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August 19, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

“When Jim first came to me with this idea of putting two guys inside a giant alien queen suit,” Winston admitted, “I thought, ‘This man is out of his mind.’ Nothing like that had been done before. But in the next moment, I realized that if he had imagined it, we could probably do it.” - How Stan Winston and Jim Cameron built the Alien Queen. Original creature creature H.R. Giger was disapointed not to be involved, leading to this letter from Cameron.
posted by Artw (43 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent use of the HISSSSSSSS and SCREEEEEEEE tags, sir.
posted by elizardbits at 11:44 AM on August 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


I feel like Garbage Bag Queen is someones awesome halloween project waiting to happen.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have wanted to dress up like a xenomorph and terrorize people since I was 10 years old.
posted by elizardbits at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


this shall come as a surprise to absolutely no one
posted by elizardbits at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


When the baby was small and would fit in the baby-bjorn one of the cool things about it was that you could pretend that you had an extra set of writing limbs like an alien queen... though they would tend to reach out and grasp things of their own accord.

Also when she got older the extra, extra set of limbs was at just the right height to kick me in a very sensitive spot. She's in a backpack now. I pretend she's Yoda.

So anyway, I will make any conversation about aliens or babys or both, it's what I do...
posted by Artw at 12:06 PM on August 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I had no idea Giger was involved in Poltergeist II. Huh.
posted by nevercalm at 12:15 PM on August 19, 2012


He did the Tequila Monster.
posted by Artw at 12:20 PM on August 19, 2012


Wow, cool post. These days that creature would most likely be just CGI and the actors would film their scenes against a green screen, and I can't help but think the alien queen would be much less terrifying if so. (Of course, I can't imagine much scarier than that fucking puppet, I first saw Aliens when I was around 14 and ERMAHGERD did it scare the bejeezus outta me.)

The letter from Cameron to Giger's agent is great too, an actual candid, honest, and respectful response from one artist to another, with perfectly legitimate and understandable reasons for not wanting to use the man responsible for the very successful production design of the first film in its sequel. Cameron is an interesting dude.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's in a backpack now. I pretend she's Yoda.

As I read that, I was instantly assailed by the strongest wave of baby desire EVER. I pushed it back down, using The Force as my ally.

A Jedi craves not these things. I am reckless.
posted by Elsa at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is that letter the last recorded instance of Jim Cameron being a decent human being?
posted by fullerine at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2012


Elsa - Don't look at this picture.

(Now trying to figure out how to make the backpack part of a multi-armed, multi-headed fang beast)
posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy shit did those first two Poltergeist movies just scare the everloving crap out of me. I don't care for horror movies all that much, I fail to horror. But.....just, wow.
posted by nevercalm at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2012


The first one is of extremely good pedigree. The second one, not so much...
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on August 19, 2012


Is that letter the last recorded instance of Jim Cameron being a decent human being?

In the Aliens 25th Anniversary Cast Q&A the cast basically all said they would totally take a bullet for him.
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


He did the Tequila Monster.

Please. Mezcal Monster. Legitamate blue agave tequila is never bottled con gusano.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:45 PM on August 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't look at this picture.

I feel a great disturbance in The Force --- as if millions cried out "Aaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
posted by Elsa at 12:52 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The glare from my forehead is pretty devastating as well, like a shocking preview of what I'll look like when my hairline has receded to it's full extent.
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2012


In the Aliens 25th Anniversary Cast Q&A the cast basically all said they would totally take a bullet for him.
I thought it was that he'd forced them to be legally obliged to take a bullet for him.
posted by fullerine at 12:59 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cameron's letter is a master class in how to write a letter like that. Why didn't I work with you? You're too good, and I would have been overwhelmed by how awesome you are!

I have a feeling Cameron is very hard to represent to the public. In print, he comes off as really abrasive and short-tempered, but there is so much that cannot be represented well in print. He definitely pushes people to do the best and most work possible, and there is a certain "don't fuck with me" quality that is necessary for filmmakers who make $200 million films, but his coworkers seem really dedicated to him and he doesn't have a reputation in Hollywood for misbehavior that I have ever heard -- and if there is one thing that is true of this town, it is that people love to gossip about what an asshole everybody else is.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not aware of the back story but James Cameron, clearly blew off H.R. Giger when making Aliens and the letter reads like an attempt to ask for his forgiveness.

The letter opens with Cameron apologizing for taking a year (!) to respond to Giger's original inquiry with the excuse that he was "too busy". This is a letter that could have been drafted in a an hour, and he's saying that he couldn't find the time in all of 1986?

Then he starts in with a paragraph of obvious brown nosing, and concludes it by saying, that the only reason he did Aliens was so that he could put his "own unique stamp on the project" because he had all sorts of other more lucrative and interesting things he could have been doing with his time.

Then he explains why Giger wasn't included which was because Giger would have "overwhelmed" him which is pretty ridiculous, and says that Giger belonged there more than he did (more brown nosing) which is also a ridiculous thing to say since Cameron, himself, is the one who prevented him from participating.

It's clear from the letter that Cameron wanted to do things his own way and didn't want his vision for the film interfered with by anyone including Giger. I don't think there's anything wrong with that and the letter is well written for what it is, which is an apology for constructing derivative works without the original artist's participation.
posted by euphorb at 1:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


“When Jim first came to me with this idea of putting two guys inside a giant alien queen suit,” Winston admitted, “I thought, ‘This man is out of his mind.’ Nothing like that had been done before."

I'm pretty sure it had been.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


FelliniBlank if that's the queen alien, what are the drones and facehuggers? Does and kittens?

Is that more or less scary?
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2012


When you are on the receiving end of obvious brown-nosing, it tends to feel like finally the truth is being spoken.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


These days that creature would most likely be just CGI and the actors would film their scenes against a green screen, and I can't help but think the alien queen would be much less terrifying if so.

This. I hate how much CGI there is now. So I have to recommend to Alien or sci-fi fans, the movie Attack The Block. Highly recommended for a host of reasons. Great movie.
posted by cashman at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comparing the new The Thing with the old The Thing the practical effects add something that the CG ones just don't have even on a good day... new The Thing just feels like they are running around an empty set that's had Resident Evil monsters pasted on to it.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2012


About a year ago I got to listen to a talk by a FX guy who works for one of the large houses -- he's done work on several $200m movies, and had cool insider pix to show off. It was interesting because he was and end results guy who built and operated the puppets, so he had a very practical perspective.

He said an interesting thing about CGI. While you can do stuff with CGI you can't do with practical FX, you basically do it to spec. If you do an animation of, say, a dinosaur foot squishing into the mud as it takes a step, and you do it CGI you get a bill for $35,000 and a file. If you decide you want something changed, like different lighting or camera angle, you get another bill for $35,000.

Whereas once you've made the investment in the puppet, if you want to change the camera angle or lighting you just get the FX guys to reset the mechanism and 15 minutes later you're set up for another take. Plus, of course, if there are human actors in the shot they can see what they are interacting with. Lack of interaction with their supposedly rich environment was one of the (many) things that simply didn't work on the Star Wars prequels, for example.
posted by localroger at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


an apology for constructing derivative works without the original artist's participation.

I'm not up on the details of the creation of Alien and Aliens but that seems like an odd characterization of the situation. Is a producer morally obligated to re-use the costume designer from a previous film if making a sequel? The cinematographer? The artistic director? These people all bring their artistic vision to the project, but they do so, surely, knowing that they are providing work for hire, not creating work over which they can morally claim complete ownership and control for all future revisionings and reinterpretations.

Giger's work on Alien was terrific and, who knows, perhaps Aliens would have been a better movie if he'd been asked to contribute again. But it seems to me that this is, at most, a question of whether the producer or director made a good artistic decision. It doesn't seem to me to have any elements of moral obligation involved (unless, of course, Giger had been promised further participation, which would be a separate issue).
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2012


There's only one alien queen I choose to acknowledge.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yoink -- of course there's no obligation; work such as Giger did for Alien is on a for-hire basis in Hollywood, because the studio would not tolerate not owning all the intellectual property associated with the movie.

However, there was a lot of publicity about Giger's participation in Alien and it was widely seen as a product of his genius. (I think that's a bit unfair; a lot of stuff about the Nostromo as a set and scene location went through an elaborate design process that didn't involve Giger, and was very important to setting the movie's mood and tone.) But Giger certainly turned up in a lot of the publicity material.

Cameron had every right legally and, most likely, morally to do what he did on Aliens but trying to mend the bridges he'd singed would always be a good idea, if possible.
posted by localroger at 3:12 PM on August 19, 2012


Love Giger as I do if you really specifically want a particular thing I'm guessing he's not the guy to go to...
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on August 19, 2012


If you do an animation of, say, a dinosaur foot squishing into the mud as it takes a step, and you do it CGI you get a bill for $35,000 and a file. If you decide you want something changed, like different lighting or camera angle, you get another bill for $35,000.

hmm, odd. In my experience, that's not really how it works - they way I've usually seen it going is that the director works together with the vfx company to tweak the cgi process all along the way - the budget covers completing the shots to their approval, and only really major changes (like, say they decided it was going to be an elephant instead of a dinosaur) allow vfx to change the original budget. I wish we got paid more for every change! I'd be a millionaire!

(now excuse me while I get back to doing the 7th version of this shot. hope it gets approved this time!)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cameron's own process seems to involve in situe low res previewing and then getting higher res playback and lots of iteration until he gets exactly what he wants, and only then does it get full renders.
posted by Artw at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2012


It's also probable in Cameron's case that he owns the company that does his stuff, so there's no massive bill, just a few more employees.
posted by nevercalm at 5:33 PM on August 19, 2012


There's only one alien queen I choose to acknowledge.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:34 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


IIRC WETA did the finishes on Avatar. A lot of the virtual cinematography stuff that led up to that he may have developed himself.
posted by Artw at 5:36 PM on August 19, 2012


Back in 1995, near the dawn of the web, I set out one June to complete a face-hugger Hallowe'en costume. I couldn't just google up a picture of it. I special ordered this book, which was a real bear to get. It took months before it came in. Meantime, I started teaching myself how to do two piece plaster molds. I bought a shit load of Plasticine, a lot of hobby brass, 25 pounds of plaster, a bunch of tupperware containers of various sizes, and many other implements of destruction.

After the book arrived, I made 10 clay pieces and matching two piece molds. The mold for the tail was several feet long and I was very happy that it came out because the sculpture had taken me a week to make and was destroyed in making the plaster negative. I spent a least a week just doing coats of latex in the tail and body molds. I ended up making more than a dozen leg casts because the first ones were fragile and tore.

I built an armature out of brass, copper wire, armature wire, heat-shrink tubing, and hinges and linkages for radio-controlled airplanes. I skinned the armature with the latex pieces - no need to paint - it was already the right color. I had to add an elastic strap to help hold it on my face. I couldn't see jack except barely between the legs via peripheral vision. I had it done with a few days to spare before Hallowe'en.

I wore it at work for the costume contest and I didn't win. WTF. I did gross-out a lot of people. months of research and work. Oh well. I hung it on the wall in my office and snapped a picture of it with a Quickcam. That picture is the only evidence of it as the latex dry rotted over the years and I eventually chucked it.

Oddly enough, I won the year I went as ZZ Top (or at least as Billy Gibbons and and Dusty Hill) all at once via a posterboard clone and a simple puppet linkage between arms. That was a 20 minute costume.
posted by plinth at 5:58 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nice one!

Was it this book?
posted by Artw at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2012


(ignore the date - they reprinted it)
posted by Artw at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2012


H.R. Giger: original creature creature.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:57 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This one.
posted by plinth at 3:40 AM on August 20, 2012


fullerine: Is that letter the last recorded instance of Jim Cameron being a decent human being?
He's on record as saying he hoped his ex-wife would take Best Director over his competing movie (and she did). So, no.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2012


Fun fact: according to the Wikipedia article on Predator, Cameron is partially responsible for the (unmasked) appearance of that alien; he was taking an airplane flight with Winston, and after looking at preliminary sketches for the big dude, Cameron suggested the mandibles.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2012


Darth Giger
posted by homunculus at 4:12 PM on August 20, 2012


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