The creature effects for Alien: Covenant were handled by a combination of two studios – Creatures Inc. Ltd and Odd Studio – that became collectively known as Odd Creatures. Alien vs. Predator Galaxy had the pleasure of talking to Adam Johansen, one of the co-founders of Odd Studio, who was the Creature Effects Supervisor for Alien: Covenant!
AvPGalaxy – Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Adam! Before we go into Alien: Covenant, I’d just like to take a bit of time to talk about yourself. What led to your interest in monster making?
Adam Johansen – As a child, I was always obsessed with creatures, monsters, ghosts & folklore etc and films like Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, The Thing, Alien, Jaws, E.T., Gremlins etc had a huge impact on me. As long as I can remember, I was always making & drawing things and my parents tell me I had a very vivid imagination as a child.
AvPGalaxy – Alien: Covenant is the first time that Odd Studio has worked with Ridley Scott. How did your company become involved with Alien: Covenant?
Adam Johansen – Conor [O’Sullivan, owner of Creatures Inc. and creature design supervisor on Covenant] and I were admirers of each other’s work and in September of 2015 we started corresponding via email. He was heading to Sydney and was keen to chat about a possible collaboration with Odd Studio on Alien: Covenant. We met and chatted and it quickly became apparent we could work well together. We also have a lot of mutual friends and colleagues both here and in the UK and a partnership seemed to make sense.
AvPGalaxy – The creature effects for Alien: Covenant were handled by both Odd Studio and Creatures Inc. Ltd. How did that collaboration work? How was the work shared between the two companies?
Adam Johansen – We essentially merged the 2 companies for Alien: Covenant, naming the collective ODD CREATURES. The combined team of up to 45 crew, handled all the practical creature effects, animatronics, prosthetics, dummies and puppets.
AvPGalaxy – We’ve seen a physical Alien costume in the behind-the-scenes footage and the cast has talked about being chased down the sets by a man in a suit. However, in the finished film the majority of the creature effects look to have been replaced digitally. From what I’ve gathered this was the plan all along? I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on this?
Adam Johansen – Originally, there wasn’t going to be any creature suits, with our work load consisting of all the burster scenes/fx, some creature puppets (chest burster, face huggers), prosthetics, dummies, over 100 engineer corpses, working eggs and a whole of bunch of creatures and experiments for David’s Lab. However, 2 months before filming Ridley expressed he wanted creature suits for the Xenomorph (one full scale, over 9ft tall bunraku suit worn by Andrew Crawford and a traditional smaller scale foam latex suit worn by Goran D. Kleut) and the adult Neomorph suit again, worn by Goran.
In addition to the suits, we made a full scale torso animatronic Xenomorph puppet. Ridley likes shooting everything in camera and wanted the practical creature suits on set, to work out his shots and also so VFX had real elements and movements they could use when required. The final designs of the creatures were all realised in the creature department, which was a great honour.
AvPGalaxy – Did knowing that change anything about the way you worked on the film?
Adam Johansen – Not at all. We all hoped more of our practical creatures/suits and effects would make it in to the final cut of the film than was initially planned- and in several scenes/gags, that was the case.
AvPGalaxy – There’s nearly a 40 year gap between the production of Alien and Covenant. Limitations on the suit construction changed the way Ridley shot the original but there’s been massive advancements in technology over the years. How do you think those advancements helped you in working on Alien: Covenant compared to the original film?
Adam Johansen – There has been huge advancements in materials and animatronics since the original film, which for example, we utilised on things like the translucent Chestburtser, and the animatronics on the facehuggers & xenomorph etc and on the full scale bunraku Xenomorph suit with carbon fibre blades etc. Having said that, we still use foam latex and latex etc for suits and effects.
AvPGalaxy – Before the Alien ever comes on screen, we spend a lot of time with a new variation – the Neomorphs. Their designs seem to be influenced by unused designs from Prometheus. Was that a conscious decision by yourselves or Ridley Scott?
Adam Johansen – The Neomorph was one of the trickiest creatures/characters I’ve ever worked on. Ridley had not been 100% sold on any of the previous designs of the Neomorph and as we begun pre production, we were still concepting and designing the Neomorph and the Xenormorph. For the adult Neomorph, I was working an the designs/sculpture of the adult head, while Colin Shulver was doing some digital designs of the body and Conor was photoshopping elements and animated movements of it’s working jaw.
Ridley heavily referenced the Goblin Shark for the jaw movement and also for the colouration and feel of the creature. He also referenced a Carlos Huante sketch as the basis of the Neomorph head shape. The face was hard to resolve, especially the closed mouth which was to be very anus-like. The colour scheme was designed and beautifully executed by my Odd Studio partner in crime, Damian Martin. The baby/infant Neomorph was sculpted by Rob Trenton.
AvPGalaxy – One of Alien: Covenant’s stand-out scenes was the backburster sequence featuring Benjamin Rigby (which also included some designs on his back that appear to have been influenced by H.R Giger?) How was that effect accomplished?
Adam Johansen – We accomplished this effect with a combination of prosthetics (3 prosthetic stages of extremities were created), stunt doubles and likeness puppet of Ben. We also had a section of the back which had a huge syringe rig in which we could plunge out a baby Neomorph puppet, flesh, bones and lots and lots of blood. That was a fantastic sequence for the creature shop with lots of old school gore effects. The Med Bay set was the bloodiest set I’ve ever been on.
AvPGalaxy – One of the most interesting parts of Alien: Covenant was the sequences set inside David’s workshop. It was full of all manner of different creatures and artwork. Did you have any specific brief while working on these creatures?
Adam Johansen – David’s Lab was such fun for our department. We had pretty much free range to create a bunch of creatures and experiments gone wrong to populate his Lab. There were scientific experiments and also macabre sculptural artworks complimenting Dane Hallet’s and Matt Hatton’s sketches. All departments knocked it out of the park with this set overseen by Chris Seagers. David’s Lab was at the end of the shoot and we really wanted to thank all our creature crew for their hard work on the film by giving them all the opportunity to create something that could go in the Lab and hopefully end up in the film.
I’m pretty sure most of the crew got a piece they worked on in the lab, from dissected eggs, to dissected Neomorphs, to hybrid embryos and even a full scale flayed Engineer! As Conor mentioned in a previous interview, there was some friction between himself and the rest of the creature crew when he looked to ‘break down’ everyone’s pieces (alien critters and experiments gone wrong) with red human blood, to which we all corrected him with our nerdy knowledge of this being incorrect. The pieces did need some breaking down to make everything look lived in, just not with red human blood ;-). I think the final level of breakdown the lab pieces received (which was achieved with some fullers earth etc) was just the right amount for a fastidious android!
AvPGalaxy – The adult Alien seems to lack the biomechanical elements of the original film’s Alien. From what Chris Seagers alluded to in a previous interview, it seems like this was a deliberate choice as the later films will eventually introduce more biomechanical elements into the design?
Adam Johansen – Yes, Ridley wanted a more animalistic, primal version of the Xenomorph. Not the bio mechanical version we know from the original films.
AvPGalaxy – How much did that carry on through the design of the creatures in the film? For example, the Alien eggs seems to have been redesigned. Was this a result of that decision?
Adam Johansen – I wasn’t really involved in the re designs of the eggs, primarily realised by Dominc Hailstone.
AvPGalaxy – Unlike the Alien films, the human-born chestburster featured in Alien: Covenant is a miniature version of the adult, rather than the traditional snake-like design. What was the reasoning behind the change?
Adam Johansen – That really is a question for Ridley. It was a lovely rod puppet to make and it looked fantastic. Sculpted by Dominic Hailstone. Super translucent silicone cast by Rob Trenton and Suzi Battersby with a beautiful polished armature in side it made by Greg McKee.
AvPGalaxy – For a lot of fans, what made the original Alien so effective were H.R. Giger’s designs. While you weren’t recreating the originals, how much of an influence, if any, did H.R Giger have on your own work on Alien: Covenant?
Adam Johansen – Oh Giger’s artwork was the primary source of influence for us on Covenant! The colours, textures, shapes – it was all about Giger!
AvPGalaxy – Alien: Covenant briefly featured the Engineers that were the focus of Prometheus. Their make-up effects appeared different to that of the previous film. There seemed to be less prosthetics involved. What was the reasoning behind this?
Adam Johansen – The sheer number of Engineers in Covenant. Being the creature effects supervisor and focusing on the creatures/gags meant I wasn’t really involved with those make ups. It was overseen by Conor, make up designer Lesley Vanderwalt and prosthetic supervisor Rob Trenton.
AvPGalaxy – Which of the creature effects for the film was your favourite to work on and why?
Adam Johansen – I loved all the effects we worked on, each having their own challenges but perhaps the most memorable for me was the first gag we shot, which was filmed on location in Milford Sound NZ. This was the beginning of principle photography and the scene was insanely violent and technically challenging. The scene was with our good friend Nathaniel Dean who plays Hallet, whom Damian, myself and Colin Ware had worked with years ago on Farscape.
It was the Creature Dept’s first gag so it was a big deal for us, making sure we nailed it. After a few takes and after many, many litres of blood, slime and entrails had covered Nathaniel he looks at me. And right before the next take he smiles like a kid and says “How fucking awesome is this!” I hope the audience finds them all memorable.
AvPGalaxy – What was the most challenging aspect of your work on Alien: Covenant?
Adam Johansen – Time restraints and the pace of which Ridley films and changes things up on set. You have to be ready for anything. You have to be versatile and you can’t build a gag to be shot one way as Ridley likes options. Working so closely with Ridley, on an Alien film, has been an absolute honour.
AvPGalaxy – That’s everything from me! I do have a couple of questions from members of the Alien vs. Predator Galaxy community. Morgoth would like to know how long it took you to go from working on the art to having complete suits?
Adam Johansen – Not long enough! As previously explained, the need and request for suits came very late in pre production and had our dept seriously under the pump.
AvPGalaxy – Windebieste would like to know a little more about the construction of the creature effects, specifically if you used things like sheep’s innards, pig’s blood, oyster flesh, shredded condoms various animal bones and human skulls to make the creatures?
Adam Johansen – For the gore and some of the creature effects we used a combination of hot melt vinyl, latex, urethane cast bones etc, spaghetti, pasta, yoghurt, offal, fibreglass, silicone, foam latex, neoprene, 3d printed SLR components and sheets of baldies (sprayed vinyl). Oh and litres and litres of methocel and blood.
AvPGalaxy – Locusta, a fantastic digital artist whose work has been featured in the officially published Alien: Weyland-Yutani Report, has a bit of a technical question. He would like to know what was the balanced use of 3D printed parts, which were used unique (or as they came from print) in contrary to Printed parts that where molded and cast multiple times and /or hand sculpted parts in clay and further molded and cast.
Adam Johansen – Most of the printed components were moulded and cast in multiple materials but we did directly use some printed parts after they were clean up. Most things were done the traditional way of clay sculptures, moulds, cast and artworked.
AvPGalaxy – One of our staff members, Xenomorphine, asks – By all accounts, a huge puppeteering rig was designed and constructed for the film, but not all the flaws could be eradicated in time. Could you give us any indications of what problems remained?
Adam Johansen – Rehearsal times and subsequent refinements were almost non existent due to the short build time for the suits, in particular the 9ft tall bunraku, Xenomorph suit. It would have been great to have known we were going to be making full scale suits and puppets of the Xeno and Neo from the beginning of pre.
AvPGalaxy – I would just like to thank you once again for taking the time out of your schedule to answer our questions. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers that we haven’t given you the opportunity to express?
Adam Johansen – Thank you guys, hope you enjoy some of the behind the scenes on the Blu-ray release. Chat soon, Adam.