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VFX Supervisor Charley Henley Talks Working on Alien: Covenant

Following on from Luma Pictures’ Brendan Seals talking about visual effects work on Alien: Covenant, we have another effect focused article, this time coming from several interviews and articles with Charley Henley, the VFX supervisor for Alien: Covenant.

Henley has been chatting to Animation World NetworkIndieWire and Cartoon Brew about working on Alien: Covenant. Henley’s interview with AWN is quite an extensive one, talking about his early involvement with the film, the pre and post viz and breaking down a lot of the process that went into the visual effects for the film.

“As much as we planned things thoroughly, we wanted to allow him [Ridley Scott] to come to the set and shoot it how he felt at that moment it needed to be shot, and rely on his instincts. He liked to shoot with multiple cameras running all the time and build the scene as a bit of a jigsaw from the outset.

So really the main thing we had to worry about was establishing what pieces we’d bring to the set to allow him to shoot that way, planning with Chris Seagers exactly what sets needed to be built, what was practical to build, to allow good interactivity with the actors and allow as much of a sense of the aesthetic to be there. There was a lot of pre-production work in dividing up what amount would we build and where would we put extensions in.”

 VFX Supervisor Charley Henley Talks Working on Alien: Covenant

Talking to IndieWire, Henley spoke about the Xenomorphs and the Neomorphs and what influenced their take on the creatures in Alien: Covenant.

“Ridley studied reference of muscles of the body without skin. You had the pipes that come out of the back, parts of the body that are more exoskeleton, and then there’s the fleshy muscle. And then for the cranium he wanted meat stock gelatin running across the structure.”

Also on the topic of the creatures, Cartoon Brew has a more extensive article with Henley about how they brought the film’s creatures to life. Henley talks about how they had practical creatures on set to shoot with but knew they’d be replaced digitally in post-production:

“We knew that Ridley would want to see for real something that relates to his creatures, which we could adapt beyond that later on,” said Henley. “But, we said, let’s build a hero version of the creatures just for the look. It doesn’t have to be in a suit, it doesn’t have to be practically operated on the set, but it will help the design process and allow Ridley to finesse the design by building something real that he can tangibly look at and tweak.”

This became what was called the ‘Looker’ versions of the aliens, since they ‘looked good.’ But things did go further, with the design and fabrication of several versions of the two main creatures, seen in the film from their young states (in which they burst out of human bodies) to fully grown sizes. Suits and head pieces containing animatronics were some of the more elaborate builds, made with the combined forces of Creatures Inc and Odd Studio.”

Keep a close eye on Alien vs. Predator Galaxy for the latest on Alien: Covenant! You can follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to get the latest on your social media walls. You can also join in with fellow Alien fans on our forums!



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Comments: 14
  1. rustyredraccoon
    "The baby and toddler particularly had special controls to animate the length and shape of the joints so the transformation could be done in non-uniform way, with burst of growth with one limb expanding before the other."

    So the neo and xenomorphs were meant to grow in "bursts." I find this very interesting.

    "David spent years tinkering with the pathogen DNA and re-combining it to create the ‘Xenomorph’ a perfect organism. On the original 1979 ALIEN, the Xeno is a cool and stealthy killer."

    Another reference to David being the creator of the Xenomorphs.

    --both quotes from the artofvfx article
  2. rustyredraccoon
    Thanks for posting this, Hicks. I love this type of stuff. I can't believe they actually created a life-sized statue of David for the film. Crazy. And the baby xenomorph, although I found the scene the most unfortunate one in the movie, is fascinating.
  3. markweatherill
    Aha! Here's a telling quote from that fxguide.com article:

    Both Alien characters were realised as fully key-framed creatures by the animation team and not motion captured. "Though many motion capture sessions and studies were used to test the monsters, the subtlety and personality of the two characters required repeated revision. Therefore, key-frame animation and references became the go-to approach to achieve the director’s vision and final animation" comments Domenech.

    That's why it all looks so fake!

    "I think in the end it worked out really well".

    I said it all looks so fake!
  4. acrediblesource
    I'll never argue of the sportsman ship of production of art peices, but as any one can tell you this sculpture could have likely been done easily in post and in CGI as a full 3d model. It would have cost nothing to produce as such a model would likely exist in many catalogues online for 3D objects. Yet when asked by a popular director to do this as a studio effort one might ask how much $$$$ is cost. I would likely say nothing. Because to give your business that kind of exercise would pay for itself in the business world. I think exposure is worth more than the experience. Although such an awesome example of art would likely be done by any one who is artistically inclined and in need of a portfolio piece. 
  5. Corporal Hicks
    https://www.fxguide.com/featured/alien-covenant-by-land-and-air/

    Another effects related article. I've not had the chance to read it yet.

    Quote
    Framestore also had to build the Xenomorph, which is built as a detailed model from the skeleton up to the translucent skin. In the film, the look of the creatures is almost more important than their movement, as the aliens, when they move, move extremely quickly. "We tried doing a run cycle for our own benefit, but we soon realised that there is not as much value in doing this for the Xenomorph compared to other creatures we normally do. We decided to focus on the individual shots to make them work in those shots, given it moves so fast, you have to work to get 'weight' in the animation" commented Kaestner. "I think in the end it worked out really well".

    https://www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/151_lab_0290_v0595_1038-660x371.jpg
    https://www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/151_lab_0290_v0595_1054-660x371.jpg
    https://www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/151_lab_0290_v0595_1068-660x371.jpg
    https://www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/151_lab_0290_v0595_1088-660x371.jpg
    https://www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/151_lab_0290_v0595_1158-660x371.jpg
  6. Jenga
    This article was really interesting and I guess it makes me a feel a little better than the practical suits weren't just removed due to poor build work or because of some sort of post budgeting war between departments. It's really sad though. I wish they had just fully committed to doing a practical Xenomorph. I would have been so much happier to have ditched the giant and super expensive "garage" sequences with the massive practically build trucks/landers and just spent that money on a fully realized alien hunting the remaining crew members on their ship in the shadows. That would have been so much more real and so much more satisfying for the fans. It would have cost a lot less too.
  7. David.Is.The.Xeno.Creator
    There ARE practical effects in the final film; close up of the tail, for one, and frankly the practical shower xeno head didn't have the right lighting to hide the obvious rubber, plastic, etc, the final shot looks great.
  8. bb-15
    VFX Supervisor Charley Henley Talks Working on Alien: Covenant"...

    “We knew that Ridley would want to see for real something that relates to his creatures, which we could adapt beyond that later on,” said Henley. “But, we said, let’s build a hero version of the creatures just for the look. It doesn’t have to be in a suit, it doesn’t have to be practically operated on the set, but it will help the design process and allow Ridley to finesse the design by building something real that he can tangibly look at and tweak.”...

    This became what was called the ‘Looker’ versions of the aliens, since they ‘looked good.’ But things did go further, with the design and fabrication of several versions of the two main creatures, seen in the film from their young states (in which they burst out of human bodies) to fully grown sizes. Suits and head pieces containing animatronics were some of the more elaborate builds, made with the combined forces of Creatures Inc and Odd Studio.

    Good stuff in how practical effects monsters were used on set to help Ridley (and I assume the actors) see something physical that they could react to.
    It would be interesting to see photos of these "hero"/"looker" versions of the aliens.

    ;)

    PS. I see a few images in the "Alien: Covenant Concept Art/Behind-the-Scenes Thread".
    I'm sure there will be many more to come.
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