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Roger Dicken: Life in Small Forms

Roger Dicken: Life in Small Forms

You will be familiar with Giger's early concept designs for the facehugger and chestburster. However, it wasn't Giger, who built or operated the two creatures we see in the final film. That job fell upon sculpture and model maker Roger Dicken.

Roger With His Creations

After the initial alien concepts were completed Ridley Scott wanted to look beyond Alien's effects department when it came to building the three alien life forms. He wanted a specialist who could turn the three into convincing and very real looking creatures. The first choice was Academy award winner Carlo Rambaldi, who had, over a period of 20 years or so, perfected his own technique of bringing things to life through mechanical effects. At the time Rambaldi was known for bringing to life a 40-foot ape for a Dino De Laurentis production of King Kong in 1976.

When approached to work on Alien Rambaldi was committed to working on a production called Nightwing and couldn't offer a guarantee he would be available. It was Producer Ivor Powell, who suggested Rodger Dicken of whom he had worked with on Standley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and was responsible for building the Dinosaur models for animator Jim Danforth for a production called When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Dicken was asked if he would work on Alien but was hesitant because he liked to work from his own design concepts. Eventually, he agreed.

Ridley Scott wanted to explore other ideas for the Adult Alien as he wanted to stray away from a man in a rubber suit and wanted something in a non-humanoid shape. At one stage, the idea of using a fully mechanised alien was considered but time, money and safety reasons scraped the idea. After many talks and ideas, it was decided that they had no choice but to use a man in a rubber suit and so Ridley went to work on trying to figure out how to make a person look like a non-humanoid shape.

Three meetings were called, with Roger Dicken attending each one, which called for performers such as contortionists and even midgets in which in some stages were strapped together to attempt to create a shape that was non-humanoid. After each meeting, Rodger Dicken was becoming impatient and felt that it was all a waste of time.

“Nobody seemed to know what the hell they wanted. I went to about three meetings in London and watched these characters roll around on the floor – and quite frankly, I thought it was a bit Mickey Mouse. I mean, it was obvious to me that none of this was going to work, but I had to just sit through quite a few more meetings while they ran through football players and wrestlers and very tall men. Then, for a while, they thought they'd use an ordinary - sized guy so there wouldn't be any problems with stunts and all. At that point, I even offered to be the monster myself. I figured if I was going to make the suit, I might as well be in it.”

- Roger Dicken, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay


Ridley Scott, Gordon Carroll and H.R Giger went to visit Roger, being shown Giger's designs, he expressed his 'disliking' towards them, and that he would rather build something beautiful, Roger was not impressed, but it was what the studio wanted. Taking the design, Roger went to work in his home an hours drive from Shepperton studios to begin sculpting the Chestburster out of Plasticine and casting the sculpture in foam plastic giving it a latex skin. Roger worked on the Chestburster for about three weeks keeping faithful to Giger's design. Once finished Roger took the Chestburster puppet to Ridley Scott and Gordon Carroll and began a demonstration and workings of his creation. The demonstration didn't go well, looking like a demented turkey. Ridley feared this would cause the audience to laugh and not frighten them so the design was scrapped, and Roger was asked to start again.

Giger's Original Concept Design

“You want me to build this? It looks like a Turkey! And they said yes that's what they wanted...Obviously you couldn't get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but initially, they were going to cheat it somehow.”

Roger Dicken, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay

Roger was beginning to have doubts about his involvement on Alien but went on to revise the Chestburster. During sculpting the new design Ridley Scott went to Roger's house to look in on his progress, looking at the sculpture Ridley noticed it had legs making it resemble a dinosaur and proceeded to remove the legs. One major problem with the Chestburster design was that it wasn't big enough for Roger to put his hand inside to operate it so a metal rod was added with a hand grip at the bottom.

 

Early Chestburster Sculpture by Giger


“...constructing it wasn't so simple, mainly because they wanted its actual size and it wasn't big enough to put my hand inside and operate it. What I came up with was a curved metal rod which ran down into a hand grip. About halfway along – up where the neck would have been if it had one – was a flexible steel spring, and then the rest of the rod went into the head area and then down underneath to give it strength. I ran a wire, through a series of eyelets, along the whole length of the rod and then down into a ring which would fit around my finger; so when I pulled on the ring, the spring would make the front section bend over...There was also a little bladder inside the thing's chest so it could breathe, and a bladder on each side of the head so the gills would pulse. Then I ran another tube up to the mouth and connected that to a bottle of fluid, so that when you squeezed the bottle, saliva would run out...Everything was really simple. What was difficult was getting it all to fit in this narrow sausage.”

- Roger Dicken, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay


The completed puppet also had arms, which moved but Ridley wanted these removed also, leaving two strange 'stumps' at either side of the creature. Finally, the Chestburster was ready to be filmed and Roger Dicken himself operated the puppet for its famous birth from John Hurt's chest. We will take a further look into the Chestburster scene in a later article which will go into detail about the filming of this sequence and the operation of the Chestburster.


After the task of constructing the chestburster the next thing on Roger Dicken's list was the Facehugger. Roger was given Giger's first concept designs, which were out of scale, once again Roger was called into a meeting to discuss what modifications Ridley Scott wanted for the new Facehugger design.

Roger Dicken on the Infirmary Set

Being shown Giger's book Ridley proceeded to show what parts of different designs he wanted to see done while at the same time other people started to throw ideas at Roger at how the Facehugger should look making him confused. In the end, it was Dan O' Bannon, who helped Roger understand what Ridley wanted by taking him to the art department, armed with Giger's book, and started drawing a concept sketch of what Ridley wanted the Facehugger to look like.

“..Dicken was just confused. He couldn't absorb it all the way it was being thrown at him. SO I asked Ridley if I could take a try at it, and he said. 'Go ahead.' So I went over to the art department with Dicken and we took a drafting table and a huge piece of paper and some pencils. I drew two heads on the paper, and then I opened up Giger's book and put it down in front of us. 'All right,' I said. 'Ridley said he wanted part of this body, right?' and I sketched it out. 'And he liked these fingers.' So I added the fingers....'

Dan O' Bannon, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay

Just as O' Bannon had finished the new concept design H.R Giger arrived in the art department, after returning from Switzerland, carrying some concept designs for the Facehugger of his own, which resembled what Dan O' Bannon had sketched. Looking at Dan's sketches, Giger preferred Dan's concept over his one, Giger's design had an eye on the back of it and resembled the palm of a hand.

Once the basic shape was sketched Dan, and Roger needed to figure out the skeletal under structure of the creature for the fingers to attach. For this job, Dan took his sketch to Ron Cobb and asked for his help, looking at the sketch Ron started to picture the bone structure of the creature and began to make rough sketches of his ideas. Once the new design was approved it was then given to Roger, who went off to build it. A fully articulated Facehugger was needed along with one, which had a hollowed out underbelly and a couple of dummy ones.

“The Facehugger was sculpted in plasticine. The I made a plaster cast and a slush rubber mould which I strengthened with fibreglass on the underside, ending up with a crab-like shell. Inside was a metal spine going down the middle, with metal sections on it to hold the articulated fingers. All eight fingers were cast from the same mould and were latex covered, with aluminium armatures pinned at each joint to they would be absolutely flexible. These were sprung closed under tension. Then, from the tip of each finger, there were wires going up the inside, so that when you pulle don them, off camera, the fingers would open and it would clip onto the actor's face. The help hold it on, I put little eyelets in the fingertips and we ran rubber bands between them – under the head where they wouldn't show. The tail was just a flexible cord with foam and latex.”

- Roger Dicken, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay

The main articulated facehugger was used during the Infirmary scene. Dallas and Ash bring Kane into the infirmary to be examined. They remove Kane's helmet revealing the creature in full for the first time. On either side of the creature are two sack like appendages, small tubes were inserted into these sacks which were connected to squeeze tubes. This gave the impression that the creature was breathing or preventing its helpless victim from suffocating.

The Facehugger on Kane in the Infirmary

Once both the small life forms were complete Roger's final task was to sculpture the adult alien suit. Eventually, the perfect actor was found for the role, 6"10 Nigerian art student Bolaji Badejo. A life-size body cast of Badejo was done and then delivered to Roger Dicken.

Full Body Cast of Bolaji

Even though Roger had Giger's alien concept designs, he didn't adhere to them, he wanted to sculpt his own interpretation and creative input of the creature, and over a period of a few days began to build up muscle and tissue on the life-size mannequin in clay.

While Roger was working on the alien sculpture, Gordon Carroll contacted Giger and invited him to London to see the progress being made on all the Alien creatures. Upon arriving Giger saw Roger's adult alien and was very unhappy about it.

"When I got to England I saw the version of the large alien and it looked terrible - like a dinosaur from Disneyland. I was very depressed because I don't like to do a nice design and then have it turned into something awful."

- H.R. Giger, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay

After hearing Giger's opinion on his alien sculpture Roger had reached boiling point, hassle from the two previous creature forms was still fresh in his mind and at that point, he decided to write a letter to the production office telling them they had to find someone else to create the full-size alien.

"...I just told them I wasn't going to give myself a nervous breakdown trying to create this damned thing in the time required and under those circumstances. if I'd been left to my own devices, perhaps - but not with all the continual changes and setbacks I'd come to expect after nearly three months of sweating blood over the smaller ones."

- Roger Dicken, Cinefex 1 -- © 1980 Don Shay

Giger with Forearm and Head


Depressed at the outcome of the large alien Giger then decided that he alone was capable of creating the creature and asked if he could attempt it himself. Upon hearing this Gordan Carroll immediately said yes, and Giger went to work. Roger Dicken was no longer involved with the adult alien, but this didn't mean it was over for Roger, he was kept on board to operate the two smaller alien forms. Even though Rogers Facehugger and Chestburster were approved and finalised Giger still made two versions of his own. Rogers Facehugger and Chestburster made it into the final film unscathed.

Most people have always given full credit to Giger for both the Facehugger and Chestburster, which with no disrespect to Giger, isn't true. We do owe a lot to Giger, but I also feel that Roger Dicken should get credit from fans (not every Alien fan disregards Roger), as it was he who built and operated both small alien forms in two classic and highly memorable scenes in Alien.

 

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Replies

LoneAug-07-2016 12:26 PM

71

All crafted from foam, latex, aluminium, and brought to life using wires and air jets, and in the correct hands [Roger Dickens] you get film magic!

Can't wait to see more of the wee bliters in Covenant!

Another very interesting read xeno_alpha.

Facehuggers!Aug-07-2016 1:17 PM

237

Yes, thank you xeno_alpha_07, this is a great addition to the wonderful archives! Upvoted!

xeno_alpha_07Aug-07-2016 2:18 PM

93

Thanks, Facehuggers! I'd forgotten where I'd seen those before.  Was going to add the bottom image to the article.  Don't need to now :)

S.MAug-07-2016 3:03 PM

0

Dicken really gets forgotten when people worship Giger. His final designs for the hugger and burster had survived throughout the series mostly unchanged while the adult consistently changes and Giger maintains his screen credit.

Something RealAug-07-2016 7:34 PM

105

XENO _ALPHA_07 - How fantastic! I greatly enjoyed the interesting facts presented in the article! Thank you ever so much for sharing this with us! :)

noro8Aug-08-2016 4:54 AM

0

Awesome stuff- really interesting....!

Deep SpaceAug-08-2016 7:50 AM

24

Very interesting, thanks xeno_apha :)

BigDaveAug-08-2016 8:49 AM

262

Yes really does show how the other guys behind productions are sometimes forgotten and not given  enough credit.

Facehuggers!Aug-08-2016 9:47 AM

237

@xeno_alpha_07

Glad to be of help! :)

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xeno_alpha_07

Written By xeno_alpha_07
Published: 2016-08-07 11:33:25

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