They mostly come at night… mostly
Space art For concept artists Wayne Haag, Matthew Hatton and Dane Hallett, working on the latest Alien film was a dream come true…
Regardless of whether the new Alien film is any good, the art behind it is a nice blend of the familiar and fresh.
Concept artist Wayne
Haag has been working in the film industry for over 20 years now. But while you might assume he’s seen it all, collaborating with Ridley Scott on Alien: Covenant was still something pretty special.
“It’s probably been one of the most creatively free jobs I’ve had,” Wayne says. “Even though we were provided assets such as CAD models of sets or ship models, given specific direction or provided earlier designs, we were still allowed to take it where we thought the shots could go. Because lighting is really my thing, I almost don’t care what I’m painting, as long as I get to light it.”
Wayne explains that production designer Chris Seager served as the artists’ direct link to Ridley Scott. “We’d sometimes get Ridley-grams to work from, or Chris would give us a fairly loose brief and let us go to town. He gave out shots or scenes at random initially, because he didn’t know our particular strengths, weaknesses or desires.
“But eventually Chris gave us locations to work on that seemed to best fit our style, or that we’d already established a look for, or because we were technically proficient in a certain area. Within the broader context, the three of us worked with the set designers, helping to flesh out the eventual look of the sets and locations, but also the greater environment beyond.”
Wayne’s work on the project was entirely digital, but involved quite a mix of approaches, he adds. “Some started with 3D assets. Some I had to build the 3D myself. Some started from a purely photographic basis. And sometimes I just started off painting, eventually
It was like a bunch of mates hanging out and painting cool stuff. Everyone pushed and helped each other
bringing in some photo bashing or adding 3D elements.”
Some of the artworks took up to 15 versions before being given the executive thumbs up, while others were approved on the first go. “If there were higher versions, it wasn’t because the art was bad; more likely decisions about the sets hadn’t yet been finalised, and so we had to adjust earlier works to fit a new brief. Everything comes down to cost and so, more often than not, I was asked to remove things from my paintings – lest they end up being built when they shouldn’t be.”
Something else that made working on Alien: Covenant special for Wayne was his relationship with the other artists who were busy working on the project, he adds.
“I’d known some of them throughout my career, so it was like a bunch of mates hanging out and painting cool stuff. We all had a great time. It was one of those jobs where everyone pushed and helped each
other. It was an Alien film so we weren’t about to phone the job in – we all wanted to do our best.”
Fellow artist Dane Hallett concurs. “Growing up, I’d always wanted to work in the film industry, and I really always just wanted to draw monsters,” he enthuses. “And Alien is my favourite film. So when I heard about Alien: Covenant, I sent the supervising art director Ian Gracie an email that said: “I just want you to know that within your lifetime you’ll never meet anyone who loves Alien as much as me, and you’ll never meet anyone who can draw the shit out of the Aliens like I can.”
Dane started out doing regular concept art on the movie. But then the job took a very different turn, because he was tasked with creating finished art that actually appears in the film.
How so? Because in the script Michael Fassbender’s character, David, does nature studies of extraterrestrial wildlife. “Then pretty quickly his drawings detail his own madness, and he becomes like a mad scientist,” Dane explains. “And the drawings become like a surreal fantasy.”
To create this on-screen artwork, Dane teamed up with another concept artist, Matthew Hatton, and the pair produced 600 drawings in total. “We became the hand of David: we were responsible for all his drawings,” says Dane. “And Ridley loved our stuff, to the extent that he said to me: ‘I’ve never taken anything home before but I’m definitely taking these home’, which was very flattering.”
Again, the pair had the creative freedom to run with their ideas. “This was one of those beautiful movies where I just got let off the leash,” says Matthew. “It was awesome. We got the language down and it was leash off, go berserk, draw as much as you can draw. It was nine months straight, and we didn’t have a day off.
We got the language down and it was leash off, draw as much as you can draw
One of Dane Hallett’s pieces as the ‘hand of David’, this appears on the cover of the official ‘art of’ book. Concept art by Wayne Haag depicting the ‘Mother Juggernaut,’ the massive ship witnessed in David’s flashback scene.
Anatomical study of male engineer created by Matthew Hatton. Anatomical studies of an alien egg created by Dane Hallett, drawn in the hand of the film character David.
Artwork created by Dane Hallett for an Instagram campaign led by the Alien: Covenant marketing team.
Unused Elizabeth Shaw concept by Matthew Hatton showing tentacles encasing her face and inserted into her head. This large-scale piece by Dane Hallett, depicting failed facehugger experiments, was two metres long.