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No alien had previously been seen swimming underwater, so the effects artists had to come up with a design for the alien's animation. "Jan at Blue Sky had a lot of great

A shot of the aqua-borne alien, courtesy of Blue Sky Studios.
ideas as to how the aliens should move underwater," Henry said, "and gave the production a lot of options. He showed up one day with a videotape of a sea iguana swimming, from a National Geographic video. The way that it moved through the water was oddly elegant, which is precisely what the director was looking for." The alien swim was made to look dangerous and menacing; even though it is only a couple of hours old, it seems comfortable underwater. Henry added, "We came up with the idea that when the alien committed to attacking someone that its tail would violently thrash, just like an alligator would when it's attacking its prey."

"The animators went to town when they rigged up this model for animation," Kopelman said. "An incredible amount of attention to the smallest details were made to make this alien move in such a lifelike manner--we would constantly be surprised when we watched dailies. All of the rigging work was done in Softimage with some of our own plug-ins helping along."

The look of the underwater shots required some research, to figure out how to create realistic shadows, reflections, bubbles, and the other visual cues involved with underwater photography. One important cue, as Kopelman put it, was "bubbles, bubbles, bubbles. We knew we had to create lots of bubbles, so we created a bubble simulation

"We created special shadow lights to create these shadows, so that when the alien swam through a beam of light, you would actually see its shadow being projected inside of the beam."

Mitch Kopelman,
on lighting the underwater CG aliens

using Dynamation so that the alien was constantly swimming in a huge field of bubbles and in fact would interact with all of them. Any given shot with our alien also has about 4000-5000 CG bubbles swimming along with him."

Along the more subtle side of the effects were the realistic lighting issues. First unit DP Darius Khondji used very strong shafts of light to penetrate the milky waters, which created strong shadow elements when an actor swam through them. To match that setup in the virtual world, Kopelman said, "We created special shadow lights to create these shadows, so that when the alien swam through a beam of light, you would actually see its shadow being projected inside of the beam."

One of the most stunning shots of the film is an underwater shot where two aliens swim forward, only to have the lead alien dodge a grenade, while the rear alien gets hit. "We set up a black, wax alien that was blown up underwater by the special effects team led by Eric Allard--it was rigged to blow up just as the little grenade that was wired and aimed directly at the wax alien hit the creature," Henry explained. "We also shot a clean background plate of the underwater set and of course, the animation elements provided by Blue Sky."

The success of the CG aliens was not only due to Blue Sky's hard work and creativity, it was also attributable to the open lines of communication between the New York facility, and the production in Los Angeles. Shea commented, "In order for them to create their work, they needed constant feedback. It's so difficult to get the director's time in the first place, but in our case, the director learned English for the first time, during ALIEN's production. The whole creation of the 3D aliens I think was a very difficult task in that respect, and that's why everyone is so proud of Blue Sky's work on this film. Not only was it a just a matter of creating a believable image, it was a matter of making sure they were on the right track of creating what the director wanted, while battling all of these geographic constraints, communication constraints and time contstraints."

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