The ugly, the good, the very bad

In Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film appears the extraterrestrial ET who gives the title to the film, perhaps the best known and most iconic character in science fiction cinema. The story tells of an alien who, due to his distraction, is abandoned by his spaceship on Earth, where he meets an 8-year-old boy and establishes a friendship with him. It is a real fairy tale, where feelings are the basis of the narrative. For the director the predominant aspect was the humanization of the character, and for this reason he stubbornly sought her expressive strength.

What was ET made of? The life-size model made of clay was made from Carlo Rambaldi, great Italian artist, curator of special effects at a cinematographic level. He made it one meter high and with the “telescopic neck”, at the request of Spielberg. ET’s eyes were the key part, and it would in fact be the look that made him so … human, that look that everyone who saw the film will never forget. He then hired experts from the Jules Stein Eye Institute in Westwood (Los Angeles) to make the large and expressive glass eyes.

The definitive mechanical model, ready in 1981, moved at the hands of 12 people thanks to servos, especially for facial expressions. Six independent servos were used for the mouth movements alone. The various mechanical models made for the film had more than 80 points of movement. For the gestures and hand movements, the help of a professional mime was asked, and later a life-size suit was also made in which dwarf actors could enter.

Kong, in a frame from the 1933 film of the same name.

Kong. The most famous gorilla of the big screen, star of numerous films, made his debut in the original film in 1933. It is said that Kong, a gigantic primate with anthropomorphic features, came from the fantastic island of the Skull and was defined King. This extraordinary character has been emulated all over the world and has given life to many short stories and imitations, with several remakes made between 1976 and 2005.

It was devised by Merian C. Cooper: American director and screenwriter, cameraman during the First World War, conversing with a scientific explorer of a natural history museum he had the first idea of ​​the history of King Kong.

The “gigantic” gorilla, made by the Mexican artist Marcel Delgadoit was actually made of 4 articulated puppets 45 cm high, characterized by a steel skeleton covered with foam rubber and rabbit hair.

The shooting technique used for the sequences of the film was that ofstep one animation, the same used for cartoons, which takes the frames one at a time. The puppets all had small differences, for example the features, the type of fur, the length of the limbs. They were all employed at different times: when Kong moved in the jungle, in New York between skyscrapers and people and in the unforgettable scene of the fall from what was at the time the tallest skyscraper in New York (and in the world), L’Empire State Building.

The models were photographed shot by shot in different positions inside a dioramas that reproduced the jungle or the city. To make some scenes where Kong had to look even more creepy and monstrous more effective, various life-size accessories were used, such as the wooden torso of the gorilla, covered in fur, with various metal gears, levers and an air compressor inside. which, operated by three men, made it possible to control expressions and movements of the mouth.

The fangs were impressive: 25 cm long; eyes of 30 cm in diameter. Careful study of the hand made of steel and foam rubber, covered with bear hair. At first it was not articulated but mounted on a crane, but later it was automated. In the scenes where the gorilla is seen trampling people, a non-articulated leg was used, always the same.

Prague, Museum of Legendary Films: the head of the Jurassic Park T-Rex.

Prague, Museum of Legendary Films: the head of the T-Rex’s Jurassic Park.
© Black Jarab / Shutterstock

Jurassic Park. In the 1993 film Steven Spielberg brings to the stage a Tyrannosaurus rex in all its grandeur, a 65-million-year-old super-predatory dinosaur represented with maniacal precision. How was it possible to reconstruct the T-Rex and the other dinosaurs in the film with such precision, care, and so much realism? Thanks to Stan Winstonexpert in animatronicsa technique that to give movement to a subject (at that point called animatrone) uses electronic and robotic components. It was this that allowed Spielberg to create another masterpiece. Used more and more in the cinematographic field, animatronics has reached very advanced levels and, combined with 3D computer graphics, makes today’s animatrons move completely autonomously and in real time.

Gollum, an unpleasant key character in the Lord of the Rings saga.

Gollum, an unpleasant key character in the saga of the Lord of the Rings.
© AM-STUDiO / Shutterstock

The Lord of the Rings. In the trilogy brought to the screens by the New Zealand director Peter Jackson (2001, 2002 and 2003) the character of Gollum is designed (and interpreted) in a masterly way. Gollum (and his alter ego Smeagol,) had already been made flawlessly since the scenes of the first episode (The Fellowship of the Ring2001) by Weta Digital, specializing in special effects and digitized graphics, but moving on to the scenes planned for THEL return of the King (2003) – third episode of the trilogy, but the three films were shot simultaneously – Andy Serkisthe actor “virtual interpreter” of Gollum thanks to the technology of motion capturehe used expressions, movements and vocals so fitting with the character that most of his performances were then incorporated into the programming of the digital character.

Gollum’s 3D model was made up of a skeleton and a complex system that made it possible to emulate 300 different muscles, but it was the face that connoted it in such a peculiar way, with 250 facial expressions included in the programming. All this was possible also thanks to the fact that Serkis, in several scenes, acted live wearing a green jumpsuit, called the Gollum tights: with painting and motion capture techniques, the experts were able to eliminate the physicality of the actor to transfer expressions and movements on the animated model.

Wax reproduction of Yoda at Madame Tussauds in Berlin.

Wax reproduction of Yoda at Madame Tussauds in Berlin.
© Yuri Turkov / Shutterstock

Star Wars. In the science fiction saga of George Lucas, which began on the big screen in 1977, a mysterious character with bizarre shapes appears, Yoda, a Jedi: they were, these, a monastic-military order with the power to be sensitive and to be able to master a form of cosmic energy called Force. Yoda is a sage, a Grand Master, and leads the young Luke Skywalker – the hero – in the war against evil, the dark side of the Force.

In reality, Yoda is a puppet-like Muppetand in fact the movement and the voice are given to him by the character actor and puppeteer Frank Oz, who had previously worked with Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. Yoda’s physiognomy is inspired by Einstein, and two dwarf actors were used for the movements.

In the various episodes, a 3D model was also created for Yoda with the technique of computer-generated imageryrevolutionary in the 80s because it allowed to replace the film with digital images managed by the computer.

Scale reproduction of the head of Alien, by Neca Toys.

Scale reproduction of the head of Alien, by Neca Toys.
© samzsolti / Shutterstock

Alien. In the 1979 film, considered one of the masterpieces of Ridley Scottmakes an appearance there Xenomorph, specimen of an alien species that Scott simply calls Alien, a warrior monster whose offspring complete development only in the body of an unfortunate living being. Alien literally takes shape from the fantasies of the Swiss artist HR Giger and, in particular, from its lithography Necronom IVfrom 1976. For the cinema Giger conceived his creature with anthropomorphic features, without eyes to strike even more terror and two jaws that protruded from the mouth like lethal weapons.

In the script, the goal was to fuse human elements with mechanical elements, not all strictly rational – at least from the human point of view, and therefore various elements were also added on the back of Alien, such as pieces of ribs and snake vertebrae, which had also aimed at better camouflaging the body of the man who played him wearing the costume, the Nigerian artist Bolaji Badejo. At the head was again provided by Carlo Rambaldi, with animatronics: for the 1979 film Rambaldi and Giger won the Oscar for the best special effects.

The ugly, the good, the very bad –