About The Production
ALIEN: COVENANT was shot over 74 days at the stages of Fox Studios Australia and
on location in Milford Sound, New Zealand in 2016. Scott tasked production
designer Chris Seagers with executing his vision for the titular ship.
"Ships are always difficult," Scott adds. "The Covenant is a like pioneer ship
as in the old schooners on the prairie. This is not a grungy ship, this is a
pioneer ship on a scientific mission, transporting people and equipment to
colonize another planet. Logically, it's like a cargo train-it's in three
sections with hexagonal junctions, which are massive garages. Each section would
separate, a one-time only thing, land on pylons, and you've then got a vast
warehouse with all this equipment."
"I mentioned to Ridley the fact that oil rigs are almost like spaceships," says
Seagers (Deepwater Horizon, Fantastic Four). "They look from the outside like
big tin cans but inside are full of technology, and they don't necessarily need
people. They're automated. It's the same as space technology. It's all about
guidance and navigation, and he liked that. So, we started pulling a lot of
references from that kind of an industrial world."
As with other elements of the production, the original Alien proved to be an
important touchstone. To amplify the claustrophobic feel of the interior of the
Covenant, Seagers and his team kept the vessel's ceilings low and cloaked its
corridors in darkness. Making the bridge of the ship functional was important to
Scott, who sought to create a tactile experience for the actors. To that end,
the production design team installed 1,500 circuits, so that every switch and
"I felt like I was on a functional spaceship," Fassbender says. "The corridors,
the bridge and the sleep chamber-all these production design elements were so
detailed and sophisticated. It's a rare thing with fantasy films or high-concept
action films. There's a lot of green screen, usually. We used some green screen,
but a lot of it was there for us to explore, to touch and to interact with and
that's a real rarity these days."
"When we stepped into that ship, you felt like a kid," Crudup adds. "You
couldn't actually believe your own senses-you felt like you were part of a space
Scott's desire for realism and scale was something that excited special effects
supervisor Neil Corbould. "Ridley's a very visual director, and he loves his
atmosphere," Corbould explains. "Even with water drips, he's very precise on
where drips should be or how big they should be. He's very meticulous about the
look of every small detail and he loves physical things, which is music to our
ears because we get to build really big rigs and big set pieces."
Two of those rigs were enormous gimbals-one weighing 10 tons, the other
40-constructed to support portions of the Lander and the Covenant sets for
action sequences in which the ships are sustaining damage, either from
descending through the ion storm or from the impact of the stellar ignition.
"The 10-ton gimbal had the Lander cockpit on it," Corbould says. "The Covenant
ship on the 40-ton gimbal was about 20 meters long by about six meters wide. It
all had to shake and shudder, which was quite a big task."
The scenes filmed on the exterior of the planet were shot in Milford Sound and
on stage at Fox Studios, with the sets lit to mimic the eerie beauty of the
natural location. "We took inspiration from the actual weather in Milford
Sound," says cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, a frequent Scott collaborator.
"It's very cloudy, soft light. Sometimes the sun comes through, but basically,
it's dramatic clouds, mountains that appear and disappear in the clouds.
Everything is drizzling. We repeated that on the back lot. We insisted on having
everything gray and fogged, like a constant dawn or dusk."
For the interior scenes in the abandoned city, Scott sought to capture an 18th
century painterly look for some rooms, in which the soft light should feel like
it emanates from candles. Wolski and the camera department devised a clever and
effective system to light the actors.
"We invented lights which were motion-controlled," Wolski explains. "When an
actor walked in, the light came on, and when they moved away it went off.
Originally, we were going to have the visual effects team do it, but once we
decided to motivate the lights ourselves, the system got better and better and
better. There's only a few scenes like that, but they're very powerful."
State-of-the-art visual effects were utilized to embellish what was captured
practically on set.
For ALIEN: COVENANT, visual effects supervisor Charley Henley recruited some of
world's leading VFX facilities including Sydney-based Animal Logic, MPC (Moving
Picture Company) in the UK, and Framestore in Montreal, Canada. One of the
challenges for the visual effects department was the sheer number of locations
they needed to build or enhance, which ranged from space and exterior planet
environments to the abandoned city where David resides and its interiors.
"For example, the 'Hall of Heads,' where there are a number of key scenes, was a
fantastic set built with a number of huge heads, but because of the stage space
and the complexity in building those physical elements, it was up to us to
extend the top of the heads into the ceiling," Henley says. However, we tried
not go over the top. If we were doing an all CG shot, for example, we made sure
that the CG camera was capturing something that could be done in the real world
with real cameras."
Henley, whose professional relationship with Scott dates to 2000's Gladiator,
says he is consistently impressed by the director's hands-on approach. "One of
the amazing things about working with him is that he does his own storyboards,"
Henley says. "They're fantastic, incredibly accurate-you can see it play out as
if he's looking through the camera. Even in the boards, you get a sense of
lighting as well."
It was Scott, too, who conceived the need for the Neomorph, which makes its
awe-inspiring debut in ALIEN: COVENANT as the newest deadly lifeform alongside
the alien eggs, the Chestburster, the Facehugger and, of course, the full-grown
Xenomorph. In conjuring the alien, the director referenced both the wildly
innovative work of late Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, whose genius was behind
Alien's frighteningly original Xenomorph, and such wonders of the natural world
as the eerie Goblin Shark, a rare species of deep-sea predator with translucent
skin and a hinged jaw.
"Designing the Neomorph was tough," Scott says. "It was a big challenge that
came about because I had to have something in addition to the usual suspect. I
didn't want that to wear out-I wanted to save him. The Neomorph, in a way, is
the first generation of an alien, but it needs a human life form to cop on to
and, if you like, mix with, copulate with."
Working from Scott's illustrations of how the Neomorph should appear and move,
creature design supervisor Conor O'Sullivan and his team set about collaborating
with Henley and the visual effects department on the design. Henley explains: "Conor
and his team's material looked fantastic-practical creatures with real blood and
real functionality. We'd generally just do enhancements. When there was a lot of
creature movement, we could create muscle movement and the freedom to move them
in a way that couldn't be done practically. It was a partnership to bring as
much realism overall."
The cast, too, was impressed by the precise craftsmanship of O'Sullivan and his
crew. "There are details on the aliens that I didn't even realize until it was
up close," Ejogo says. "The willingness to go that extra mile was incredible.
There was a devotion to the legacy and to the possibility of this art form. It
was artistry at the highest level."
Offers Crudup: "Their intelligence is one thing that makes them unique. Ridley's
really interested in biology and so all the components that go into the alien
are things that he drew upon from nature. While there is something other-worldly
about it, there's something very familiar about it as well."
The same attention was paid to the costumes. Janty Yates, whose long working
relationship with Scott includes such films as Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven,
Robin Hood, Prometheus and The Martian, quickly realized that, for a film where
bullets fly and copious amounts of human and alien blood spills out across the
screen, many copies were needed of each costume.
"We had to have repeats of every single garment, for stunt doubles, ...even the
slightest bullet wound, we need to create new costumes for," Yates says. "Ridley
also said that apart from the sleep suits, he didn't want anyone to wear the
same costume. So, the security team had tactical vests, more aggressive boots
and a lot more armory. We needed to nail that, and then we could get on with the
repeats. Time was always of the essence."
Still, Yates devised clever, intimate touches, such as Daniels, in mourning,
wearing her husband's clothes on the ship, wrapping herself in his memory.
Moments like those, she says, echoed Scott's distinctive first film in the
franchise. "Alien really broke the mold because that spaceship was grubby,"
Yates says. "It was lived in. Their clothes were worn. There were Hawaiian
shirts. There was a uniform, but it was so casual as a uniform it almost didn't
register. It went completely away from the space visuals of earlier films."
ALIEN: COVENANT did require Yates to tap into her more technical side as well.
For Danny McBride's pilot, she and associate spacesuit designer Michael Mooney
drafted a spacesuit referred to "Big Yella," shaped like an enormous underwater
suit. Mooney and London-based FBFX crafted the yellow spacesuits made of carbon
fiber featured in the film. "It's a thing of utter beauty and technological
incredibility," Yates says. "Tennessee wears it when he's fixing things on the
outside of the ship. It would stand out against these enormous rust sails. It
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