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In 1979, Ridley Scott teamed up with Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger to create a nightmarish vision of the future where humanity comes into contact with a violent, advanced alien culture. Alien has since become one of the most seminal science fiction films of all time and its influence can be seen in video games, movies and TV shows everywhere. What set Alien apart from its '70s sci-fi counterparts was a focus on practical effects that brought H.R. Giger's designs and Scott's ideas to life.

Check out some of the iconic moments from the classic below:

The work that went into the practical effects took into consideration not only the practicality of all the alien constructions, but also an aesthetic that still haunts audiences today. We're going to take an in-depth look at some of the practical effects in Alien in our complete trivia guide. Lots of gory details lie ahead so make sure to finish whatever you're eating before you start reading!


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1. Putting The Practical Back Into Practical Effects

The intricate detail of Alien

H.R. Giger's design for the main alien, the Xenomorph, was not only stunningly innovative but also filled with pragmatic details set in place to please technophiles and science-fiction nerds alike. The monster is missing key features on its face (or rather the slimy frontal part of its enormous skull) that Giger omitted to render the creature more distant from humans. The initial design included eyes that Giger removed to make it look more terrifying. The creature is also missing a nose but has a breathing apparatus on its back instead.

The original concept art with breathing apparatus on the back and large eyes on the face / Giger
The original concept art with breathing apparatus on the back and large eyes on the face / Giger

Why does the Alien bleed acidic blood?

The alien's blood is a highly corrosive acid that melts through almost everything — flesh and metal included. This concept was introduced by the scriptwriter Dan O'Bannon, who was trying to figure out why the crew wouldn't just shoot the alien to dispatch of it. Giger had to encase the alien's corrosive insides with an exoskeleton as opposed to a traditional skeleton that would just erode. This exterior bone structure also gave the alien its strange, almost metallic casing that made it look half mechanical.

2. Blood, Guts, Viscera And Puss

Giger's obsession with flesh and metal

H.R. Giger was always fascinated by fusing together the cold, dark metal of industrial design with organic, fleshy human elements. Under the metallic exoskeleton, the Xenomoprh is as gooey and fleshy as any human and it is this pulsing flesh that hides under the cold metal of all of Giger's work, giving it its disturbing, sensual quality. Ridley Scott wanted to take that on board to create a vision of an alien culture that seemed far removed from our own, but was oddly similar to us in its fleshy, organic construction. There's no better example of this than the terrifying Facehugger.

How to make your own Facehugger

For a film made in 1979, the Facehugger looks eerily real complete with vertebrae, slimy skin and a pulsing heart beat. It was constructed using real animal bones for the legs and sheep intestine for the tentacle tail. When the crew are performing an autopsy on the creature, the practical effects team used four oysters, fresh shellfish and a sheep's kidney to give it the glistening, membrane quality of real guts.

How to make your own Xenomorph

The main alien monster that terrorizes the crew only has 4 minutes of screen time and is never filmed in a wide shot so we only always catch glimpses of it's full form. The practical effects team manage to build this bio-mechanical nightmare by using bones and metal for the body and the tail which gave the alien some traces of humanity. For the head, ripped condoms were used for the lips and the tendons in the jaw to give them a rubbery quality and an actual human skill was inserted into the front of the elongated alien skull to give it an uncanny human touch.

Giger with one of the prototype xenomorph masks / Giger
Giger with one of the prototype xenomorph masks / Giger

3. It's Not 70s Sci-fi Without Lasers

The use of blue lasers in the egg chamber

The Nostromo crew discover a large cavernous hall with a fleshy soil on the ground and realize quickly that this is the womb of the mothership where the alien eggs are being fertilized and incubated. Ridley Scott wanted to use a field of light created by a blue laser as a sort of placenta-like force that kept the eggs alive and developing. Luckily he was really well connected in the music world and managed to borrow the state-of-the-art lasers from the Who before they would use them on their world tour.

Egg Chamber or the opening of a Who concert? / 20th century Fox
Egg Chamber or the opening of a Who concert? / 20th century Fox

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