The Little Predalien That Didn’t
Even when filming ‘Alien‘, Ridley Scott maintained that, had the creature emerged from the ship’s cat, Jones, it would have displayed a number of obviously feline traits, as if to mirror the genetic template of whichever host it resided in. By the time of ‘Alien 3‘, this idea was resurrected again. Although not obvious in the suit, the puppet showed obvious signs of canine development, from the more developed tail and alternative leg configurations, right down to possessing completely different feet. Rottweilers, of course, are not famous for a particularly long snout (especially when young), but nevertheless, the idea was out now out there. And so a legend was born. In every ‘Alien‘-related discussion forum since then, the question keeps on cropping up: What would an Alien look like if it came from Host X?
Crocodile-Aliens? Shark-Aliens? Squid-Aliens? Tiger-Aliens? If given a suitably Giger-esque look, how would they be portrayed? The Kenner range of toys famously went to such extremes that they are, even now, a cause for parody, but ever since a certain comic successfully merged two of the greatest science-fiction franchises in cinema history, one question has continued to tease the imagination of fans, the world over… What if one hatched from a Predator?
The consensus seems to be universal. It would be a vicious, Lovecraftian killing machine, the likes of which could even rival the horrific originals. If the one on the Nostromo came from an average human being, then just imagine what a thing like that would be capable of. Up until recently, it was something realised only in comics and art submitted to various Web sites. Now, with the arrival of ‘Aliens Versus Predator – Requiem‘, we finally have it on the screen. Like it or loathe it, an alternative design to that seen in the film, one ultimately rejected by the production team, managed to provoke such a positive reaction from fans, that some even claim they would have preferred it to ADI’s interpretation. To learn some of the history behind ‘the Predalien which never was’, we went straight to the source of this enigmatic sculpture, Shaun Noelte, to find out more…
3D Custom Design leapt from relative obscurity to something of an overnight sensation, when the maquette of the newest Alien hybrid circulated on-line, indirectly managing to generate renewed interest in the film. Yet you were completely unaware of just how widely your work was seen, until recently. Although I understand you no longer work for the company, how does it feel to have been responsible for something unintentionally taken to heart by so many?
I was responsible for the design and look of the sculpture. However, I was not responsible for the design reaching the production. My role and my current business partner’s role (Tibor Farkas, Junior), at the time, consisted of creating all the art, the characters, sculptures, creatures, realistic props, moulds and special make-up effects, that were used to promote the expansion into special make-up effects, of the company specialising in CNC foam sculpting, for set deck, bill boards, water parks and theme parks.
You’re an admirer of both the film series and legendary artist, HR Giger. Just how profound an influence would you say Giger has had on your work, in general?
I have greatly admired the work of HR Giger since a young age. His original work on ‘Alien was definitely inspiring when sculpting the Predalien alternative. I recall seeing the original ‘Alien‘ when I was 10 years old. I was told it was too scary for me to watch and was sent off to bed by my uncle. However, I snuck out and watched the film from around the corner. I guess you could say the chestburster scene traumatised me for a while.
It’s a little-known fact, but the Predalien maquette was never intentionally sent with a view to literally designing the creature, was it? What was the idea behind producing it and how did you get caught up in sending it to the production team?
As far as I know, it was never intended with the aim of literally designing the whole creature. I was told ‘Requiem‘ was slated to shoot in Vancouver. It was suggested that a maquette be built to catch the interests of the production, as well as to pitch the talent that the company was capable of, at the time. My employer had heard that ADI was looking to recruit a team to assist with background effects and suit repair work. I did, however, spend a fair amount of my own time on the sculpture, as budget was an issue then. The sculpt took 6 days in total to complete.
How was the figure received by those connected with the production? Did they make their views known, directly or indirectly?
I dont know much about what was said concerning the maquette, I heard later that some people may have got the wrong idea about what the piece was intended for.
Going from artistic concept to physical sculpture can be an easy, natural flow, looking the same from start to finish. Of course, it’s not always that way and some ideas go through multiple stages of design and redesign. Were there alternative ideas you started out with for it and eventually discarded?
As far as the design went, there were no alternative ideas explored. I was inspired originally by a Dark Horse comic that had a rendition of a Predalien. I worked with that, initially and then began adding inspiration derived from previous films and some of my own ideas, into the rendition in clay.
One of the main controversies with the version seen in the film, is the mandible arrangement. Frequently striking many fans as looking more like afterthoughts than part of the main jaw structure, these are perhaps the most iconic hallmarks of the original Predator, itself, as primarily designed by Stan Winston. When it comes to mixing them with an Alien, of course, working out how the various parts hinge and join seems like a monumental task. Did you have to find yourself sketching out the various skeletal components, to try and work them out like an engineer, or was their configuration something you found easy to interpret?
The sculpture was developed as more of a concept. It wasn’t developed with the idea of a person in a suit. Had it been designed to incorporated a person inside, I would have sculpted over a posed human form and sculpted over top to illustrated how an actor would be accommodated within the design.
Your version continues to be featured in art generated by fans. In one case, it was even Photoshopped to look jet black, so as to show how it might have looked like on screen. Was this the colour scheme you imagined it having?
I never imagined what the creature, itself, would look like on screen, as I didnt think that was within possibility. Besides, I wouldn’t have wanted that, anyways. ADI is a much more experienced crew within the franchise, so the main creature effects should be of their design. I did, however, imagine differing colour schemes for my own personal enjoyment while sculpting it. I imagined a darker-hued creature similar to the original Alien, as well as a yellowish, coppery-brown gold creature, similar to the colour of the dog Alien, of the third film.
Were any of the individual body parts intentionally designed to give it an edge in Predator confrontations or was it sculpted purely for visual effect?
I wanted the look of the beast to illustrate a more developed armour that was tougher against the Predator’s blade weapons, so, more heavily armoured than the alien warriors derived from human hosts. I tried to revisit more of the insect-like exoskeleton look of the first 3 ‘Alien‘ films.
As an artist, what did you think of the Predalien chestburster, seen at the end of the last film? If you were given a blank slate, would you have done it differently?
I liked the Predalien chestburster from the first film. I sculpted the area on the Alien’s abdomen to be similar to some of the plating seen on the Predalien chestburster. My favourite chestburster however, is the grinning foetal-looking one from the first ‘Alien‘. I like the chestburster in that film, because it had a cool webbing when it opened its mouth. The ones in later films lacked that and it seems the mouth opens too wide, like a lizard and there are too many metal teeth and goo. To me, this gives me more of an impression of a puppet. The one in the first film still seems the most convincing to me.
‘Aliens‘ had a good one, too, but you couldn’t see much of it. I also like the Bambi-burster, from the deleted ‘Alien 3‘ scene.
What is your professional opinion on what ADI came up with? What do you like? What do you dislike?
Originally, I only saw one picture of the Predalien featured in the film and wasn’t too sure what I thought of the dreadlock tails. That picture was in bright lighting. However, since then, I have seen more released images and screen shots. I have grown to like the creature. I love the look of the face, including the transparent dome. I think the creature will blow people away on screen.
In your maquette, the Predalien seems to have at least the beginnings of a ridged skull, as shown in James Cameron’s film. When you were making it, was this merely your preference or was it deliberately to reflect this film’s creatures now reinstating that look?
It was a preference of mine, at that time. I had no idea, then, that ‘Requiem would be reinstating the ‘Aliens‘ skull look. I made it with the intention of placing a vacu-form plastic dome over it, so it would be transparent, there wasn’t enough time for this, however.
The dreadlocks have been a huge matter of controversy, which the directors acknowledge. Some love them, while others feel they have no business being on an Alien. Another school of thought is that they should have, instead, been like those of another HR Giger design; Sil, from ‘Species‘: Thin and with the potential for tentacle-like mobility. Your rendition appears to show something similar to the later, but with them so small and swept back so tightly, that they could just as easily be erased. When you were designing it, was this as you mentally pictured the creature or more as a way to show they were optional?
I swept the spines back to conform with the illusion of a long skull. I imagined the long spines being a genetic left-over, transmitted to the creature from the predator host. Perhaps they would be a form of defence as well, not being tendrils, but rather sharp, long quills.
If you had the opportunity to do it again, is there anything you would change about it? A more elongated skull, for instance?
I actually think a more elongated skull would have made the creature more interesting. I am not sure what I would change other than that. Perhaps a bottom lip. I noticed it lacked that.
One question, which has often been raised, is what Giger thinks of both Predalien designs. Were you able to elicit any comment, in this regard? Does he have a preference or would he rather wash his hands of the entire ‘Predator hybrid’ concept?
I am unaware of any comments directly from Giger on the design I created. Images were sent off to his agent by my employer and a reply was received. However, I am unaware of his direct opinion on the matter.
What are you doing now, work-wise? Are you tempted to come up with further Alien/Giger-influenced concepts, just for fun?
Right now, Tibor and I are developing the look of our own company dedicated to prosthetics and character creature design, for film and television. We are excited to have already landed some small contracts in the new year. We are currently getting our studio prepared to take on the workload. I love the ‘Alien‘ universe, but I doubt there will be any time in the near future to explore sculpting more Alien-related designs. Besides, I think this one caused enough of a stir. If I get free time, I would want to explore some of my own creature creations and leave the ‘Alien‘ and ‘Predator‘ universe up to Amalgamated Dynamics.
Did this experience do anything to deter you from getting further involved in the effects business?
Definitely not. It has only served to strengthen our resolve and motivated us to realise that, if you put a lot of dedication, positive thinking and hard work into something, it is achievable. It’s about not giving up on your dream, as an old friend who trained me once said. The experiences Tibor and I have been through, have served to develop our business skills in a positive way. In fact, we have always been great fans and admired the artistic skills of Tom and Alec, of ADI. We admire and look up to all those pioneers that paved the way for us to work in a career that we have an undying love and passion for.
With plenty of merchandise now arising for ADI’s Predalien, including an articulated figure, is it possible that your alternative might one day be commercially available?
I believe the design is still under the copyright of 3D Custom Foam. I was astounded when I was offered the piece, just recently and this is when I found out for the first time just how well-received the sculpture was. I had no idea that it had made it to Web sites of the fan-base. I am very honoured.
In closing, I’d like to thank you for taking time out to participate in this interview. It’s been a pleasure. Any last words for admirers or critics of your creation?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me. To all those who like the sculpture, thanks, I would love to see more Photoshops, I enjoy seeing others interpret my work. To the critics, I enjoy hearing criticism and would love insight on how the piece could have been better. Cheers!