By Tom Mackenzie

When Alien was released in May of 1979, it introduced one of the most iconic and unusual horror icons of all time; the Xenomorph. Now, after Alien: Covenant, we have to ask an interesting question. Has H.R Giger been more important to the success of the Alien franchise than Ridley Scott?

H.R Giger’s Xenomorph was chilling.

It was a perfectly designed combination of organic and metallic features that seemed to mould together naturally, with some very sexualised design influences. Each iteration of the Xenomorph’s lifecycle was designed so cleverly and thoughtfully, that it was very plausible. Starting with the “egg” and the nimble “Facehugger” right through to the “chestburster”, then growing quickly to the adult “Xenomorph”. The Alien was right out of our darkest, most realistic nightmares.

It was one of the first horror films a whole generation saw growing up, during the terrible haircut and moody disposition phase. It left such a strong mark that people bought the literature, Giger’s Alien and H.R Giger’s Biomechanics – highly recommended reading if you’re into your movies. Alien was just a small part of H.R Giger’s career, and the brief glimpses of the Xenomorph you saw on screen was nothing compared to the preparation that went into it crafting it.

For a taster, here is some earlier concept work around the designs in Alien.

Early concept designs of the The Derelict craft. Source: H.R Giger’s Alien.

An early concept illustration of “The Pilot” Source: H.R Giger’s Alien.


The Facehugger went through a few design transitions since this early version, but you can still get the same fearful chills from this early iteration. Source: H.R Giger’s Alien.


The egg houses the Facehugger, right before it’s ready to, you know. Source: H.R Giger’s Alien.


The facehugger much closer to the final version. Source: H.R Giger’s Alien.

You can find more on H.R Giger’s Alien designs here.

H.R Giger had studied architecture and industrial design and had consistently produced surreal gothic work.

However, you would be wrong to stereotype H.R Giger with this gothic mentality, but he has always insisted that There is hope and a kind of beauty in there somewhere, if you look for it.”

This experience gave H.R Giger the perfect background to be recruited by Alien screenwriter Dan O’cannon, and Ridley Scott instantly became a fan of his work, pulling the design of the Xenomorph directly from the illustrations he was presented with.

Giger’s design for the xenomorph went on to inform the rest of the alien designs in the movie, and the responsibility for the entire aesthetic of LV-426.

H.R Giger had quite the impact, to say the least, creating the most memorable and iconic alien of all time.

Ridley Scott’s Alien is without argument, a great movie, and Scott’s work as a director was invigorating. But you have to wonder, if the longevity of the franchise is more down to the artistic vision of H.R Giger than the director.

The design of the Alien remained the same in Aliens, after all, why would it change when it’s largely set on LV-426? The only new design was in the Queen, which was adapted from the standard Xenomorph.

Aliens 3 was a terrible movie, and despite H.R Giger being present to design the new four legged Alien the new direction and use of CGI really dulled the impact of the metallic lifeform.

Let’s not mention Alien Resurrection.

There were high expectations for Prometheus, with Ridley Scott finally returning to save the franchise. Alas, the aliens were lacklustre, the design uninspiring and the movie lacking any impact. This left many fans questioning whether the Alien series was worth the trip to the movies in the future.

Now in Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott has gone back to the original style of the Xenomorph, to better reaction from the critics. You can see our review here.

H.R Giger’s Alien makes a return in Alien: Covenant. Source: 20th Century Fox.

Ridley Scott was obviously a powerful force in the Alien franchise, directing the first movie, but without H.R Giger’s Alien it would not have had the longevity it has enjoyed as a franchise.

For film and horror buffs, there is great significance in the name of H.R Giger. Articles about him  from the likes of Wired and The Guardian are around, but H.R Giger is still not a household name, despite being the key to the greatest sci-fi horror franchise.

It’s slightly frustrating as it could be argued that without his vision, style and perfectionism the franchise wouldn’t have lasted. Considering the last 4 movies haven’t exactly been classics, we would suggest it’s the iconic and ferociously beautiful design of the original Alien movie that has kept it going, and H.R Giger deserves more credit.

H.R Giger passed away in 2014, but his Alien designs can still be seen in Alien: Covenant.


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