Date of Birth: February 5 1940, Chur, Swiss Canton, Graubünden, Switzerland
Birth Name: Hans Rudolf Giger
Nicknames: HR Giger
HR Giger, was a painter, sculptor and set designer and the man responsible for the nightmarish, teeth-snapping, acid-dripping creature in the film Alien.
Set in a nearish-future, Alien tells the story of a relentless and apparently unkillable life form that terrorises Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. Vaguely humanoid, with a prominent, armoured skeleton, vicious dual sets of jaws and slashing tail, the hellish creature captivated audiences and helped make Ridley Scott’s picture both a critical and box-office success. As the director himself noted, Giger’s creature was “one of the best all-time monsters”. In its absence, he suggested, “I’ve got a nice, very well-acted, beautifully art-directed movie, but I ain’t got that f------ heart-stopping son of a b----.”
Yet it was not just the alien that Giger designed he fleshed out the creature’s life-cycle (which involved it forcefully implanting itself in host bodies) and developed for it a crepuscular, disturbingly erotic environment that fused elements of the natural and the mechanical. Blending elements of Surrealist and Futurist art, Giger’s world soon became instantly recognisable. It turned out that such representations were deeply rooted in his upbringing.
Hans Rudolf Giger was born on February 5 1940 in Chur in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden. By the time he was 12 he was studying the works of Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch with a sort of fascinated horror. “I was terrified,” he said. “I connected them with World War II atrocities.” He was long gripped by nightmares.
His father, a chemist, tried to steer Hans away from art towards a more stable profession. Yet his mother, Melli, encouraged him. In 1962 Giger moved to Zurich to study Industrial Design. After graduating he found that his work, and its obsession with sex and death, was not always appreciated. One gallery owner, hosting a Giger exhibition, reported having to begin each day by wiping the spittle of disgusted patrons from his window. Nor did Giger alleviate local suspicion by dressing always in black and working only at night. But it was precisely his fascination with the occult, and in particular the fictional Necronomicon, or “book of the dead”, described in the work of HP Lovecraft, that propelled him into the big time.In 1977 Giger’s first collection of drawings, also titled Necronomicon, was published. It found its way into the hands of Ridley Scott, who seized upon one fantastical sketch, Necronom IV, as the model for his new film’s alien. Fox Studios was not so keen on the phallic, fetishised image, but Giger was eventually hired influencing the entire look and feel of the film. As a result he won, with others, the Oscar for best special effects in 1980.
Yet it was not the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Hollywood. Giger was not asked to work on the film’s sequel, Aliens (1986). And when he did contribute to films, such as Poltergeist II, he hated his designs being modified. But he had a clear brand. When producers were casting around for someone to create a sexy yet lethal humanoid alien, called Sil, in Species (1995) they knew where to turn. “We realised that he [Giger] had been drawing Sil for basically his entire career,” noted the director Roger Donaldson. “Anybody else we hired would probably have just gone to take a look at his books.”
Beyond film, Giger was also famed for his album covers. His artwork for the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist led to the band’s singer being arrested for obscenity, but Giger’s vision of an impaled Debbie Harry on her 1981 album Koo Koo fared better, making a list of the best 100 album covers of all time.
Generally, however, his work did not win the admiration of mainstream critics. Undaunted, in 1998 he bought a chateau in Gruyeres and set up his own museum. But it proved expensive to run. He himself lived in far more modest circumstances, with every available surface covered by his drawings. Even after the success of the Alien films, he declared that what he most feared were his debts.