Alien Resurrection: Nigel Phelps' Auriga (The Crucifix Ship)

leading from

Alien Resurrection poster sketch (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
 

a) The crucifix ship
Because the movie all took place aboard a ship,  they wanted to come back to that claustrophobic yet cathedral-like setting, where the Auriga itself becomes a character. When it came time to design the Auriga, there was an initial design that stayed with the film for months and months, Nigel's design for what Sylvain Despretz would call the "crucifix ship"

At first it seemed as if Jean-Pierre really liked the idea of having this crucifix shaped as it was something that had not been seen before. The initial storyline had this vessel coming back down to Earth, and Phelps had Dali's image of a crucifix as a subliminal backdrop, and so everyone the camera cut back to the ship, this cruciform is plummeting back to the planet.


Dali's  Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)

Quote source
  1. Nigel Phelps: Jean-Pierre really liked the idea of having this crucifix shape because I hadn't seen that before. (Alien: The Archives)
  2. Nigel Phelps: And with the initial storyline of it coming back down to Earth, I had the Dali image of the crucifix as a subliminal backdrop,  and every time you cut back to the ship you got this cruciform plummeting back to the planet. (Alien: The Archives) 
  3. Sylvain Despretz : Because the movie all takes place aboard a ship, we wanted to come back to that claustrophobic yet cathedral like setting, where the Auriga itself becomes a character. When it came time to design the Auriga, there was an initial design that stayed with the film for months and months— Nigel's design of what I call the 'crucifix ship.' (Starlog 252, p37)
Auriga (source Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)



b) Wheel in the sky
As Sylvain would recall, initially what happened was that Nigel Phelps had designed this a spacecraft that was almost like a very beautiful wheel in the sky but it was actually a vertical ship with a horizontal wheel around the centre, and when one looked at it at the right angle, it actually looked like a cross and that was part of the theme of the movie in terms of resurrection. Jim Martin who also found it beautiful also noticed how it was like a cross but the ring going around its centre looked like a crown of thorns. So there was this sort of resurrection Christian message, and the vessel itself had a very colourful feel to it. Fans of Enki Bilal might also notice a strong resemblance between the space craft from his cover for the French edition of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles from 1975. Phelps very much liked his creation but Jean-Pierre Jeunet appeared very ambivalent about the whole thing and would cast his doubts in French when the storyboards were being done.

Auriga drawing (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)


Auriga (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
Enki Bilal's cover painting for Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (1975)

Source Quote
  1. Jim Martin: It was very beautiful. It could be seen from two different perspectives. One made it look like a cross, a Christian cross, but it had a ring around the centre that look like a crown of thorns. The whole thing had kind of a resurrection Christian message. And the ship had that very colorful feel to it. (Alien: The Archives)
  2. Despretz: Initially what happened is Nigel had designed this erm, very beautiful wheel in the sky kind of a thing, it was actually a ship which is very vertical which had a sort of central wheel, horizontal central wheel, and when you looked at it at the right angle, it actually looked like a cross which was part of his theme, you know, resurrection cross, kind of a thing. And um he really liked that design and Jean-Pierre, I think, was always um, ambivalent about it, and used to always say something in French to the extent that, um, not sure about that, um when we were doing the storyboards. (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
  3. Matthew Gratzner (miniature supervisor): The Auriga's inaugeral design looked nothing like it does now. It was more organic in shape, similar to a crucifix. The original concept for the Auriga would not have allowed the entire spaceship to be photographed 'in frame' without leaving a large black spaces on either side. After a couple of versions in maquette form, the design was mofied appropriately for filming more dynamically in the selected 2:35 ration form. (Starburst #230)
blue line Auriga drawing (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

Auriga (source Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

c) Like a a gigantic medical instrument?
Ian Hunter the miniatures organiser thought about it as a vertical spaceship with two outstretched arms, and it also looked like a gigantic medical instrument. Perhaps it was a high tech combination between a dental tool and perhaps an MRII scanner, but it looked more like huge floating space station that was perhaps bobbing through space. It was a very nice design and something very similar would turn up as a space ship a few years later in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes released in 2001.

 Source quotes
  1. Ian Hunter (Miniature Fabricator): And originally was, er, a vertical space ship with these two outstretched arms, and it looked very much, I'd say, like, er, almost like a gigantic medical instrument. You can imagine some really high tech combination of a dental tool and er, MRI, something like that. It looked more like a space station frankly, and it was a huge floating space station that sort of looked like it was bobbing through space. Really a very nice looking design, very reminiscent actually of the ship in er, Planet of the Apes, the new Tim Burton Planet Of The Apes. (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
Auriga "crucifix' ship (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
Auriga "crucifix' ship (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)


crucifix ship model (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

d) Needing a ship for a pullback shot
The problem in this case was that at the beginning of the movie, there was supposed to be an incredible pullback shot and something called a power to the ten shot, where it kept pulling back further and further. This certain Auriga design was vertical but this was a 2.35 ration movie. Jean-Pierre Jeunet looked at the designs and then said "I have a 2:35 movie here but by the time I pull back to see the whole spaceship, it's really tiny on the screen, I need a ship that is designed for 2:35 ratio."
Storyboard showing the Auriga orbiting Pluto (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

e) Not resembling a ship
The fact it didn't resemble a ship was something that Despretz would agree with, and he assumed that Jeunet wanted to see something with engines that would be seen as a ship rather than this beautiful symbol, but the need for a horizontal ship would be the excuse that would come from Jeunet.

The Betty approaches the Auriga (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

f) Problems with the design
There was a strong crucifixion element in the work which went with the title Resurrection, Nigel initially designed the ship, which presented the director with a problem with the aspect ratio. A crude model was made, and Jean-Pierre used a miniature video camera to look through it, and it became clear to him that the only way he could film it was as a horizontal structure. Nigel didn't want that. He wanted the feeling of a cross, and insisted that the ship fly vertically. Finally, a few weeks that became more likely three days before the model shop deadline came that required a final approved design that had to be turned over to the model shop, Jeunet gave it the axe and said "I want a new ship."

Sylvain Despretz had a vision of Nigel Phelps and Jean-Pierre Jeunet standing in the little room where the model was and Jean-Pierre holding his little camera over the ship and Nigel nodding with a total look of despair, and Despretz was past that room and thought "Boy, this is it"

Auriga "crucifix' ship (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
crucifix ship model (source: Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)


Source Quotes
  1. Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I love to use my video camera to prepare the frames, and when I saw the model I thought, Ok, I will only have very wide shots because we are in Cinemascope format, and it's vertical, it doesn't work. [Nigel] was very disappointed of course . (Alien The Archive)
  2. Nigel Phelps: He was very apologetic. But it meant redesigning the ship.(Alien The Archive)
  3. Ian Hunter (Miniature Fabricator): The problem with it was, um, was that there was the beginning of the movie, ah, there was supposed to be this incredible pullback shot and there was this power to the ten shot, it kept pulling back pulling back pulling back. Well, the problem with the Auriga design was that it was vertical was that this was a 2:35 ratio movie and so Jean-Pierre Jeunet looked at these designs and said "I have a 2:35 movie here but by the time I pull back to see the whole spaceship, it's really tiny on the screen, I need a ship that is designed for 2:35 ratio" and so the vertical design of the Auriga, um, ah, got altered quickly to a more horizontal ship and a shape that really lent itself to photography in the format that they were using. (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
  4. Despretz: I think that went on for a while, and the issues that Jean-Pierre had with it amongst other things was, um, ultimately, I think he just didn't think it looked that much like a ship, I think he wanted to see engines, he wanted to see something that, that, that read ship, as opposed to beautiful symbol, but he certainly invoked the horizontal excuse. Finally at the eleventh hour, literally I think, three days before the final approved design had to be turned into the model shop, he, he just um, said let's just quit this ship and do another one. And I I have this vision of Nigel and Jean-Pierre standing in that little room with the, where the model was, and Jean-Pierre holding his little camera over the ship and Nigel nodding with a total look of despair, and I just walked past that room and thought "Boy, this is it" and Nigel came in and um, rounded up um, Jim, Bill and myself and said "Well, guys, we've got three days to come up with another one so, anything lying in your draws, just bring it up, and um, it was like a race, where we kind of produced maybe ten or twenty different drawings of things and they sort of, Jean-Pierre came down and looked at stuff and started selecting drawings he liked. Basically he started hacking at drawings, you know, a sort of typical process, somebody brings in a bit and you're trying to, you're watching over what you've just done and hope it doesn't get butchered too much. So I think that was the the main thing I did for, in terms of design was that ship. (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
  5. Sylvain Despretz: There was a very strong crucifixion element in the work,which went with the title Resurrection. Nigel initially designed the ship, which presented the director with a problem with the aspect ratio. A crude model was made,and Jean-Pierre used a miniature video camera to look through it, and it became clear to him that the only way he could film it was as a horizontal structure. Nigel didn't want that. He wanted the feeling of a cross, and insisted that the ship fly vertically, so that was a bone of contention.(Starlog 252, p37)
  6. Alien Anthology: But director Jean-Pierre Jeunet eventually rejected the upright design for the Auriga, believing it would not photograph well in Super 35 widescreen format. So production designer Phelps started over, tasking production illustrator Jim Martin and concept artist Sylvain Despretz with the job of quickly re-conceiving the ship's look. Martin's illustrations for the Auriga  evoke the feel of a space station, complete with detachable looking sections and softer, more rounded shapes. (Alien Anthology blu-ray)   
  7. Matthew Gratzner (Miniature Supervisor): That design was ultimately scrapped, since we were shooting in 2.35 widescreen, the ship would always appear very small in frame. We ultimately went with a wide ship design.
  8. Matthew Gratzner (Miniature Supervisor): The Auriga took a lot of design cues from turn of the century blast furnaces, sort of a gothic design, with a lot of industrial pipe work.
  9. Matthew Gratzner (Miniature Supervisor): We employed approximately 35 people on this project, ranging from model makers and mechanical engineers to illustrators and painters. It wasn't until the end of October (1996) that we all received the designs. So we have only three and a half months to complete nine models, and we did so without enduring any unbearably long days. (Starburst #230)
  10. Sylvain Despretz: I think that went on for a while, and the issues that Jean-Pierre had with it amongst other things was, um, ultimately, I think he just didn't think it looked that much like a ship, I think he wanted to see engines, he wanted to see something that, that, that read ship, as opposed to beautiful symbol, but he certainly invoked the horizontal excuse. Finally at the eleventh hour, literally I think, three days before the final approved design had to be turned into the model shop, he, he just um, said let's just quit this ship and do another one. And I I have this vision of Nigel and Jean-Pierre standing in that little room with the, where the model was, and Jean-Pierre holding his little camera over the ship and Nigel nodding with a total look of despair, and I just walked past that room and thought "Boy, this is it" and Nigel came in and um, rounded up um, Jim, Bill and myself and said "Well, guys, we've got three days to come up with another one so, anything lying in your draws, just bring it up, and um, it was like a race, where we kind of produced maybe ten or twenty different drawings of things and they sort of, Jean-Pierre came down and looked at stuff and started selecting drawings he liked. Basically he started hacking at drawings, you know, a sort of typical process, somebody brings in a bit and you're trying to, you're watching over what you've just done and hope it doesn't get butchered too much. So I think that was the the main thing I did for, in terms of design was that ship. (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)

No comments:

Post a Comment