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.
Super-Facehugger Concept Art by Dominic Hailstone for Alien: Covenant
Please make sure you subscribe to his YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/dominichailstone
Concept artist, creature effects, that’s only a fraction of the multitude of talents displayed by Dominic. I was impressed by his practical work on Alien: Covenant, so I decided to find out what started it all. And of course what his thoughts are on Alien, Sci-Fi and his work.
Clara Fei-Fei: What’s your favourite Alien movie? And who is your favourite character from any Alien movie/comic/game?
Dominic Hailstone: Alien. That’s a tough one. I tend to get drawn to the performances rather than characters. Parker and Brett as a double act are great and I love Veronica Cartwright in almost anything. I’d like to say Ripley but she’s only really a standout in the second film, and they completely fucked her up in number four, so I can’t.
CF: What variant of the Xenomorph would you say is your favourite?
DH: The first one as it was presented as a perfect life form. That idea alone was given a lot of weight in the dialogue and I think it made more horrific and mysterious. To see them reduced to bugs in the second film was disheartening although the Queen is pretty damn great as a practical effect so that kind of made up for it. I still think that Aliens is amazing despite it breaking away from the first film.
CF: So if you could enhance your body using robotics, what abilities would you choose?
DH: Eyesight is only because I started wearing glasses a few years ago.
CF: What sci-fi or movie classic you recommend people should watch?
DH: Phase 4, although it’s hardly a classic. It was directed by Saul Bass who did a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s title sequences and there’s a lot of visual storytelling in it that I really love, a great deal of the film is just watching ants move around. If you want an outright classic then probably the original Twilight Zone TV series. There are enough good stories in that series to keep you nourished for a few years.
CF: What movie/director/etc. inspired you to pursue a profession in cinema?
DH: There are a few but the initial influence was definitely Steven Spielberg. I was completely obsessed by JAWS as a kid and ended up watching it over a hundred times. The other film would be The Evil Dead, which I also saw roughly the same amount. Apart from that, I read a lot of Tin Tin and I would say that was a big influence as well. Hammer films and Dr Who too.
CF: I can see you have a range of skills like visual effects and makeup, how did you learn those skills? Did you study/take a course?
DH: I got all that information from books I got from the library as there weren’t any courses when I was growing up. I don’t fit well into classrooms. I can’t actually learn anything if I don’t like the teacher.
CF: Could you explain to me what your movie The Eel was about? And what sort of feeling, or story were trying to evoke?
DH: It’s just a response to the music — which was written by Robert Clunne. The visuals appeared in my head as I was listening to it. Having said that I had thought of the main image before as I was thinking of doing an impromptu video for the song ‘The Golden Eel’ by WEEN, so I guess it comes from that. This might sound weird, but mainly I try and come up with images that give you emotions you can’t get from social interaction. For instance, I try and avoid filming faces. It’s an interesting challenge to see if you can affect people emotionally with less obvious tools.
As for a story, there’s actually something in The Eel that no-one’s noticed. If you find that then you can find the story, as slim as it is.
CF: What is your favourite piece you ever created?
DH: Recently is was the Proto-Facehugger that I made for Alien: Covenant. It was done in such as rush I ended up quite shocked it worked at all.
CF: Could you tell me what work you did for Alien: Covenant?
DH: On the practical fx side of things, I was the sculptor on the 8ft hero puppet, along with Adam Johansen and Adriana Narai. I also did the initial ZBrush sculpts for the Alien Egg, giant Facehugger and the sliced egg in David’s lab along with a bunch of other things there. Also, the new Chestburster, although that was mainly Ridley’s design. On the digital side of things, I did some concept art and worked extensively on the inner ear sequence, doing digital previs on that. I was initially hired by Ridley to supervise that sequence too but the job expanded.
CF: Was there any other work you have done that made it to the final film? Was there anything that didn’t?
DH: There’s always lots of stuff that gets cut. On big budget films there tends not to be one author, as we usually work as a team. The most you can realistically hope for is the influence, although some personal work does occasionally make it in. There’s a bunch of my stuff in the background of David’s lab if you squint, but the previs that I did for the inner ear sequence was replicated closely so I was most happy with that.
CF: Is there anyone’s work that you admired from Alien: Covenant?
DH: There was a lot of work that I admired. Everyone worked very hard. To single anyone out would just mean that I’ve forgotten a whole bunch of others.
CF: What did you think about the movie? What could they have improved on or changed to make it work?
DH: I thought it was pretty dull. I liked how downbeat it all was but there was such a great opportunity to get into the science of the Alien that I think was totally missed, and by that, I don’t mean explaining things. The original Alien has such a great atmosphere, it reminds me of being in a hospital, and I think that atmosphere is a big part of why it’s so terrifying. They should have capitalised on that.
I also didn’t understand why they didn’t play up the fact that the colonists were couples. The film was crying out for a scene like the one in The Abyss where Ed Harris is trying to resuscitate Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, but there wasn’t even really a scene where one half of a couple raced to save the other, which was pretty odd. It was such an underutilised dramatic device I came to the conclusion that it was put in less for plot purposes and more just to get an even mix of men and women, which is something Hollywood is obviously concerned about at the moment.
Also, you’ve got this moment where Katherine Waterstone’s character suddenly became a superhero. If you compare that scene to the scene in Aliens where Ripley dons the power loader, the earlier film actually has a powerful story attached to it: The machine that humiliated her is now being used to save her and her surrogate daughter’s life. It makes sense. Here you could barely remember that she was a rock climber in the first place!
Having said this I’m not sure I can blame Ridley like other people do. I understand what it’s like working for a big studio and the complexities involved with that. He did his job pretty damn well as far as I was concerned. The problem was the script.
CF: What would you say has been your favourite project to work on?
DH: A video for Tool that should be coming out later this year. Adam Jones gave me complete artistic freedom so the only constraint was the budget, we had a lot of fun figuring that out. Other than that Alien Covenant as I was working with friends I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. That was special.
CF: What is it like working on a large scale production such as Alien compared to smaller scale ones?
DH: Large-scale productions are usually more chaotic and boring than smaller ones. This may seem paradoxical but the reality is that most of the time you just sit in endless meetings where nothing productive is actually said. I try and avoid big films as much as possible as they bore me.
CF: Is there anything you are working on currently?
DH: I’ve just finished some digital fx for a film called Perfect directed by Eddie Alcazar. From what I’ve seen of it so far it’s very cool and for a first-time filmmaker, I’m very impressed. I also belong to his production company (co-founded by Eddie and Flying Lotus) and if all goes well I’ll be developing a feature film with them later this year. On top of this, I’m writing a couple of comedy scripts with Douglas Pledger and making a computer game for the Commodore 64. Oh, and doing some fx for Jodu Schell’s short film Remote Viewing, I mustn’t forget that.
CF: In future what sort of opportunities would you like to be involved in?
DH: I’d like to work in VR, although I already have an offer to do that so we’ll see how that pans out.