did not expect to be sprayed with blood as the alien creature arose.
The Facehugger as seen in the opened egg are bits of cow innards and probably other animals. The tail of the Facehugger is an intestine and a blast of air is being pumped through it. The Facehugger dissection scene involved raw oysters in a plastic mold of the creature.
Revelation of Ash scene
In the scene where Ash is revealed to be a robot and has his head knocked off, they created a puppet of the Ash’s torso and upper body which was operated from underneath by a small puppeteer. The following scene of the surviving crew interacting with Ash’s remains used both his actor, kneeling under the table with his head coming up through a hole cut in its top, and an animatronic head, made using a face cast of Ash´s actor. Unfortunately, the whipped latex made the head shrank as it was drying and therefore, the final item bore little resemblance to the real Holm. Ash´s inner workings and fluids were made of milk, caviar, pasta and glass marbles. Personally I didn’t notice that the fake head is smaller than the actor´s and I think that this shot was made really realistic.
2. Prometheus 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Visual effects supervisor: Richard Stammers
Ridley created many elements and shots similar to ones in the Alien movie such as space suits, similar ship design, kept the original look of alien ship, the space jockey, similar interior of the ship, basic elements like hypersleep chamber, medical scanner, strong female leading role, breakfast scene, in “alien” the on-board ship computer is called “mother” and in “promeheus” they call it “ma’am”. There is also a humanoid robot on the board.
A lot of the final environment work is a combination of real photography and 3d set extensions. Real aerial plates are pictures of Iceland and Wadi Rum. Ridley wanted the amazing landscape feel believable. They analyzed the area using Google Maps and DEM satellite maps which give displacements, they put that into Maya and combined all that information and built up a rough 20 mile landscape. The pinnacles on the ground were taken from real rock in Iceland. They scanned and textured the shot and from that created CG variations. They used a program to randomly scatter them across the landscape based on manually painted intensity maps. NASA helped with recreation of the environment by providing photos of ice being expulsed into the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and information about the potential look of different exo-planets. For the sandstorm in the movie they used Flowline to simulate natural looking pluming dust, then their own volumetric tool for visualizing and Renderman rendering. In comparison in the original Alien the ship was covered in darkness and a storm with zero visibility. The set was created from motorcycle parts and matte paintings.
Pretty much all of the sets in Prometheus were built practically and also modelled in 3D. And that includes the weird caverns and chambers on the moon, as well as the interiors of the ship Prometheus. Concept artists firstly built up sets in 3D so they would know right off the bat that it was achievable.
I think this scene is somehow an recreation of the chestbuster scene from Alien but this time it is even more disturbing than the one from alien because Dr. Shaw finds out that she is infected and pregnant and has no choice but to perform a C-section on herself using the MedPod. The Med Pod was built and function in real life to make this scene looks realistic. Actress was filming this scene for 4 days then creature was added in post-production. They had to cover her belly with tracking markers as they had to matchmove as closely as possible to make the effect work in physical space.
In general, I really like both movies – the making of them but also the plot. I highly appreciate that Ridley Scott in Prometheus stuck with creating real scene sets and did not just leave everything on post-production. The real sets added the feeling of realism into the movie also the fact that they cooperated with NASA in the effort of creating realistic environment. Regarding to the Alien movie I really like the ideas that they came up with such as camera on mechanism to create slow motion footage, using of real animal viscera to make creatures look real and disgusting and I highly admire the work of one of my favourite artist H. R. Giger in creating designs for the movie.
I think I would be able to achieve some shots in the Alien but also in the Prometheus. In the Alien movie there are many shots in which mechanical parts had to be included for instance like in chestbuster scene they had to create a pump for exploding of the chest so these kind of shots would be hard for me to achieve if I had to create them using the same technique but I would be able to create a model of the Nostromo and also the facehugger model . Prometheus also used real size models but there was also SGI included. In order to SGI I think I would be able to create an eviroment like 3D set extensions ( create ground extension and 3d pinnacles and texture them).
After all I think that both of these movies are made really good, they have the same scary, mysterious feeling , the same visual look and creative ideas were included not to mention the amazing plot.
Seymour, M. (2012). Prometheus: rebuilding hallowed vfx space. [online] fxguide. Available at: https://www.fxguide.com/featured/prometheus-rebuilding-hallowed-vfx-space/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2017].
Anders, C. (2012). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Io9.gizmodo.com. Available at: http://io9.gizmodo.com/5917639/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-design-of-prometheus
[Accessed 8 Jan. 2017].
Watkins, A. (2014). Behind-the-Scenes: Making of the “Chestburster scene” from Alien. [online] Cinemablography. Available at: http://www.cinemablography.org/blog/behind-the-scenes-making-of-the-chestburster-scene-from-alien [Accessed 8 Jan. 2017].
Ash. [online] avp.wikia. Available at: http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/Ash
[Accessed 8 Jan. 2017].