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Alien Covenant Set Visit #1: Everything we learned on set, plus SFX info!

03.01.2017

When I was asked if I’d be interested in flying all the way to Sydney, Australia to visit the set of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN COVENANT (New Trailer and Poster at the end of this piece) aka “used to be PROMETHEUS Part 2”; I didn’t have to think about it much, if at all! With films like Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Gladiator, Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven and Prometheus under his belt, Mr. Scott is bar none, one of my favorite directors of all time.

And needless to say that ALIEN is definitely one of my most prized Sci-Fi/Horror film and franchise. Hence although I knew I’d get a geek-gasm once there, nothing could have prepped me for my jaw dropping to the ground like it did…. but more on that later! Before that, lets dive in and give you guys an idea of what you have in store when it comes to ALIEN COVENANT.

Synopsis: “Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise.  The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world.  When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.”

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • The film is set ten years after PROMETHEUS. It acts as a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to ALIEN at the same time.
  • It will be Rated R.
  • Ridley Scott decided to come back to the world of ALIEN after being let down by the AVP films. Moreover, he listened to the fans who craved aliens in Prometheus hence why Prometheus 2 goes back to ALIEN territory even down to its title. As Scott said while I was on set: “They want Aliens, I’ll give them f*cking Aliens”. (Dude swears like a sailor – I like that!)
  • With this film popping up and embracing the ALIEN universe and Blomkamps impending ALIEN 5 aka ALIEN 3 "for real", they had film researchers create a 10-page rule-book for the series. First time that happens in the franchise's history.
  • The cast and crew of COVENANT watched ALIEN before diving into this one. Ridley's orders!
  • The ship is called THE COVENANT, of course named after the Ark of the Covenant (chest that contained the tablets with the 10 commandments written on them).
  • The crew of the Covenant (which is a mix of scientists, military and civilians) is on their way to “terraform” and populate (the crew is comprised of couples) a new planet before their course is diverted.
  • ALIEN COVENANT is meant to be the second film of a trilogy. Of course if money talks, there may be more, but I got the sense that would happen without Ridley Scott.
  • It will be the goriest and scariest of the franchise thus far (we kept hearing that from everybody).
  • Shaw's (Noomi Rapace) presence in the film was going to be a surprise, that is why they kept her casting under wraps. That's until it leaked online and they had to own up.
  • The planet that the crew of the Covenant winds up on looks like the Garden of Eden but is more dangerous than hell itself.
  • There will be an exterior Space Walk sequence on the surface of the Covenant ship.
  • The infamous operating table unit from Prometheus will be back!
  • This is not fact but what my gut tells me after all that I saw. David is playing “Island of Dr. Moreau” on that planet and is behind the many creatures on hand. Again, a theory.
  • This film will lead up to the H.R. Giger vibe in terms of the creature design. So expect the bio mechanical look that the creature had in ALIEN to surface here!
  • Michael Fassbender will play two androids. David from Prometheus (who has been reconstructed) and another identical one named Walter.
  • There’s a shower scene that ends in a gory aftermath.
  • The ship is comprised of couples (to re-populate the new planet) and there's also a gay couple.

WHAT I SAW:
The first place we were taken to once we arrived on set was...

THE WAR ROOM:  Think an area filled to the brim with miniture models of some of the sets they built (like the impressive exterior of the Engineers Cathedral) production designs (Daniels futuristic looking apartment that reminded me of Blade Runner), storyboards, pictures to draw from creatively (locations in Jerusalem, Egypt and Mexico) and varied art pieces that were either created for the film or that inspired some of its imagery. The scenic paintings by Giovanni Segantini and Luigi Rossi for example did not go unnoticed. Through my many hours in this room, I quickly realized that A- Most of the sets were actually built (minimum CGI and green screen) and B- They tried to shoot on location as much as possible when it came to their exteriors. That is one thing that I love about a Ridley Scott film – he likes to shoot "in camera" as much as possible. Lots of Old School filmmaking here!

COULD BE SPOILER ALERT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

One piece of art that I kept going back to was a Giger-esque drawing of Shaw’s head (Noomi Rapace) surrounded by bio-mechanical tubes, as if she was mutating into something (I thought the first Xenomorph from ALIEN perhaps?). I was surprised they would let such a picture out there for us to see – so keep that in mind, it may be sly misdirection on the Studio’s part.

END OF COULD BE SPOILERS.

THE CREATURE SHOP: After the WAR ROOM we were taken to the Creature Effects shop! What a trip that was! I felt like a kid in a candy store as I witnessed some familiar creatures and new ones! We got to see a Facehugger blasted out of a canon (that’s how they execute the leaping effect – old school baby) and a hero Alien with a jaw that springs out.

In terms of new breeds: I spied an alien with a face shaped like a butt-hole (looked like a “creation”), an Engineer without his skin (I am assuming this is an Engineer that was dissected for study) and the alien that surfaced at the end of Prometheus (aka The Deacon). I can’t wait to see the latter in further action! I get a Raptor from Jurassic Park vibe from it! Again, the intent here is to do everything practically with only SOME CG enhancements! Sold!

THE SPACE JOCKEY’S PILOT CHAMBER: This was easily my favorite location to witness in person – and was ALONE worth the long trip! Like many of you, I grew up with ALIEN, and the Space Jockey pilot room (where all the ALIEN eggs were) marked me! I went full fanboy when that location was re-visited in PROMETHEUS, so you can imagine how it felt to actually be there! My visit of said room couldn’t have been better staged. I was sent into a smoke filled hallway/big tube. I slowly walked up, the walls were of course “ALIEN-esque” in consistency and I got a serious case of the heebies. It’s one thing to see the location on film; it’s another thing to actually be IN IT! I kept hearing that tracking signal “BLEEPING” from ALIENS in my head for some reason – the beast is getting closer…lol! At the end of the hallway, I came upon two lines of ENGINEER statues on both sides (a piece of set from Prometheus), I walked between them, the hallway opened up to… THE SPACE JOCKEY pilot chamber.

My eyes widened and my jaw dropped.

The attention to details in terms of this set was astounding, everything was tangible, from the Pilot’s giant seat to the ship’s soft bubble button controls. The cherry on top was the atmospheric lighting and rolling smoke they had going which resulted in the sight before me being even more breathtaking. NOTE: I also saw the set in full light – and although not as creepy – it was still mucho impressive. END OF NOTE. I seriously didn’t want to leave that set. I kept looking around, taking it all in, wide eyed. It’s not everyday one gets to visit a place that was responsible for so many nightmares while growing up. So yeah – the Space Jockey chamber returns here. Yeehaw!

THE CATHEDRAL SET: This vast set consisted of a main room with GIANT stairs on the right hand side that led to an upper section. In the MAIN area we had HUGE ENGINEER head statues lined up one next to the other. The top half of their heads were missing (above ridge of the nose) as they will be completed in Post Production (VFX). The way I perceived it, these heads were representations of The Elder Engineers. In front of them rocky melons we had faux rock chairs and what came off as a stone made sacrificial table (with a dagger on it).

Not sure if humans sacrificed virgins to the Engineers or not – but they sure had the right set up for that kind of party! Time will tell! Once I took all that in, I leaped onto the giant stairs and ran up (good little work-out there). I then went to the end of the rocky walkway and found a bunch of dead Engineer corpses on the ground. They looked burned up. I heard there’s a Pompeii like scene that happens in the film. I am assuming its via flashback, one that will see the Engineers go up in flame. I deduce that what I witnessed was the aftermath. Poor basterds…

THE HYPERSLEEP CHAMBER: On my way down the corridor, I fell upon the “HYPERSLEEP CHAMBER” set. The place was disheveled, trash and clothes were on the ground. I eventually learned that Shaw locked herself in there, she used the area as a refuge. Refuge from whom? Not sure. But my money is on her and David not getting along too well, especially in light of his new “creator” ambitions.

THE SCENE THAT WE SAW: At a certain point, they took us in front of a monitor within the warehouse that held the Space Jockey set to have us gawk at a scene being shot. Alas, it wasn't anything too exciting. Basically crew members of the Covenant walk into the Hypersleep chamber that I mentioned above. It's dark and their flash light beams illuminate the area. They stop, one crew member picks up Shaw's helmet, looks at it and then drops it. They walk off. That was that on that!

We also had a chat with Special Visual Effects Supervisor NEIL CORBOULD and here's the 411 I got out of it:

  • At the beginning of the movie they looked at all types of different blood, then they put a few tests onto film just to see what color they liked. They got it from all over the world. They made some of their own as well, and ended up using their own stuff, which was quite ironic, really, because they spent a few thousand dollars shipping it in from everywhere. Everyone has their own little recipe and they won't tell anyone else, and theirs is basically cornstarch and food coloring and that's it.
  • They have different types of blood like congealed blood and blood "chuckers", which are different sizes and shot out with compressed air. They put a cap (with different patterns) on top of a tube (think a shower head) so it gives a spray or a splurge or whatever else they need.
  • They made some alien blood as well, some black blood and the android white fluid. The red blood, they've probably made like a thousand liters of it.
  • They are trying to make the gore as realistic as possible, because that's what Ridley wants. He wants the shock factor.
  • Ridley loves to do things in camera. He doesn't like CG blood, doesn't like CG effects unless it is to complement the work that they do or to do set extensions. He loves realism. He wants a real alien running around the spaceship and stuff like that.
  • There are creatures there (guys in suits) and then the visual effects enhance them, which he thinks is the way to go, rather than having a complete CG character. At least there’s a performer underneath the costume that is giving a performance.
  • They made one of the alien head with the teeth coming out and a facehugger that runs along the ground. But his job is more the mechanical effects, the big gimbals, the spaceships, and crashes and explosions.
  • They built the top half of the gimbal, on this little spaceship. They made the bottom half of it, then twisted it and turned it. It’s sort of the size of a tennis court and there’s a fight sequence set on top of it. At the time the spaceship is not in space, it’s on an Earth-type of environment. It weighed 27 tons in reality and it was flying around with people hanging off of it, which Ridley loved. It gave him the opportunity to get a lot of wide angles of the spaceship, and it's real! The CG will put the rest of the engines on and stuff like that.

  • This movie is a huge action movie. It’s one of those movies that never stops giving. Just when you think it might be over, something happens and it just keeps going on.
  • Doing the terraforming bay was tricky because it was this truck that was about 25 tons, and that had to slide down the spaceship and then go off the end to teeter for a bit. The logistics of it were arduous. And the schedule that they had to stick to was challenging. They went from the terraforming bay to the gimbal rig overnight. Hence they had to get everything from one stage to another. It was a logistical nightmare.
  • Ridley Scott’s attention to detail is incredible and his knowledge of film is also incredible. He remembers the stuff he did on ALIEN like it was yesterday. Their briefing was to look at the first ALIEN and to bring a modern sort of twist to it. Ridley remembers absolutely everything about that movie. How they did the facehugger, and using the oysters, and all. He's an incredible filmmaker. This was his sixth movie with him and it's always great. He never gets bored of it. Ridley challenges him.
  • They shot two weeks in New Zealand. It was part of a set build. They had a beautiful backdrop of Milford Sound and they did quite the explosion there – in one take.
  • Ridley Scott is a role model for a lot of people in the film business. He puts all they younger guys to shame. When you're in meetings he'll turn up at 8 o'clock and he'll be there until 9, 10 o'clock at night, saying: "Have you had enough yet? You guys look tired. You should go and have some sleep." And then he'll go off to editing or something like that. He doesn't need the money anymore. It's just his love of film and making movies the way he wants to make them that drives him.
  • Technology has moved on. The hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics have all evolved quite a bit. ALIEN probably had 20 special effects crew members, they had 80 on this. Because the toys they got to handle were a lot more advanced than what they had 30, 40 years ago.
  • They couldn’t go too far away from ALIEN, because obviously this is before ALIEN. They took a little bit of creative license here and there, but they had to keep in mind that ALIEN is the movie that we're heading toward.
  • As soon as the effects community heard they were doing another ALIEN everyone wanted to do the movie, from all over the world. It's got such a following within the film industry.
  • Ridley listened to the PROMETHEUS criticism: people wanted more aliens. They're going to get a lot more aliens. More than they probably anticipated.
  • In his opinion DEADPOOL and THE REVENANT changed the stigma about an R Rating as they made lots of money. So that opened the door for ALIEN COVENANT to go for a hard R.

READ PART 2 OF THIS SET VISIT HERE!

READ PART 3 OF THIS SET VISIT HERE!

Source: JoBlo.com

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