A final farewell to the man who created ET
Carlo Rambaldi, who has died aged 86, was a special-effects artist and won two Oscars for his fantastical creations in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and Steven Spielberg's ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1983).
For Alien, the science-fiction horror classic, Rambaldi designed and built an eyeless animatronic head for the film's indestructible rampaging beast, sharing an Academy award for best visual effects with four of his colleagues.
On ET, Spielberg assigned Rambaldi 5,000 man-hours to create the beguiling extraterrestrial from a distant galaxy marooned on Earth who befriends a lonely child called Elliott (Henry Thomas). Rambaldi's brief was to create an alien "that only a mother could love".
An effects craftsman of the old school, grounded in mechanics and puppetry, Rambaldi produced sketches and miniature clay models, which he screen-tested for Spielberg. In his workshop in Los Angeles he then constructed an aluminium and steel skeleton over which he carefully built up layer upon layer of glass fibre, polyurethane and foam rubber.
A complex series of hydraulics and electronics controlled 150 separate moves -- ET could wrinkle its nose, furrow its brow and extend its neck -- while as many as 10 people pulling various levers were needed to make it point a crooked finger towards its home in deepest space.
With its wizened, grey-brown skin, long bony arms and lumpen head, ET was at once ugly and adorable. Spielberg told Rambaldi to give the creature large bug-like eyes that would reflect "the wisdom of Albert Einstein and the humanity of the poet Carl Sandburg". Although the character cost $1.5m to develop, Spielberg joked that "Marlon Brando would have cost three times that", and predicted that ET would earn his keep with merchandise sales.
Carlo Rambaldi was born on September 15 1925 in Vigarano, Italy. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, where he developed a passion for electro-mechanics and the anatomy of the human skeleton and musculature.
Inspired by the works of Picasso and the Italian artist Renato Guttuso, Rambaldi won considerable acclaim for his early work as an artist. His first excursion into film was making a fire-breathing dragon for the 1957 Italian picture Sigfrido.
In 1963 he became a full-time special-effects artist and subsequently he worked for many leading Italian directors including Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Monicelli and Dario Argento. He worked on several horror films of the 1960s and early 1970s, including Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Andy Warhol's Dracula (both 1974), as well as Argento's thriller Deep Red (1976).
For Lucio Fulci, the director of Lizard In A Woman's Skin (1971), Rambaldi contrived a particularly gory moment: a laboratory filled with living dogs, their innards attached to tubes. On account of this scene, Fulci was put on trial in Italy and faced two years in jail, until Rambaldi showed the jury how he had faked it.
In 1976, for the remake of King Kong, Rambaldi devised a hugely expensive 42ft-high mechanical ape, but in the film's final version it appeared on screen for less than a minute. While the six-ton robot was under construction, a make-up artist, Rick Baker, played most of the scenes in a gorilla suit. Nonetheless, Rambaldi and his team won a special achievement award from the American Motion Picture Academy, and Rambaldi moved to America.
Many of his best-known creations there would have been impossible to make on the meagre budget typical of Italian films. "In Italy, every time I was asked to present an estimate they would call me crazy, whereas the Americans have a huge market and budgets which reflect that," he said.
His last screen credit was on horror film Primal Rage (1988), directed by his son Vittorio.
Latterly Rambaldi complained that computer technology had taken the magic and mystery out of film-making. "Any kid with a computer can reproduce the special effects seen in today's movies. The mystery's gone. The curiosity that viewers once felt when they saw special effects has disappeared. It's as if a magician had revealed all of his tricks," he said.
"There's no question that these computer films are well packaged but the charm has disappeared . . . If Spielberg were to film ET today using the latest technology I'm not sure it would be a hit because the techniques they're using at the moment couldn't reproduce the tender expression of ET's eyes, for example. The secret of creating what technology is unable to express lies in the work of the artisan, who is able to develop characteristics that touch our deepest emotions."
Carlo Rambaldi married Bruna Basso, with whom he had a son and daughter.