A Tribute to Hans Ruedi Giger

Hans_GigerLast month, the Swiss surrealists Hans Ruedi Giger – a painter, sculptor, set designer, and the Academy Award winning visual effects master who brought the world the Alien – died at the age of 74 in Zürich, Switzerland. After suffering injuries he sustained in a fall, the man who mined his own nightmares in creating phantasmagorical works finally passed away on Monday, May 12th, and leaves behind a robust legacy of inspiring people’s imaginations and striking fear into their hearts.

Describing his friend, American psychologist and psychedelic writer Timothy Leary was quoted as having praised the artist by saying:

Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.

And though he is well known within the artist community for his ability to turn nightmarish visions into works of art, some of which were oddly sexual, it is his contributions to the movie industry and science fiction franchise that are arguably the most well known. As the man who created the title character of the 1979 horror sci-fi classic Alien, he and the film’s visuel effects team won an Academy Award and spawned a genre that would have enduring influence.

SpaceJockeyIn addition to personally designing the Alien through all stages of its life – from egg to eight-foot tall monster – he was also responsible for the design of the Derelict (aka. the Space Jockey/Engineer spaceship) and the Space Jockey/Engineer itself. While some would describe these as “surrealist” or “Lovecraftian” in design, Giger preferred to call his art “biomechanics”, with its subjects often appearing to be hybrid creatures that had bodies that melded the organic with mechanical parts.

Nowhere was this more clear than with the design of the Alien itself. Combining elements of biology, technology, skewed sexuality and nightmarish visions into its design, it was this creation itself that the entire movie was built around. In fact, screenwriter Dan O’Bannon began crafting the script for the movie with neither a story idea nor a hero protagonist in mind. All he wanted was the sense of fear that came from more and more revealing glimpses of Giger’s creation.

Original alien concept, entitled Necronomicon IV
Original alien concept, entitled Necronomicon IV

And after seeing Giger’s first book, “Necronomicon” – a collection that was published in 1977 and named in honor of H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire of the same name –   Director Ridley Scott immediately decided to hire Giger, who began producing artwork and conceptual designs that were essentially refinements of the work found in his dark collection. As Mr. Scott would later say of this fateful decision: “I’d never been so certain about anything in all my life.”

The end result was a huge and harrowing success, with the setting of the Derelict ship providing a sense of awe and wonder, not to mention foreshadowing the sense of terror and darkness that would follow. And combined with O’Bannon’s vision and Scott’s cinematography, the brief glimpses we get of this ancient and dark looking creature only help to augment the sense of terror and claustrophobia that would come from being trapped aboard a spaceship with it.

HR Giger's concept for a Sandworm of Dune
HR Giger’s concept for a Sandworm of Dune

He would also collaborate on many other films of the horror and sci-fi genre. These include designs for the unproduced Alejandro Jodorowsky adaptation of Dune, which would later be made by David Lynch. Other examples include Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Killer Condom, Species, Future-Kill, and Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. Unfortunately, for all concerned, one movie he collaborated on  would ultiamtely reject his design – the updated Batmobile for the Batman Forever movie (picture below).

Beyond his work on the Alien franchise – which included designs for Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection and Prometheus – Mr. Giger published around 20 books of art, and his works were exhibited in Paris, Prague and New York. He also created many album covers, including one for the singer Debbie Harry’s 1981 album, “Koo Koo”, Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1973 album, “Brain Salad Surgery,” and a poster titled “Penis Landscape” for inclusion in an album by the punk band Dead Kennedys.

Batmobile concept
Giger’s Batmobile. Tell me it’s not better than the one we saw in Batman Forever!

And over at deviantART, artist techgnotic has arranged a tribute to the artist that embraces the many personal tributes that this art community have made toward the late Giger. Describing Giger’s enduring legacy, techgnotic says that:

Giger was a touchstone artist for those in the 70s & 80s who sought to shake up the establishment with a walk on the wild side. Today he is thought of by many artists as being one of the exemplars of letting the mind go free—to explore either the light or the darkness—and be fearless in sharing what was found there in one’s art. His art might be considered “safe” today, but he was a real inspiration to many of today’s artists.

And as he puts it in the prologue: “He was an artist you might not know. But you’ve met his children…” Be sure to go and check it out, as it does a very good job summarizing his life’s work and influence, and contains some pretty interesting and inspired tribute pieces! And while we’re at it, I suggest we set aside some time to rewatch Alien or one of the many other movies he collaborated on to create the dark, nightmarish sets or costumes that would help establish the tone of the film.

Brain_Salad_SurgeryAnd while were at it, perhaps we should take a page from Giger’s book and keep a nightmare journal. Not only did this man record all the dark visions he would experience in his sleep, he would use them to create artistic and cinematic gold! But if you’d rather leave that to the dark souls of this world and just enjoy letting them scare you, so much the better. RIP Giger, you will be missed!

Sources: nytimes.com, io9.com, techgnotic.deviantart.com

The Future is Here: The Mantis Hexapod Tank!

MantisWhen it comes to vehicles of the future, which may or may not include militarized land-crawlers, hexapods seem to be the way to go! Remember Project Hexapod and their Kickstarter-funded concept, Stompy? Well, it turns out an animatronics and special-effects designer who’s movie credits include “Prometheus” and “Lost in Space”  has produced his own. It’s known as Mantis, and while it may not be the first hexapod robot he’s ever built, it is the first giant-sized version.

The product of four years of research and development, Denton has managed to create what he claims is the biggest operational hexapod in the world. Measuring some 2.8 meters (9.2 feet) in height and weighing in at a hefty1815 kilos (2 tons), the giant robot is powered by a 2.2-liter turbo diesel engine and is designed to take on any type of terrain. But given the fact that it relies on six articulating legs to get around, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In addition, it can be controlled remotely via Wi-Fi, but why do that when you can climb into the cockpit and operate it like a true cartoonish supervillain? Naturally, you won’t seem so intimidating since the speed and power are still pretty limited, but the machine is relatively new. And in truth, hexapod technology is still in its early phases. We might have to wait a few more years before the nuclear-powered, missile-toting version is available.

According to the Mantis Web site, the hexapod is available for private hire, custom commissions, events, and sponsorship. Much like Stompy, Mantis is not intended for general sale, so don’t make any plans to ride one to work in the near future either. But you might want to earmark some of your savings for the commercial model that’s sure to be released sometime in the 2020’s.

And be sure to check out the video of the Mantis in action:


Movie Trailer Monday: Star Trek Into Darkness

star-trek-into-darkness-mockupYou can tell a studio is serious about a movie when the trailer releases are many and not too far between. That seemed to be the case with Prometheus, the movie that couldn’t stop dropping hints before it even aired. And it’s definitely the case with the latest installment in the Abrams relaunch of Star Trek, entitled Star Trek: Into Darkness. And so for my third MTM, I’ve decided to post the third trailer for this upcoming movie.

This time around, there’s plenty of action to behold, plus some genuine hints as to what the bad guy is doing and what his deal truly is. Thanks to the previous two trailers, we already knew that Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing the lead villain and that this movie follows the rule of Act II being the darker story. We also knew that this time around, Kirk’s mettle will be tested as he’s forced to go beyond his usual combination of daring and bravado.

And with this latest teaser, some hints are given as to what exactly is motivating the villain and how Kirk and crew will be forced to deal with him. Apparently, it involves a massive terror attack against the Federation which cripples it by taking out its leadership. And what’s more, I believe that Cumberbatch, who’s character is rumored to be named Khan and who sound a lot like the original, will be stepping into the role once occupied by Ricardo Montelban. Fingers crossed at any rate, because that would be cool!

And of course, it’s an exciting watch. So enjoy it and join me in waiting eagerly for the May 17th theatrical release!

Reconstructing the Earliest Languages

prometheus_engineer1Remember that scene in Prometheus when David, the ship’s AI, was studying ancient languages in the hopes of being able to speak to the Engineers? The logic here was that since the Engineers were believed to have visited Earth many millennia ago to tamper with human evolution, that they were also responsible for our earliest known languages. In David’s case, this meant reconstructing the ancient tongue known as Proto-Indo-European.

Given the fact that my wife is linguistics major, and that I love all things ancient and historical, I found the concept pretty intriguing – even if it was a little Ancient Astronauts-y. To think that we could trace words and meaning back through endless iterations to determine what the earliest language recognized by linguists sounded like. Given how many tongues it has “parented”, it would be cool to meet the common ancestor.

prometheus-lingua2And now there is a piece of software that can do just that. Thanks to a group of linguists and computer scientists in the US and Canada, this program has shown the ability to analyze enormous groups of languages to reconstruct the earliest human languages, long before there was writing. By using this program and others like it, linguists may one day know how people sounded when they talked 20,000 years ago.

Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, a University of British Columbia statistician, began working on the program when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. By using algorithms to compare sounds and cognates across hundreds of different modern languages, he found he could predict which language groups were most related to each other. Basically, a sound that remained the same across distantly-related languages most likely existed early in our linguistic evolutionary tree.

Primary_Human_Language_Families_MapModern linguists speculate that the earliest languages that led to today’s tongues include Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Afroasiatic and Proto-Austronesian. These are the ancestral language families that gave rise to languages like Celtic, Germanic, Italic and Slavic; Arabic, Hebrew, Cushite and Somali; and Samoan, Tahitian, and Maori. Though by no means the only language family trees (they do not account of Sub-Saharan Africa or the pre-Columbian Americas, for example), they do encompass the majority of spoken languages today.

For their purposes, Bouchard-Côté and his colleagues focused on Proto-Austronesia, the family which led to today’s Polynesian languages as well as languages in Southeast Asia and parts of continental Asia. Using the software they developed, they were able to reconstruct over 600 ancient Proto-Austronesian languages and published their findings in the December issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

proto=austronesianIn their paper, Bouchard-Côté and his researchers said this of their new program:

“The analysis of the properties of hundreds of ancient languages performed by this system goes far beyond the capabilities of any previous automated system and would require significant amounts of manual effort by linguists.”

Ultimately, this program could allow linguists to hear languages that haven’t been spoken in millennia, reconstructing a lost world where those languages spread across the world, evolving as they went. In addition, it could be used for linguistic futurism, anticipating how languages may evolve over time and surmising what people will speak and sound like hundreds or even thousands of years from now.

Personally, I think the ability to look back and know what our ancestors sounded like is the real prize, but I’d be a poor sci-fi nerd if I didn’t at least fantasize about what our language patterns will sound like down the road. Lord knows its been speculated about plenty of times thus far, with thoughts ranging from Galego (a Slavic-English hybrid from Dune), the Chinese-English smattering used in Firefly, and City Speak from Blade Runner.

Hey, remember this little gem? Bonus points to anyone who can translate it for me (without consulting Google Translate!):

Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem, bitte! Lófaszt! Nehogy már! Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner! Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo.

Sources: IO9, pnas.org

Coming Soon: Pacific Rim

pacific_rimIn and amongst the many sequels, prequels, and relaunches coming out this year, there are a few gems to speak of. I came across this one in the course of reading about upcoming sci-fi films that previewed at Comic Con. Known as “Pacific Rim”, the story takes place in a dark future when giant aliens – known as “Kaiju” – rise up from the depth of the Pacific Ocean to inflict a losing war on humanity.

And to combat this new threat, a special breed of massive robots known as Jaegers are produced to fight them. Controlled by human pilots via a neural link, these machines are the last, besrink kikuchit hope humanity has for defeating the alien menace. But of course, this too doesn’t go so well, and the entire war comes down to two unlikely pilots, a classic old Jaeger design, and a last ditch effort.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), the movie stars Edris Elba (The Losers, Thor, Prometheus) Charlie Hunnam (Children of Men, Sons of Anarchy), and Ron Perlman (Quest for Fire, Hellboy, Enemy at the Gates, Conan) and Rinko Kikuchi (Shanghai, Norwegian Wood, 47 Ronin) in the leading roles.

A more classic story there is not! An alien invasion, giant monsters, giant robots, a desperate war to save humanity, and unlikely heroes. What’s not to love?

New Music Video Tells the Theory of Panspermia

Those who saw Prometheus recently, or witnessed the cinematic spectacle known as 2001: A Space Odyssey, will be instantly familiar with the concept. Basically, it asserts that life exists throughout the Universe and is distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and planetoids. In the more fantastic and imaginative version of this story, the distribution process is being helped along by alien “Engineers” or “Firstborn” who make it a point to seed worlds with their own genetic material, or tamper with existing life to promote evolution.

This new music video, produced by Tom Walsh, is a new and interesting take on the concept. Here, set to the music of “The Last Human on Earth” (by Swimming & Alex Herington), tells the story of a human engineer who is busy distributing human DNA throughout the Universe. Many times over, the name HERA comes up, which refers to Human Evolution Recovery Administration, a group that was formed in 1950 with the purpose of ensuring that humanity survives the death of our sun, our world, and any cataclysms that might come our way.

Check out the video below, and be sure to look up HERA at its website as well. Some very cool reading and watching!

Source: IO9

How Prometheus Should Have Ended

I came across this video some time ago on the HISHE website, but hesitated to post it with the others. For one, I liked the movie, and these guys, in their signature, trademark way, dealt it some pretty smarting blows. But of course, all they were doing was highlighting the plot holes which were pretty clear to anyone who has seen Alien and remembers the particulars of that classic. For one, the Engineer/Space Jockey was discovered in the pilot’s seat, was he not?

But then again, the planet where the Derelict was discovered in Alien and the Sulaco returns to in Aliens was LV-426, not LV-223 where the Prometheus traveled to. So… what gives? Clearly, this is not the planet where Alien took place, but that just raises more questions, questions which are rumored to be answered in subsequent prequels. Now didn’t they say that Prometheus would be the movie that answered all these questions?

Yeah, basically I feel that enough time has passed that I can raise these plot holes and not worry about spoiling the movie for anyone. And this video is a pretty good start. In addition, it’s also quite funny. Enj0y!

How the Dark Knight Should Have Ended

My thanks to Rami for reminded me this site existed! It must have been a year ago that I saw the clip of how the original Superman should have ended, with Superman making down the missiles and not going on a scavenger hunt for the kyrponite. The Prometheus ending was even more apt, pointing out how the Engineer was supposed to die in his chair, not on the floor of an escape pod. But this one was even better!

New “Man of Steel” Trailer!

Behold! In the wake of this years’ Comic Con, it seems that trailer fever has struck. I, being a geek and hence unimmune to such strains of fever, am making it a point to post the updates. Here’s the most recent trailer from the upcoming Superman relaunch “Man of Steel”, which was first announced at Comic Con during preview night.

In this updated preview, we get a glimpse of the new Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), his father (played by Kevin Costner), and a scene of him with his Superman cape breaking the sound barrier. And of course its all done to a sort of “set the scene” narrative which establishes the coming of age nature of the movie, much like the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech Peter Parker’s uncle gave him in Spiderman.

Aside from that, this preview is pretty damn spares. Clearly, the studio is taking the eye drop approach, releasing tiny little clips to tease and taunt the audience into demanding more. By comparison, Robocop – another relaunch which first previewed at Comic Con – appears to be taking the Prometheus approach: doing mock ads and context pieces in order to establish background. Personally, I like the latter approach better. It promises that there will be debt to the franchise and more than just a bildungsroman about a central hero.