Start Here

ALIENS Behind-the-Scenes: Sculpting the Alien Queen Head with Shane Mahan

ALIENS Behind-the-Scenes: Sculpting the Alien Queen Head with Shane Mahan

ALIEN QUEEN - THOSE LIPS, THOSE TEETH, THAT FACE

By Matt Winston

Try this experiment: Imagine your favorite fantasy character. What did you see first? The hands? The feet? Most likely, you saw the face.

AN EMOTIONAL WINDOW

Character creators understand that when it comes to design, sculpture, mechanical and paint assignments, it's all about the face. That's what's going to be seen on the poster. That's what's going to be seen in the majority of shots. That's what audiences are going to remember. And most importantly, that's where we connect with characters -- the face is our window into the emotional life that drives the story.

Pictured above: 25-year SWS supervisor and co-founder of Legacy EffectsShane Mahan blocks out the 1/4 scale Alien Queen head at SWS.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan affixes the lower jaw to the Alien Queen head sculpture.

CREATING A DEADLY BEAUTY

When James Cameron re-teamed with THE TERMINATOR collaborator, Stan Winston, to take on the creature effects for ALIENS, the 1986 sequel to Ridley Scott's ALIEN, their goal was to stay true to the biomechanical design aesthetic that had been established by H.R. Giger while still finding ways to push it further. The chestburster would have arms. The warriors would have bonier skulls. And there would be a brand new character to design, the ultimate expression of xeno-beauty, the Alien Queen. And her face had to be perfect.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan molds the finished 1/4 scale Alien Queen head.

FROM SKETCH TO SCULPTURE

Cameron brought several renderings of the Queen Alien to his preliminary design meetings at Stan Winston Studio, featuring a massive 4-armed insectoid body and an elegant crown-like head with a retractable face, packed with dagger-sized, translucent teeth. From there, he and Winston traded sketches before arriving at a final design, which was then sculpted at 1/4 scale by a team of SWS artists. Winston selected one of his key artists, Shane Mahan to tackle the head.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan sculpts secondary forms and detail into the blocked out Alien Queen head sculpture.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan sculpts one of the most iconic femme fatales in film history, the Alien Queen.

THE ALIEN QUEEN GROWS UP

Once Cameron signed off on the maquette, it was time to realize the full-size version. Again, Mahan took the lead on the head, sculpting it in WED clay over a period of several weeks in Stan Winston's Aliens FX workshop which had recently been established at Pinewood Studios, outside of London. Under the art direction of Cameron and Winston, Mahan translated the miniature head and face into full-scale, adding and defining design elements along the way.

A GLIMPSE AT HISTORY IN THE MAKING

In the video at the top of the page, you'll get a rare glimpse into the creative process behind ALIENS, with Shane Mahan giving Stan Winston a videotaped progress report on the Alien Queen head sculpture. It captures a thrilling moment in the birth of an icon -- the creation of a face that would go on to capture the imagination of generations of Sci-fi fans. Enjoy.

-Matt Winston

 

More ALIENS Stuff from Stan Winston School:

 

More CREATURE SCULPTURE from Stan Winston School: