When Prometheus released on June 8th, it became pretty evident that Giger wasn’t as involved as we all thought he was. His design aesthetic was evident (and it was and is beautiful) but the biomechanical feel didn’t seem as present as it was in A L I EN. Back up a few months. Per my childhood and long standing obsession with the Alien universe, I scoured the internet daily, searching for something new, some tidbit that I hadn’t noticed the day before. Carlos Huante.
I began researching who this guy was after reading that he was attached to the film in the creature design department, but more importantly, what he could bring to the table? Having also read that Neville Page was involved in Prometheus in some capacity, my confidence began to warble ever so slightly. I had never been a fan of Page’s and I knew it would take genius to infuse terror into the ALIEN multiverse.
As I quietly discovered Carlos Huante’s work, I was taken by the despair of his design, and the psychologically grotesqueness of his drawings. There is something unnerving, beautiful and sad. Most importantly however I felt that there was a unique terror in his work that matched Giger’s. I was sold.
Carlos Huante – I met my first life drawing instructor Michael Spooner at Art center who happened to work in the the layout department for Filmation on the He-Man series. He Moonlighted as an instructor for “Art center at night” which was the extent of my formal education. I expressed my interest in working for animation to him one day and he invited me to visit the studio. I met a lot people there and ended up with a job as a scene runner. A year later I was hired as a Jr. layout artist. Months after that I was working for a company called “Ruby and Spears” where I worked in layout again but was hired strictly as a drafts man.
My job was to go over all the layouts and redraw the Chipmunks that weren’t drawn on model (yes… Alvin and the Chipmunks). It was there that I learned of the design department and realized immediately that’s where I needed to be. My first professional design gig was on the Ghostbuster’s animated series for DIC, I was 22. During my second season on that job I met a fellow artist who introduced me to a place called Dinamation in Tustin Calif. We went there for a visit. By chance they told us that they were looking for an Illustrator. The previous illustrator had left to work in the film industry (that was Miles Teves by the way). They offered me the job so I took it.
Now I had two full-time jobs. I saw the work of Miles Teves and Jose Fernandez for the first time. Their work was another level of good that I wanted to be around. Neither worked there anymore but I met those two soon after starting that job. We’ve been friends since. Through that job and through some of the friends I made there I made contacts that lead me into the film industry. My first job after Dinamtion which I consider my start in film was for the Chiodo Bros. Those guys are awesome. Miles, this time was directly responsible for helping me get that job. The job was too big for one person and so he gave me a call and recommended me for the job. I met Jordu Schell there, in addition to many others who later dominated the Makeup industry. My road in was a good ride.
AvPGalaxy – Can you tell me about the genesis of your involvement with Prometheus?
Carlos Huante – I honestly had no idea that they were making this film when I got the call. I was working at the time. This is humbling for me to say but it’s true… I got a call from Arthur Max who told me that Ridley Scott had picked me out of a stack of Creature Illustrators to work on Alien Prequel… I was buzzing after that statement. Two things went through mind. A.) I couldn’t believe that they were making the movie. B) I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to fight to get on it. Hollywood is not what it used to be… Some of the people that they hire for projects these days are nowhere near qualified for the job. Thus all the mediocrity. Some of my friends who are actual creature designers and artists don’t get called as often as they should. So this call in particular meant far more than just the job to me.
AvPGalaxy – What was your level of excitement as this was all unfolding?
Carlos Huante – After I woke up from passing out I realized I had a fixed smile on my face. I thought to myself… well here we go. Things have come full circle. I was fourteen when Alien showed here in theatres in the states. At that time I had to find eight different adults to take me to the theatre because I saw it eight times. There was no video or DVD players or anything of that kind back then. So if you wanted to see the movie again you had to pay and go to the theater. It instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time. So now back to Prometheus, I thought, I’m going to be working with Ridley on the prequel. Big smile… It was a mark in my timeline and my mind was swirling as to what I was going to do for ancestors to the Alien creature and then the much anticipated Space Jockey.
AvPGalaxy – Was there ever an ‘I’m not worthy’ moment?
Carlos Huante – Honestly no… I’ve been working at this for a very long time and I was so ready. Probably past ready. I was excited but not overwhelmed at the least. My biggest concern was to pay as much respect to the artist that created this world and I wanted to make sure if I was to design an Alien creature that it would look as if Giger worked on it. Of course with a little of me in there as well. I felt honoured to be involved and wanted to police the creature work as the designer. I had an obligation to the Director, the fans and Giger. The best position I can say for any artist to take, when the opportunity arises, don’t geek… Just be ready. Through my career I was very fortunate that I was able or better yet ready to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. This one was no different in that respect. Albeit much more exciting than most.
AvPGalaxy – Can you talk about your first directives in terms of creature design?
Carlos Huante – Arthur Max had given me a slight brief before our first meeting.. I hadn’t met with Ridley or read the script yet but I wanted to be able to converse on good solid ground. Arthur was great about understanding that without me saying a word. His briefing was perfect. I walked into the very first meeting prepared with the Beluga head, which pre-existed the movie. Also some color thumbnails of the moon landscape to get an idea of the vibe of the setting for the creatures and an illustration of this giant whale character which was a direction that Ridley was thinking of at the beginning for the Engineers.
All that work was unsolicited… I went at it blind to a certain degree. I wasn’t supposed to start work until after the first meeting with the director of course but as I said I wanted us to fall right into a conversation which we did. The giant whale idea didn’t last past the first two meetings, as they were still writing the script but it was a lot of fun to do. I wanted to do more.
AvPGalaxy – Were you apart of a creature conceptual department or was it just you alone?
Carlos Huante – It was just me alone at the beginning. Ridley wanted it to be just one person conceiving the creatures. He made that clear to a producer in front of me as that particular producer remarked about hiring more creature artists as the job was increasing. Ridley felt it should be one person to keep everything consistent. Which I totally agree with even if it wasn’t me. He did that with Alien which really worked. The big difference with that first film was that Giger was able to follow through with his design and realize it in 3D.
AvPGalaxy – I know Neville Page was also involved with the design aspect of Prometheus, how did you work in conjunction with him?
Carlos Huante – I never worked with Neville or at the same time as Neville on this project… I heard later that as they were sorting the characters out and the status of the film was switching into production mode Arthur had Neville working on the engineer’s costume along with some guys in the makeup shops in London who were making variations of all the stuff I had laid out as Ridley likes to tinker with things. As for Neville’s involvement and what his contribution to the film was only he could say because I don’t know.
AvPGalaxy – Before your work on Prometheus, what were your thoughts about the Alien universe and Giger’s work?
Carlos Huante – As I said Alien was always, if not my favorite movie, one of the top 5 of all time for me. Sci-fi specific it was probably closer to #1… One of my favorite movies as a child was “It, The Terror From Beyond Space”, which if anyone knows this movie, you’ll understand where Alien came from. So Alien was an easy love for me. Paired with the introduction to Giger’s work made it a landmark, artistically speaking. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again here: I remember the time before Giger and the time after Giger. That’s how much of an impact Gigers work was to art in general. Everyone who started after Giger has influence from Giger whether they know it or not. It was like the time before Frazetta and after Frazetta. For me, at my age at the time when “Alien” opened, Giger’s work became part of the bag of tools and inspirations that I was collecting for my artistic walk. I mean it gave airbrush manufacturers a massive boost in sales I bet.
AvPGalaxy – Having seen many of your drawings and conceptual designs, there’s a beautiful morbid quality to what you do, and yet, something spiritual, human, riddled with despair….did you ever think to yourself ‘how do I incorporate my aesthetic into a very established Giger world?
Carlos Huante – No. It wasn’t an issue. I mean again one of my early influences was Giger… So it was very easy for me actually. I was loving life working within those constraints.
AvPGalaxy – What are you most proud of in regards to your work on Prometheus?
Carlos Huante – At risk of sounding egotistical, I have to say that I honestly liked everything I did for this movie. It was a massive volume of work that I was able to focus on. There were no real ambiguous tangents from an unfocused director. Ridley has ideas and opinions and knows what he wants to do… It was all clear. So from the perspective of an artist looking at that body work I produced. I am very happy.
AvPGalaxy – Any regrets or feelings of ‘I wish I could’ve done something different’?
Carlos Huante – I wish I could have stayed on to supervise the follow-through with the designs. My biggest disappointment is that what I did got modified of course. Any artist would say that. But I really thought they were going to make my Deacon but for some really strange reason they went with the one from the storyboards which was NOT my character and not the design. The board artist illustrated it for the purposes of storytelling for the storyboards but not as the design. I had illustrated a couple of efforts for the open mouth which they showed in the documentary but they were for an even different version that was after the Deacon, when I thought of making the creature even more human. The design of the actual Deacon was abandoned. It was very, very strange to hear the creature group in London talking in the DVD and they’re all looking at the storyboards. I’m shaking my head as I write this.
The genesis of that character came after a conversation I had with Ridley about a design progression of the creatures to the Xenomorph of the first film. I went home and thought about it but kept on with the Gigeresque Ultramorphs. Then as I worked I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if these Aliens who are born of humans and haven’t been mixed genetically with the Engineers yet would look more human and less biomechanical“, of course this was for a different version of the script but that’s where the Deacon (or Bishop, as he was originally named) came from. He later became an Ultramorph and as the script changed slightly after I left the show, it became that thing at the end. Why it was blue? I don’t know… The illustration was blue so as to emphasize it’s whiteness in a dark blue setting and I was following some inspirational paintings that a contemporary Russian painter did of a man’s head that Arthur had sent me from Ridley. The creatures were all supposed to be albino. They were supposed to look simple, beautiful and ghostly like a Beluga whale in dark Arctic water.
AvPGalaxy – Was there ever a time where Ridley liked a design that you weren’t too keen on yourself?
Carlos Huante – Working with Ridley was probably, actually not probably. It was simply the best experience I’ve had working with any director thus far. We agreed on almost everything and it was absolutely cool working with a director that could talk art. That being said, I wasn’t entirely happy with the Engineer design. I thought it was great in theory but I thought it was going to be very difficult in application. And then after the design was settled on, we discussed the fabrication issues I foresaw. I predicted that the Engineers could end up looking fat or thick with bellies if they added too much rubber build up for the suit. Then the costume over all that rubber I thought they’re going to look fat for sure, which they did. So…There’s that.
The Trog… I never really had a chance to go at the Troglodyte properly. I thought it should be an abstract of a man, three shoulder girdles stacked. The facehugger was an abstract of human hands. The Trog, in my mind, should have not been a “creature” which is what it ended up becoming. The first movie was made up of elements that were not easy to categorize. The Aliens weren’t creature-y if you understand what I mean. They were “other”. Giger isn’t a creature designer, he’s an artist. His art was used in the first film as it was. He organized it for the purposes of the film but it was essentially straight out of his paintings.
In the end though, you know, it’s Ridley’s movie not mine, I just worked there. His opinion is the one that mattered not mine and so he should have what he wants… I mean it won’t stop me from having strong opinions but they are within the constraints of them being just that, opinions of a raving, raging artist.
AvPGalaxy – Would working on Prometheus 2 interest you if you were asked? What do you think of Prometheus now that everything is said and done?
Carlos Huante – Of course I would be interested. I would say yes in a New York minute. I liked the movie itself and Prometheus has some of the most beautiful shots ever done for a sci-fi movie or any film for that matter. I saw all the outtakes as well and loved the performance of the ape version of Fiflield but the actual creature wasn’t Alien or Prometheus it was an ape… It looked great though, but it wasn’t for this movie. The concept and thread of who the creatures are was all lost unfortunately. The only creature that had a bit of the vibe still left was the worm or hammerhead snake. In the end that sequence is probably the only thing that still held to the original albino concept of the creatures… All that being said I really liked the movie, and again it was beautiful.
AvPGalaxy – Again, many thanks to Carlos Huante for taking time out of his schedule to answer a few questions and engage the fans.
Images from the Prometheus Blu-Ray release by 20th Century Fox