H. R. Giger died

May 15, 2014 • 6:20 am

I didn’t really know who the guy was, but I find from Wikipedia that H. R. Giger (born 1940, died three days ago) was a Swiss painter and designer who shared the 1979 Academy Award for best visual effects for the movie “Alien”. Here’s Giger:

HR_Giger_2012

That movie, by the way, is one of the very few science-fiction films that I really like, and the Wikipedia entry for it is huge, including this discussion of Giger’s contributions:

H. R. Giger designed and worked on all of the alien aspects of the film, which he designed to appear organic and biomechanical in contrast to the industrial look of the Nostromo and its human elements. For the interior of the derelict spacecraft and egg chamber he used dried bones together with plaster to sculpt much of the scenery and elements. Veronica Cartwright described Giger’s sets as “so erotic…it’s big vaginas and penises…the whole thing is like you’re going inside of some sort of womb or whatever…it’s sort of visceral”. The set with the deceased alien creature, which the production team nicknamed the “space jockey”, proved problematic as 20th Century Fox did not want to spend the money for such an expensive set that would only be used for one scene. Ridley Scott described the set as the cockpit or driving deck of the mysterious ship, and the production team was able to convince the studio that the scene was important to impress the audience and make them aware that this was not a B movie. To save money only one wall of the set was created, and the “space jockey” sat atop a disc that could be rotated to facilitate shots from different angles in relation to the actors. Giger airbrushed the entire set and the “space jockey” by hand.

But I’m really posting this because it’s a good excuse to show this  cool photograph, which reader Steve sent me with the caption “Ray Comfort’s nightmare”:

10352197_947421825287271_6106313706380675408_nNow that’s art!

80 thoughts on “H. R. Giger died

  1. I’ve always loved Alien and the sequel and was facinated by the creature which is one of the greatest movie monster. However,I first became aware of Geiger from his sleeve design of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. A prog rock classic and the sort of cover, with it’s fold-out front and inner poster, that I would stare at endlessly as a teenager.

    1. Check out Celtic Frost’s “To Mega Therion” and Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” and “Eparistera Daimones” for Giger cover art containing very Giger-like sounds.

  2. The man was definitely a brilliant artist, and Alien justifiably considered one of his most important masterpieces, as well as one of the most important masterpieces of the 20th century.

    b&

      1. The the thing is suspiciously yellow and fresh looking after the time it would take to really carve a banana like that is very much in the spirit of Ken Ham’s museum.

        1. Hmmm, if it were an apple, dousing it in a (weak) acid would IIRC inactivate the enzyme responsible for the browning. A phenol oxidase, IIRC my course in the chemistry of cooking form 30-odd years ago.
          What the relevant enzyme(s) is (are) in bananas, I know that I don’t know ; but they’re probably a way to inactivate them. Possibly just absence of oxygen (gas bottle and a home-brew glove box may suffice.
          PhotoShopping it might be easier, if you’ve got that skill set. But I’d attack the problem from the chemical end. And freeze it to make it easier to carve.

            1. Therefore banana-darkening is controlled by a pH-sensitive enzyme. Not surprising.
              Well, OK. it might be something other than the pH of the lemon juice … but I’d put a pint (of 3-6% aqueous ethanol, with impurities) on it being the pH.

    1. I couldn’t decide if I was looking at some extra-terrestrial alien with a Vader-like helmet covering its eyes and the mouth contorted into a savage grimace, or a horribly botched circumcision.

    2. The “Alien” was designed specifically as phallic, as well as being almost mechanical. The whole idea of a man being raped by the alien hatchling and forced to give fatal birth was pure Geiger. (I recommend the making-of documentary, especially the part where the “chest burster” appeared. Ridley didn’t warn the cast what was going to happen so that the horror would be genuine.)

      Along with a strong female lead the film broke a lot of bounderies that aren’t necessarily obvious on first watch.

      A lot of Geiger’s work was around themes like violation and the integration of machines + alien entities in human/humans in machines or alien entities. His collections make very disturbing viewing.

      A second-hand anecdote about Geiger: I knew some goths in the early 90s who were running a club. They found themselves in Switzerland, so sought out Geiger to ask his permission in person to use one of his images on club adverts/posters. He was quite happy to agree. Their impression of the artists was that “he was very nice. A bit odd, but very nice”!

      1. Yes, I’ve always considered the fistr movie as a complete metaphor for pregnancy and birth, starting with the initial implantation of the chest burster who then in turn impregnates the space ship (it’s called “Mother” for a reason, after all).
        I also liked James Cameron’s sequel, even though there was nothing left of the original metaphor – but he did manage to preserve the original esthetic and eeriness.

  3. What we didn’t know at the time was what had actually burst from the space jockey’s chest – it was far more horrible than we imagined – it was the script for Prometheus.

    1. The Alien series of movies did decline, although I thought the 2nd one was also pretty good. Yes, Prometheus was perhaps the worst movie ever made in the history of moviedom. I joke, but only a little.

      1. I only like Alien & Aliens. I refuse to own copies of the others & as a completist it says a lot that I eschew them.

  4. I learned of Giger from my love of the movie Alien when I was young (saw it’s premiere in Toronto). Coincidentally I was going through my old stuff in the basement, looking at the original Alien lobby cards, press book and Giger’s book, when it came out Giger had died.

    He was one trippy dude. Thank no-Gawd for folks like him who have a vision so unique that it take you into a different realm you hadn’t even thought of.

    As for Alien, it sits along my list of favorite movies (Jaws, Bladerunner, etc).
    It’s is Ridley Scott’s one “perfect” movie, where absolutely every element, acting, music, set design, cinematography, are unique and top notch, even ground breaking.

    Alien is the movie I’ve been able to watch over and over, marveling at it every time, since I was a teenager.

    1. Ok be honest. I can ask this here of all places. How many of you would have really gone back for the cat after you saw that damn thing? 😉

      1. Brett had to get the cat, otherwise they could keep mistaking it on their scanner for the alien they were trying to find, as had just happened to them.

        Brett clearly looked wary enough during his search, so it’s not as if he took it lightly.

        On the scale of “doing stupid things in horror movies” this one was good enough for me to buy, to get poor Brett to his untimely end. 🙂

        I absolutely love the acting in Alien. It’s very real, often subdued and “adult.” Tom Skerritt underplays his role beautifully, with a combination of quiet authority…and at other times ambivalence. Ian Holm, who took on so many subsequent comedic type characters, was fantastically subtle, smart and menacing as Ash. And Sigourney Weaver has never been better. In this movie she was bold yet very natural, whereas in subsequent roles she strikes me as having a bit of a labored, over-serious.

        (Although not exactly the same issue, it reminds me of how Harrison Ford came to prominence in start wars with such animated, light comedic energy in Han Solo, but for some reason became increasingly dour and leaden throughout his career).

        Jerry Goldsmith’s score is such a fantastic, otherworldly fit with Alien, as well.

        1. I second everything. I’ve read somewhere (Roger Ebert maybe) that it is noteworthy that the cast is not made up out of typical action movie types in their 20s, but rather older worn characters who are plausible randomly chosen corporate blue collar workers. This really factors into the atmosphere.

          1. That, and that it was one of the first films where the lead would be a female who would do all of the “action” stuff.

            What’s also fun is that Ridley Scott got Yaphet Kotto to give Sigourney Weaver crap during shooting, making her stress & pissed off-ness much more realistic. It’s difficult to think of now but it was one of her first movies, and her first as a lead.

            1. Apparently, he also didn’t tell the crew that they would get sprayed with actual sheep entrails in the chest burster scene in order to get authentic horror in the bystander’s expressions 😀

        2. I buy Brett going after its as you say – I was referring to last part once they saw the adult version.

      2. <raises hand />

        Especially since there was superlative reason to think that the cat was safe, that the alien wasn’t interested in it.

        b&

    2. What is great about Alien is it was created in the 70s yet it is still interesting to watch today. Not all science fiction movies last that way.

    3. Were you at the University Theatre? I saw it there with Sis, but not the premiere iirc. Blew us away.

      Took three friends a week or so later and they gave it a B+.

      I bought the ‘making of’ book to learn how they put it together and for not a huge amount of money really.

      The last two movies are interesting as failures of the series. Fincher did one and took his name off, irrc.

      Prometheus had me worried once I heard the Lost writers were involved and it is a pretty mess.

      1. al kimeea,

        Yes! It was at the first night premier at the University Theater!

        Long line around the theater. It was, I believe, the first Dolby Surround movie shown there. The sound in that theater with that movie was one of the most memorable parts of the experience.

        And I wasn’t old enough to see it. In Ontario a movie like Alien with an “R” rating disallowed anyone under 18 from seeing it. We didn’t get the “can get in with an adult” clause our lucky pals in the states had.

        I was 16 and I think my pal, who was quite tall, was 15. We were so hyped on the movie all we could think of was “how are we going to sneak into this thing?” But the University was like the Fort Knox of movie theaters. It seemed impossible.

        So we decided our only shot was to join the line-up.

        It was such a tortuously long process to get to the box office and I was extremely nervous. Once at the box office there was a very cute girl working the counter chewing gum. My friend went first, asked for one ticket, and she adopted a skeptical look: “How old are you?” My friend said “18.” She asked “when were you born?”
        My friend answered immediately said “Uh…1960!” She paused, looked at the long line up behind us, and with a wry smile handed him a ticket.

        I was so nervous that I immediately stepped in front of the ticket booth and announced: “1960!” She said “what?” Me: I was born in 1960 too!” She gave me the same “who are you kidding?” smile and gave me a ticket.

        When we got in we did the calculation and realized, as she no doubt knew, we’d given the wrong year making 19 not 18. But we were ecstatic when we grabbed our seats at our good luck, and the movie freaked us out.

        I seriously think back on that moment, and that ticket girl, quite a bit, as without her letting us in I would not have had one of the most memorable movie experiences of my life.

        Vaal

        (I’m having deja vu, like I’ve mentioned that story before…)

        1. Yes, huge lineups and someone enjoying some herb the night we were there

          1960 was a very good year 😉

          I remember Sis digging her nails into my arm at a few points

  5. A great artist, and a big loss. But he made so much more than just Alien. Just run a google image search for him, and some of it will really knock you off your feet.

    He also worked on another film, “Killer Condom”, which you’ll find out more about here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_Condom

  6. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

    While I can postpone incredulity and have fun with a “shoot them up” Star Wars type space opera, I like the hard scifis that takes much less liberty with reality. The Alien universe places foremost among them, even if the “mining” economy between stars is its soft spot.

    Incidentally, NASA is currently asking for Mars colonization technologies to compete between, and I hear one such is a “sleeper” technology akin to Alien’s. By drugging people and lower their body temperature, the metabolic needs (read “expensive mass and arduous awake travel”) is lowered. Presumably stuffing people in a small cylinder can provide pseudo-gravitation by rotating it, putatively making muscle and bone loss more comparable with the “awake, but unspun larger habitat” space travel alternative.

    1. Having just seen 2001 again on the big screen last week, I have to take issue with your claim of Alien as the foremost exemplar of reality-based SF film.

      (The bad news: Doug Trumbull was present for a Q&A at this screening, and it turns out he’s a flaming UFO nut. He actually described Close Encounters as a documentary.)

      Alien has plenty of soft spots apart from the mining issue. Blood that’s so corrosive it eats through metal instantly? And after popping out of John Hurt’s chest, where does the alien get the biomass to grow to full size?

      Not to mention one of the most egregious idiot plot devices of all time: a crewmember on EVA gets infected by an unknown alien parasite, so what do you do? You bring it aboard ship, so it can attack everyone else!

      1. True, the biomass issue bothered me as well from the first time I saw it. But the last thing (letting Kane aboard with the face hugger on him) is explained rather well, isn’t it? One, it was the evil corporate robot who let him in. and two, everyone else on board was just a regular, sort of “advanced truck driver” kind of person who wasn’t really trained for that sort of situation (on purpose, obviously).

        1. I seem to remember it breaking into food stores. Such rapid growth would still seem to violate all sorts of biology and chemistry, but it at least doesn’t obviously violate conservation laws.

          And I seem to remember other bits from later movies that the aliens were supposed to have been created as biowarfare agents by some super-advanced alien species. As such, it just barely makes sense that an entity so “intelligently designed” might have some tricks up its ovipositor when it comes to biochemistry. Also note the “biomechanical” theme of Giger’s work; you could imagine some sort of “grey goo” nanotechnology helping things along.

          Plausible? No. But more than enough for willing suspension of disbelief.

          Besides, as already repeatedly mentioned, it’s a not-so-thinly-veiled allegory about rape, birth, corporate corruption, the inhumanity of programmed autonomous machines (think CIA Predator drones), heroism, compassion, the importance of cats, and so on. A bit of plot gloss is hardly problematical.

          b&

        2. I am about to descend to a level of geeky nerddom from which there may be no escape.

          Some of my friends and I actually argued about the biomass problem when the movie first came out. The most reasonable answer was that it was just a f-ing haunted house movie. The next best answer was that Giger’s biomechanical creations were just that – integrations of biological and mechanical components where the majority of the adult alien’s mass was co-opted from ship’s systems.

          Eventually we decided it was all due to the beer and decided never to mention the conversation to our girlfriends.

          1. Once again, I’ll no doubt be in the minority, but I preferred Aliens, but it’s a completely different genre from Alien. It’s really a squad level war movie in a haunted house.

          2. The most reasonable answer was that it was just a f-ing haunted house movie.

            This is more or less my point. Alien wasn’t conceived from the ground up as a realistic SF movie. It was meant to be a horror movie, or an allegory, or what have you, dressed up in superficial SF trappings.

            2001, on the other hand, was conceived as serious SF right down in its DNA. Not just in terms of effects, but in thematic terms of human evolution, space exploration, alien contact, and so on. Sure, it gets kind of trippy at the end, but hey, it was made in 1968, what do you expect?

      2. And I agree: Nothing beats 2001 when it comes to being realistic SF – as far as effects go. I’m not talking about HAL, the monolith or the star child … or the dating of the movie (or has anyone a 13-year old model of HAL in their basement?)

        1. There was a rumour, which Arthur C Clarke denied, that HAL was named after a well known company. If you take the letter after each of those in HAL, you get the name of a well-known computer manufacturer.

          Curiously enough, they did launch a 9000-series machine in the early 90s. Perhaps they taught it to sing ‘Daisy, Daisy’.

          1. Was that a rumour? I always took it for obvious … I didn’t know however that Clarke denied it – interesting.
            HAL is a well chosen name even if the IBM association only was a by-product. The name vibrates curiously between “Hail” (as in Hail Cesar) and Hell (and in Germany also “Heil” which means salvation), and it’s all of them, really.

        2. 2001 upsets me because it made me think there would be a decent lunar base up & running by now.

        1. That doesn’t make it any less idiotic. It just passes the buck to the idiots back at Mission Control.

          Ultimately the buck stops with the screenwriters, who needed to get that alien on that ship somehow, and contrived a lame justification for it.

          1. Actually, it was a rather major plot element. The corporation wanted the alien, wanted it so desperately that it planted an evil robot on board as a sleeper agent willing to sacrifice the crew if that’s what it took to get the alien home. Ash was as much of a monster as the alien itself.

            b&

      3. I recall reading an interview (maybe it was Ridley Scott) where it was explained that the alien was eating the crew members, hiding out in the machinery bay, scuttling up and down the chains with the bodies. Those scenes got cut for length. It’s a long time since I saw the original, but the alien did progressively kill off some of the crew, didn’t it?

        1. Yes. There’s a lot of interesting material shot that was not used in the final film.

          This includes them finding Tom Skerritt’s character still alive after the Alien grabbed him.

        2. Well… not to spoil the movie, but I don’t think there is anyone left in the end other than Ripley 🙂

          But cutting the scenes sounds like the correct decision, these scenes would maybe have spoiled the atmosphere of the movie, which suffers if you show the gory monster too long and to explicitely.

  7. With no signs of oxidation, whoever carved the banana must have been very quick. I don’t see any tool marks and the finer features are too straight for a material with the rigidity of a banana. I suspect some computer magic was used.

  8. The Alien is a creature I still find very cool. I notice many here share my love for both Alien and Aliens, seen other places where people dissed Aliens, but I found that it had some pretty good parts in it as well:
    Aliens had Ripley become an ultimate badass herself, and she’s not the typical comic hero character of being all about boobs, lips and behinds sticking out constantly for the camera, but she’s allowed to be her own personality.
    Also, Aliens had an Android who was the good guy, who was human-like, and I like that scifi can make something not cliched, like a robot who is more Isaac Asimov than typical “All human inventions are soulless mindless killing machines: DESTROY! DESTROY!” tropes you hear from people infected by superstition, carrying fears of progress, science and technology – That is, everything unknown, to them at least.
    Aliens had two sidestories: Ripley learning to trust Bishop, and Ripley, who lost her daughter, bonding with Newt, who lost her parents, both in a sense because of the Xenomorphs (Ripley wouldn’t have been in such a long hypersleep if it wasn’t for the whole detour of Nostromo and subsequent nightmare that followed).

    I haven’t seen Prometheus, but the trailer alone was enough to have me gagging: It was the typical Fear of the unknown -plot (Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein, Jurassic Park, Splice… Pandora’s Box, the actual story Prometheus etc) with curious people getting everyone killed because they wanted to explore and find out important and meaningful stuff on their own. Curious cats get everyone else killed so the moral is the same religious people have always given; keep your wandering open cats locked up from discovering new things, that will only go against nature/God/the limits of man blah blah. Ignorance safe and good, lets stick to the status quo.

    Anyway.
    Alien did have the evil corporation bit, but I still loved it. Also it didn’t so much have of the moralizing of curiosity, so all is good. Don’t know what to think of the whole “kill all animals which have killed us” mentality it seemed to depict as okay, though.
    Might be a cool idea for a respectable sequel: Have a scientist studying aliens struggling with powers to be to avoid unethically experimenting on them, and learning more about them by observation, and perhaps have the Alien intelligence shine and anthropomorphize (as opposed to dehumanize) the aliens.
    I have the name for the movie all figured out:
    Alien: Xenophobia
    😀

    1. “with curious people getting everyone killed because they wanted to explore and find out important and meaningful stuff on their own.”

      No, in Prometheus, they get killed because they are the dumbest excuses for “scientists” ever to walk the face of the planets! If you’re like me you’ll start rooting for the monsters while watching.

      I love almost every aspect about Aliens. I think people who didn’t like it expected a second brilliant psychological thriller and didn’t realize or appreciate that the got an excellent action movie instead.

      1. Seriously, there are half-naked blondes in slasher movies with a better sense of self-preservation than these doorknobs. And don’t get me started on the half-assed anti-intellectual “philosophy” crap curtesy of D. Lindelof.

        1. 😀 I have heard of horror stories about the stupidity reigning in Prometheus, but I did not feel qualified to comment on it.
          I only brought up the general story construct I see the movie decided to employ, the “sees mystery, explores it, gets everyone killed, nosy bastard. Moral of the story: suppress curiosity in yourself and among everyone else, it is of no use, only misery and potential unknown risks can result from inquiry.” – Story model which is ancient and still popular, seems to resonate with people intuitively.

          1. You’reabsolutely right in principle about the typical underlying narrative. It’s just, you know, other films still pull it off intelligently. But if there is a snake-shaped Alien hissing at you directly in front of you, it’s not a deep intellectual conundrum of philosophical importance whether to pet it or not :D.

  9. Giger was an incredible artist whose artwork was in no way limited to Alien. If ever you come to Switzerland, you might want to visit the Giger Musieum which is in the Château St. Germain in the medieval townlet of Gruyères.

    Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fribourg green pre-Alpine foothills. The castle,
    one of the most prestigious in Switzerland, towers majestically above the medieval town.
    The tour of the castle offers a walk through eight centuries of architecture, history and culture.

    The town of Gruyères itself is unique: A medieval village consisting of a cobble-stoned main street flanked by ancient but beautifully preserved buildings – a tribute both to the local statesmen’s commitment to the rich history of their canton, and to the craftsmen restorers who have kept the village in its pristine condition. The famous 13th century castle, the Château de Gruyères, towers over the town and the valley below. The entire town is car-free, and the cobbled main street is an uphill slope to the château, so remember to wear comfortable walking shoes. Not only is the architecture of the medieval buildings themselves worth seeing, but some exceptional art and cultural exhibitions are housed here. And to top it off, you are surrounded by some of the most breathtaking views in Switzerland.

    This tiny town has a smaller second castle – the Château de St-Germain – which houses an exhibition of images and sculptures from the Swiss artist H. R. Giger, Oscar-winning designer of the monster in the original film of The Alien (1979). And when you’ve had your fill of these artistic horrors, you can recover in the bar opposite, which is decorated in the same science-fiction style!

    http://www.hrgigermuseum.com/

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