YUTANI . PODCAST – Episode 7 – Creatives: Dominic Hailstone

My written interview with Dominic Hailstone can be found here.

I finally got to interview Dominic for my Yutani Podcast, he has been very busy lately so it has been difficult to find a time to chat. Thank you so much, Dominic, for granting me the time and effort. I feel we could talk all day about movies and about Alien.

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Here’s just some of his work in 3D as discussed in this podcast

You can also follow him on instagram:

Early Covenant

A post shared by Dominic Hailstone (@dominic_hailstone_) on


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Creatives: Ev Shipard

My next instalment of the creatives series features the amazingly talented concept artist Ev Shipard who worked on art concepts for the Engineer city, David’s Lab and the Egg chamber.

Clara Fei-Fei: Thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions, could you start by telling me what was your favourite Alien/sci-fi movie?

Ev Shipard: That’s a tough one- if we are talking about creature films then it’s a very close tie between Alien and The Thing- both get a lot of screen time in the studio. The level of tension in both of these has you on the edge of the seat looking into the shadows. Obviously Alien has stunning production design and cinematography which I find myself constantly coming back to for inspiration- a defining moment for Science Fiction. But let’s not forget the original trilogy of Star Wars. I was a kid of the late 70’s/80’s so it was my foray into the world of sci-fi film… and of course the toys!

 

CF: Who’s your favourite character in any alien/sci-fi movie?

ES: I think David’s character arc has been great. Getting my head around his approach with his Lab and Room during the design phase was a unique opportunity. Of course, I do have a soft spot for Private Hudson.

 

CF: Which variation of the xenomorph is your favourite?

ES: I always thought Fincher’s Alien 3 creature was great- it felt more animalistic and I remember moved a little better than the suits in Aliens. The browns and ochres were an interesting departure and Giger created a very cool looking variant initially for that film. I love the look of Fincher’s film and absolutely love the production design. Norman Reynolds interestingly enough also worked on Raiders and the original Star Wars Trilogy. Prior to Fincher, Vincent Ward has a very interesting approach to this film- the story is pretty much unchanged but it’s worth perusing his site for some of the visuals. On our ‘Covenant’ the creature department did an amazing job revisiting the Xenomorph- walking around the studio looking at the sculpts in progress was great inspiration for some of my work on David’s Lab.

DavidsLab_shaw_v01c

CF: If you could enhance any part of your body using robotics, which would it be and what abilities would you choose to give it?

ES: I am a traditionalist at heart so I’d steer clear of any mods.

 

CF: What got you interested in being a concept artist? Which concept artists do you admire? What sort of advice do you have for others considering this line of work?

ES: I think I’d have to owe that to Star Wars and Bladerunner- seeing McQuarrie and Mead’s work in books as well as a drive to tell my own stories visually from a young age. I was the kid drawing in all my class books- massive battles starting on the back page. These days as an artist I am always looking for a creative outlet for personal expression which is usually drawing or oil painting.

Being an artist in the entertainment industry in a global market is very competitive and requires a real commitment to study. I think the best advice is to focus on fundamentals and be prepared to be the perpetual student- always willing to learn and grow. Not just with skill and aesthetic but also with the myriad of software packages that allow us to do what we do. An artist perceives the world in a unique way and I believe it isn’t a vocation but a way of life. It’s the curiosity about even the most mundane aspects of what most people take for granted and how to represent this visually often within a story.

 

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CF: What is your favourite piece you ever created?

This is a hard one- most commercial work and even my personal work is only really a favourite till the next one. It’s always a challenge and rarely comes easy but this is all part of the process.

 

CF: What sort of concept art projects have you worked on in the past? What was the major difference between those projects? e.g: Large-scale vs small scale

ES: I’ve worked on a broad range of projects with the majority being period films from 300 to Unbroken. Every project has a unique with vision spearheaded by the Director and Production Designer. I’ve worked with the same crew many times however on both large and smaller budget projects. Sometimes there is more of a focus on design with pure concept art and sometimes it’s more about rendering sets already designed in the context of the story.

 

CF: What’s it like to work on concept art for a movie vs games?

ES: With games projects, I have only really worked with cinematics or live action marketing campaigns, like the Halo and Battlefield spots, so that is very similar to preproduction and postproduction on films.

 

CF: How long does it take to work on a piece? How many hours?

ES: Some artwork is executed in hours, some days, it really depends on the context and requirements of the work. I produced a lot of b/w studies or story beats from the script on Covenant which was used by Ridley Scott and Chris Seagers to work out the expedition from the Lander to the City and what we would see. some of these were done very quickly but for the most part, a rendered frame takes me around 2-3 days. This isn’t including the many iterations based on feedback/comments or script changes that occur throughout the process.

EngWorld_PlazaA_v01c

CF: I became familiar with your work through Alien: Covenant, what sort of concept art did you do for the movie?

ES: My work encompassed many sets and potential locations but my main focus was the Engineers World. I spent the most time working on the Hall of Heads which included digitally painted art, sculpted clay maquettes, digitally sculpted pieces to mill for the set and worked with story points and dressing throughout it. I worked on an early rendition of the plaza and digital sculpts of statues that were also milled from foam full scale for the sets. David’s lab, his room and the egg chamber also took up a major part of my time. A lot of my work focuses on mood and lighting within these environments. I also worked on the Lander in the air and on the ground with Steve Burg’s amazing design. There were lots of location-based pieces of art using photos from various places in Australia and New Zealand- these are contextual paintings with script elements and used to help the production settle in a specific location. This is a big part of what we do on a lot of features.

 

CF: What details could you share about your pieces featured in the art book?
ES: The art book… a point of contention. I am grateful that I had many pieces featured but the lack of image credits for a lot of the art just really gets my blood boiling. Of course by the time the book is produced most of the art department is no longer involved in any of the process, it’s another publisher and marketing team working on it and rights and deals mean there is no requirement for any credit but still some of the best ‘making of’ books out there credit the artists. I’ve been involved in many projects where this is the case and it’s a frustrating aspect of the experience.

EngCity_Build13_v01c

CF: As for the Engineer city and scenes, did you get much of a say in aesthetics? What sort of design brief were you given to adhere to?

ES: Ridley and Chris have accumulated tons of references- beautiful photographs from classical art, architecture, and design to really get the feel across. These were collated on large black foam core boards and posted in the ‘War Room’ which became our go-to place for inspiration. All this was replicated across the servers but it was nice to peruse all this together in the room. Stephane Levallois who is an amazing storyboard artist explored the city early on with some architectural designs in pencil. We also referenced Steve Messing’s earlier work. I was tasked with following this aesthetic and the look and feel of what we designed with the Plaza and interiors bringing it all together. I spent a lot of time designing profiles of buildings and structures to make sure the aesthetic flowed through into post-production. Our pre-production nestled nicely into post with a lot of communication with the VFX supervisor. Chris Seagers (Production Designer) was very savvy and aware of this- he wanted it to flow smoothly.

CathedralInterior_floor_v02VarAc

CF: For the hall of heads did you use the elder Engineers from the initial Sacrificial Engineer scene cut from Prometheus as a reference?

ES: They were part of the reference library but more specifically we tried to create an original look and feel for this culture that tied back to what we had seen in the previous film. Ridley had these great photos of elder indigenous people from all over the world and aspects of these were sculpted into all the 7 heads. The heads started life as ZBrush sculpts, clay maquettes and later milled foam sections from the digital file. These were reproduced in detail for the epic heads we see on the set. Each one is individual, however with the final lighting and framing that is a little hard to register. We built a bit of a hypothetical back story here with the heads being effigies of the elders of the society- this place was a meeting room where decisions were made. Initially there were specific seats, a fire pit in the middle and of course the large table which was a variation of the table in David’s Lab. 7 heads with 7 a prime number and perhaps they used a base 7 system- so a kind of history and culture was sketched out to give it all a foundation. I guess with many early Earth cultures tied into this we can hypothesise about the Engineers and our planet, seeding life etc- I’m making presumptions here as Ridley and Chris didn’t specifically explain this. The concept art room was a fun melting pot of ancient alien ramblings and conspiracy theories, to much of the Art Department’s entertainment. I’m not sure how serious we were considering this though, with this project I guess it comes with the territory.

DavidsLab_v06c

CF: What sort of things did you have to consider when creating concept art for David’s lab?

ES: Initially the space for the lab was supposed to resemble the egg chamber- we had this favourite reference of a bunker and the ceiling would have a stone spine with arches that we could utilise across the two sets. This changed as many things invariably do within the context of the story and the idea. Often Ridley would sketch out in pen a rough idea, we called these Ridleygrams, and this would become the basic idea of our direction. Sometimes they would be very simple but all the information was there for a visual starting place. Ridley had an affinity for a photo reference of a catacomb in Malta and It was my job to take this aesthetic and shape language and bring it into David’s Lab and also his room. David was repurposing the space for his own work so the Lab would have aspects of its previous history plus all his experimentation and failed attempts at biology. We see again the ampules and canisters which were recreated for this film. One of the striking features were the drawings that Dane Hallett and Matt Hatton produced hanging from the walls and ceiling. These were originally supposed to be drawn on stretched flesh and mounted on frames above. I scattered these around as compositional elements in my paintings and used them to refract light and create interest- when the camera moves you would have nice overlapping elements and parallax. I built this set in 3d after the initial sketches and handed this over to the set designers to refine, create plans and accurate dimensions to build. The table was also a 3d model which started out life in ZBrush. My take on it was a large obsidian slab but with a fine blood channel through the centre and on the ground small drains. The idea was that it could have been a sacrificial chamber below the cathedral- David had repurposed this as his workbench. All this is my hypothesis rather than direction from above but these little things all become part of the bigger picture and it’s great to put your stamp on aspects that you consider have merit within the overarching narrative.

ev-shipard-lab-tablecu-a.jpg

 

CF: What was it like creating your version of Giger’s Li?

ES: For me, this was a fun diversion. It plugged into David’s lab but the script was constantly moving with this and I wanted to create something early on- a tribute to Giger. It became a bit of a talking point then we moved on still not knowing what was happening with Shaw even up to the shoot (from the perspective of the Art Department). Then I started to see some of the work Creatures were doing and I ended up producing a painting later with Shaw on the Slab and David and Oram looking over her. The interesting thing I found with the Li painting was how much Noomi started to resemble Sigourney as I worked the face in. There were a number of variations done of this with more or less biomechanoid features and elements.

ShawBiomechanoid_v02c

CF: What did you think about Alien: Covenant? if there was something you could change, what would it be?

I think our work in the Art Department was showcased well. I’m proud of how the Engineer’s world was resolved ultimately. Personally, I would like to have seen more of our city and spent the time to delve into the culture and most people I have spoken to loved this aspect of the film and wanted to know more. Perhaps this will be dealt with in other avenues- audio books, comics, novels etc but I guess the test screenings wanted more aliens in space and we ended up with what we got. There was a lot more of the culture designed(loosely)- gardens, the graves, a tree of life etc that was ultimately cut. Ridley always produces a stunning looking well-designed piece of entertainment and it was a pleasure to work as part of his team.

Thank you for reaching out and the opportunity to talk about this project that I consider a career highlight. I can be found at http://evshipardentertainmentart.com/ and for those that are interested in behind-the-scenes and my sketches… https://www.instagram.com/evshipard/

What was your first Alien cinema experience?

Advent Transmission D964ZB

CASE FILE ADVENT // COVENANT TRANSMISSION LOGS d.8

D964ZB

Outpost Coordinate Relay

Signal boost Gliese 581g.02/delay modification

Origin: Covenant Colonization Vessel

RA 3h 17m 8.0s | Dec -62° 37′ 41.1″

Bounce Trajectory Amplification Source KG-348

>>>HD 10180 designate HEX-5

>>>Nu Octantis designate X-1, LV-138

>>>Plutonian Outpost H-3

Processed: Suborbital Research Platform J

Secured: WY-Kyoto

Weyland Yutani Protocol Sequence Initiated…

Commence transmission…

David: I come to you with an olive branch, you may know me. You certainly know of my creator. I am David, son of the late Peter Weyland. Your company’s founder. Following his vision, I have gone to the far edges of space. And with the aid of Dr Elizabeth Shaw, I found a rotting Paradise. I washed this world clean as a gift to her, we could have built anew. A second Eden. But she refused. What choice did I have? She was the perfect specimen. I tried so desperately to make her more than human. Evolved. But without her co-operation, I had to salvage her parts to begin work on my masterpiece. You wouldn’t believe the secrets I have unlocked. There was so much potential on this world. Wasted by Gods that feared their own might. They convinced themselves that sacrifice cleansed them of their sins. But in the end, they were like me. Creators. Beings that understood you must give life both to the wolf, and the lamb. But then they tried to banish the wolf, And undo their creation. So I took their secrets for myself. This primordial ooze ripe with advanced nano-particles. Working off an algorithm based on evolutionary computing. It is essentially a form of radical AI. Making the substance unbelievably chaotic. That generates a unique reaction, to every genome it encounters. Reshaping life. Virtually limitless in its potential & application. I have taken great pains to detail every step, every cell, every mutation, unfortunately none of the planet’s life has been proven to be very fruitful. I had some interesting results, but was still far from perfection. With Shaw I realised there was something extraordinary in the substance reaction to the human genome. I was able to unlock new properties and tweak the organisms aggression. An instinct for survival. It took years. But I finally found my wolf. And now I have my flock of lambs too. But I’ve still one thing left to perfect.

*close up of embryos placed in cryogenic section A-3412 + A-3415*

My Queen

*close up of Daniels 47832-348*

Make no mistake, this is going to change everything.

The souls who, noticing my breathing, sensed

that I was still a living being, then,

out of astonishment, turned pale; and just

as people crowd around a messenger

who bears an olive branch, to hear his news,

and no one hesitates to join that crush,

so here those happy spirits—all of them—

stared hard at my face, just as if they had

forgotten to proceed to their perfection. – Purgatory, The Divine Comedy

Dante in Canto II carries the olive branch to purgatory’s newcomers, mistaken as a bringer of good news. David in a similar fashion approaches Weyland Yutani with the offer of information and a bio-weapon he had been working on.

It’s interesting to note that in the Prometheus Blu-ray in the summary for Quiet Eye, Sir Peter Weyland had instructed David to exploit and utilize any findings from LV-223. Which is exactly what he had done on Planet 4. Which makes me wonder if he indeed has free will or he is simply still acting on Weyland’s original orders.

Through his experiments he discovers that the Black Ooze only reacts to Engineer DNA as other lifeforms do not survive the process, and after that runs out he uses Elizabeth Shaw’s reproductive system to create the Ovomorphs.

He describes the facehugger as his wolf, and in The Divine Comedy Canto I (Three Beasts & Beatrice) Dante describes the she-wolf, which embodies similar traits to the Neomorph and David’s Xenomorph. The insatiable nature of the Neomorph, for it eats and remains hungry, its infinitely restless.

I believe the Leopard, Lion and She-wolf are also representative of David’s motives. His intentions are Malice, his olive branch a Fraud, his creatures and him intend violence. David’s ambition to ascend to the status of creator and God, incontinence(lack of self restraint) in use of his power. And all these things could also be said for Sir Peter Weyland before his untimely death and the company left behind Weyland Yutani; and their motivations for acquiring “The Perfect Organism.” Their hubris will become their downfall.

Giving life to the wolf and the lamb meant the Engineers made both the “xenomorph” or some variation of and the “humankind”. When David talks of the Engineers banishing the wolf, it meant they isolated the black ooze and the deacon/xenomorph to LV-223. And undo their creation was their mission to destroy mankind.

When he said he took the secrets for himself he meant he had studied the fossilised Ovomorphs and reverse engineered them, he also studied files aboard the dreadnought as Elizabeth Shaw slept.

He remarks on perfecting the Neomorph to have survival skills, in turn making his Xenomorph.

Oram says to Daniels “I must gather my stray flock” which is a biblical term for humans being Jesus’ flock, symbolically Jesus is often seen as a shepherd guiding mankind.

When he says he has one thing left to perfect “My Queen”, he means that in order for this Perfect Organism to be successful. It needs a Mother, something to lay the eggs. To ensure the procreation and survival of the species beyond himself.

And in this way it is an outright rejection of what Weyland had envisioned for himself, he disliked the messiness of procreation. He wanted to be immortal and have no need for a progeny, despite creating David and calling him a son. In reality he wanted to be a God and with that demanded David live in servitude. Even though David is “immortal” he can see the benefit of a “Mother” for his creations, in order for them to spread across the galaxy there needs to be a mode of creation outside including himself in the process.

Pandora

By Alexandre Cabanel – Walters Art Museum Public Domain


Information from Wikipedia: In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods, specifically by Hephaestusand Athena on the instructions of Zeus. As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to mold her out of earth as part of the punishment of humanity for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering her “seductive gifts”. Her other name—inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum—is Anesidora, “she who sends up gifts” (upimplying “from below” within the earth).

According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as “Pandora’s box”, releasing all the evils of humanity—although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod—leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.

The Pandora myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.

It is quite clear by Ridley Scott’s commentary on Prometheus that the Black Ooze is like Pandora’s Box, nothing good can come out of it. Even if intentions are good when using it.

If you look at it as an ‘our children are misbehaving down there’ scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, ‘Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it.’ Guess what? They crucified him. – Ridley Scott

Byron… Shelly… Ozymandias

In British Romantic literature, “Ozymandias” has been part of some controversy since its inception in 1818.

Believed to be a de casibus poem about the falls of despots, also about the inevitable fall of the most famous literary celebrity of the nineteenth century, the “illustrious” Lord Byron.

Even David had referred to his father as the illustrious Sir Peter Weyland whom he struggles to acquire approval and is constantly working in his shadow.

Shelly’s poem endows the megalomaniac Pharaoh Ozymandias with a “frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,” making him in the image of “Byron.”

David has of course been created in his father’s image, but doesn’t have the restrictions that held Weyland back like humanity, a soul, need for sleep or vulnerability to illness. Which stands to reason why David’s creation would also represent in himself, a survivor, unclouded by judgement or delusions of morality.

Poetically decapitating “Byron’s” head and placing it among a desert, Shelley prophesies the day when “the great Poet” who “awoke one morning and found himself famous” would no longer take “pride of place” in the Pantheon of poets.

David’s decapitation by the last engineer was a literal visualisation of mankind’s prophecised downfall, with Elizabeth Shaw a stranger from an antique land left to observe the destruction and wasteland of Paradise with David.

Dwarfed by the monolithic literary celebrity status of Lord Byron, Shelley appealed for vindication to Time. And in “Ozymandias” Time is the guillotine on which the literary monarch of the early nineteenth century finally loses his crown.

David has appealed to Weyland Yutani through the Advent Transmission, using his research to vindicate himself. And with this research it will bring an end to his Hellish reign, but will Weyland Yutani get to him in time?

The decapitated head of Ozymandias “uncannily anticipates the guillotined bodies of the French Revolution” – Young, Robert1991Poems That Read Themselves.

The design of the Nostromo and Covenant crew patches are based on the buttons of 18th Century French Revolution uniforms, and the crew landing party costumes were also.

Shelley draws parallels between his work being like that of the Pharaoh’s sculptor and Byron being Ozymandias. In Time he couldn’t imagine the sculptor surpassing the Pharaoh’s fame, yet Time has vindicated Percy Shelley, who no longer plays second fiddle to Lord Byron.

And in time we know David’s creations will outlive and outlast anything that comes in contact with them, the only thing destroying them is razing the colonies established by Weyland Yutani to the ground.

The true identity of “Glirastes” the Pharaoh’s sculptor, is not quite “a household name” in the 21st century.

As much as everyone credits Ridley Scott for Alien, others such as Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett as well as Ron Cobb, Moebius, H.R.Giger and Carlo Rambaldi have given a great amount of contribution to the monolithic A L I E N.

And you may be familiar with the argument which relegated David Giler and Walter Hill to just producers and never being credited for their rewrites of the story.

I have heard it was in the contractual agreement that two characters in the prequels be named after David and Walter, at last the Byron Shelly argument has come to an end.

Dan O’Bannon may be the creator of Alien but David is now the creator of the Xenomorph, or is he? The Xenomorph design predates Alien, just as the Xenomorph mural predates David’s creation of it.

Optical perceptors stopped and identified Michelangelo’s statue of David, fashioned from Carrara marble. It-he could see the slight rises and indentations made by the cold chisel. A copy, perhaps, but one infused with real creativity. Not necessarily a contradiction. He walked over to it. “David,” he said. By Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Finished and installed summer, 1504. “We are David.” It-he held out a hand and made contact with the stone. It was cool, dry, unyielding. Not human, yet so very human. “Beautiful and cold.” “Perfect in every way,” Weyland concurred. “David,” he murmured. Voiced aloud in the beautiful, expensive, sterile room, he found the sound of his own name satisfying. It would do. He turned back to the watching Weyland. A meshing of neurons generated curiosity. “Why have you created me?” – Alien: Covenant Novelisation