CLOSE

14 Surreal Facts About H.R. Giger

When Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf Giger died at the age of 74 in 2014, he left behind an impressive body of work. Best known for designing the lanky, drooling Xenomorph for 1979’s Alien, much of his life was devoted to studies in biomechanical visions. Here are a few things you might not have known about the man behind the horror.

1. EARLY AUDIENCES SPIT ON HIS WORK.

Growing up in Chur, Switzerland, young Giger was urged to enter the family business and become a pharmacist. He preferred art, entering the School of Applied Arts in Zurich and creating works based on his adolescent love of Egyptian iconography like mummies and sarcophaguses. During some of his first gallery shows that displayed his preference for quasi-sexual imagery, neighbors were so appalled that they spit on the gallery’s windows when they walked by.

2. HE MADE AN ALIEN FILM BEFORE ALIEN.

Nearly 10 years prior to beginning work on Alien, Giger was invited to design costumes and sets for a small Swiss film titled Swiss Made [PDF]. Released in 1969, the film is about a humanoid extraterrestrial who visits Earth with his alien dog companion. “I used a real dog,” Giger said, “and I made the clothes in polyester.” Although crude, the design of the alien (above) hints at the banana-shaped cranium he’d later make famous.

3. A BOOK GOT HIM THE ALIEN JOB.

Ridley Scott had no idea how he was going to proceed with the art direction for Alien, a script he agreed to direct about a space crew that inadvertently picks up a dangerous, acid-blooded passenger. When he visited the Fox lot for a meeting, he spotted Giger’s book, Necronomicon, which collected many of his darkly fantastic paintings. “I took one look at it, and I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,” Scott said. Giger designed the creature in its four stages: the egg, a face-hugger, a chest-burster, and a full-grown adult with assistance from model maker Roger Dicken. Both artists were on set to provide touch-ups; Giger hand-sculpted the “space jockey” out of clay.

4. HE CRAFTED THE ALIEN OUT OF MEAT, TOY SLIME, AND CONDOMS.

Fox

Discussing his craftsmanship on Alien with Starlog in 1979 [PDF], Giger shared that the eggs from which the aliens hatch were made of some very practical materials. In addition to plastic, the artist used store-bought, neon-green toy Slime that was popular in the 1970s as well as “some real [animal] flesh inside.” For the stretching tendons seen when the adult alien opens its maw to devour a victim, Giger said he used “shredded latex contraceptives.”

5. JAMES CAMERON WROTE HIM A LETTER OF APOLOGY.

For reasons that were not immediately clear to Giger, the artist was not asked back by Fox or director James Cameron for 1986’s Aliens—this despite the fact that Giger won an Academy Award for his work on the original. Closer to the film’s release, he found out why via a letter written by Cameron himself. The director explained that Giger’s “bizarre, psycho-sexual landscape” is what attracted the director to the sequel, but that he “felt I had to put my own unique stamp on the project … I felt the risk of being overwhelmed by [Giger].” Cameron went on to ask Giger’s forgiveness for the slight.

6. FOX FORGOT TO GIVE HIM A CREDIT ON ALIEN 3.

Fox

Giger was invited to return to the franchise with 1992’s David Fincher-directed Alien 3. While contributing to the new design work, Giger clashed with the effects team and found the experience unsatisfactory—even more so when he screened the film and noticed Fox had both ignored his contractual specification that he be credited for work on the sequel (instead of just “original design by”) and left his name out of the closing credits. The mistakes were corrected for the film's home video release.

7. THE STUDIO PURPOSELY LEFT HIS NAME OFF ALIEN: RESURRECTION.

Although he didn’t work on the Alien franchise’s fourth installment, Giger certainly had a legitimate claim that any design work owed an incredible debt to his original designs. Fox, however, seemed to disagree, omitting his name from the credits entirely. An angry Giger sent off a letter to Fox. “The creatures in Alien: Resurrection are even closer to my original Alien designs than the ones which appear in Aliens and Alien 3,” he wrote. “Why does Fox not give me the credit I rightfully earned? ... All I can wish them is an Alien breeding inside their chests.”

8. HE WAS UNHAPPY WITH HIS WORK ON POLTERGEIST II.

Rather than be invited to work on Aliens, Fox installed Giger on another sequel project: 1986’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side, a follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film about a family burdened by malevolent spirits. Giger was disappointed in how his Great Beast design appeared in the film and expressed that he would’ve preferred to work on Aliens—in production around the same time—instead. “Perhaps the Poltergeist people wanted to keep me away from Aliens for fear of losing me” he told Cinefantastique [PDF] in 1988. “I was horrified by Poltergeist II.”  

9. HE DESIGNED A BATMOBILE.

In 1994, Giger was invited to submit a design for a revamped Batmobile for Batman Forever, the second sequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 original. While a pairing of Burton and Giger would have been interesting, the filmmaker had left the series by this time, replaced by Joel Schumacher. Giger’s lobster-claw-shaped vehicle was a radical departure for the franchise; it never made it past the sketch stage.

10. DEBBIE HARRY ASKED HIM TO PAINT HER ALBUM COVER.

Giger’s work was celebrated by a number of musicians, many of whom asked him to design their album cover art. For Debbie Harry’s 1981 record, KooKoo, Giger used a recent acupuncture session as inspiration, depicting Harry’s face being threaded by four needles. Harry had asked Giger during a gallery event. He accepted, but later confessed he had never heard her music. “This was due to the fact I was more interested in jazz,” he later wrote. The image was banned from advertisements in England.

11. SOME OF HIS PAINTINGS WERE STOLEN.

When Giger settled into a modestly-budgeted castle in Gruyères, Switzerland that could provide a home for all of his work, not everything was in place. According to a 2009 Vice.com interview, Giger found that some paintings had been stolen from the property; others went missing during transportation to gallery shows. “I said I’ll pay 10,000 francs if someone knows anything about them,” he said. “It upsets me so much … it’s sh*t.”

12. YOU CAN VISIT A GIGER-THEMED BAR.

Fans looking for a truly immersive Giger experience may want to visit Switzerland, where two bars designed by the artist are still in operation. The Giger Bars in Chur and Gruyères are extensions of the artist’s work in biomechanics, with columns of vertebrae and posts that have been polished so that they feel like something (almost) organic. The latter location is also adjacent to a Giger-approved museum of his works. Before his passing in 2014, Giger was in talks to bring a bar to the United States.

13. HE HELPED DESIGN TWO COMPUTER GAMES.

Giger’s aesthetic was on display in relatively low-resolution in Dark Seed, a 1992 DOS and Amiga computer point-and-click game: the artist contributed concept and background art. A sequel, Dark Seed II, followed; neither one caught on with gamers. “That was done without my real involvement,” he later told an interviewer [PDF]. “They just used my name.”

14. A FLESH-EATING PLANT WAS NAMED AFTER HIM.

Following Giger’s death in 2014, a plant breeder named Matthew Kaelin named a carnivorous species “Nepenthes H.R. Giger” because of its spikes and peristome teeth. While the plant normally dines on insects, it has been known to digest small animals that happen to fall into its mouth. Resembling something from a hostile alien world, it's a fitting tribute to the artist.

arrow
Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Bell
arrow
Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios