H.R. Giger dies at 74; Swiss artist designed ‘Alien’ creatures

H.R. Giger
Swiss artist H.R. Giger poses with two of his works in 2007.
(Arno Balzarini / Associated Press)

Swiss artist H.R. Giger, whose otherworldly imagery was prized by science-fiction aficionados, was plagued by nightmares as a child.

As an adult, his nights were more peaceful. “I could heal myself,” he said in a 2011 CNN interview, “through doing my work.”

That work sometimes involved giving nightmares to others. Giger created the look of the horrific monsters in the 1979 film “Alien,” causing moviegoers to scream and even faint. And it won him an Oscar.

Giger, 74, died Monday of injuries he suffered from a fall in his Zurich home, according to BBC News, citing a spokesperson at the artist’s museum in Gruyeres.


He worked on several other movies and designed art for music albums, including a poster with dark sexual imagery for the punk group Dead Kennedys that led to lead singer Jello Biafra being put on trial for allegedly distributing pornography. The case went to trial in Los Angeles in 1987 but was dismissed.

But Giger’s most famous work, by far, was the “Alien” lizard-like beings ranging from newborn — few who saw the film would ever forget the scene of it bursting out of actor John Hurt’s chest — to a giant alien queen that does battle with Sigourney Weaver.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, who called Giger “a real artist and great eccentric, a true original” in a statement Tuesday.

“Alien” screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who died in 2009, was inspired by Giger’s dark artworks that mixed creatures and mechanical imagery in a style called biomechanics.


A prime example is the cover of the 1973 Emerson Lake & Palmer album “Brain Salad Surgery” that shows a human head embedded in an industrial-looking machine. His depiction of Deborah Harry, with pins running horizontally through her head, for her 1981 album “KooKoo” was named by Rolling Stone as one of the best album covers of all time.

“Sometimes people only see horrible, terrible things in my paintings,” said Giger, quoted in the 2011 book “Alien Vault” by Ian Nathan. “I tell them to look again, and they may see two elements in my paintings: the horrible things and the nice things.”

O’Bannon commissioned Giger to come up with not only the look of the creatures in the film, but also the settings. Early on, 20th Century Fox rejected Giger’s imagery as too menacing, but when Scott came aboard he brought Giger back into the project. They worked together on the key scene of the baby monster bursting from Hurt’s chest. Giger said his muse for the work was the raw paintings of a 20th century master.

“It was Francis Bacon’s work that gave me the inspiration,” he said in a 2009 interview posted to the National Post site in Canada. “Of how this thing would come tearing out of the man’s flesh with its gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth.”

Because Giger often dressed in all black and worked at night, the film crew in England nicknamed him Count Dracula. But for all his sinister visions and nocturnal habits, Giger in person was usually mild-mannered. Producer Frank Mancuso Jr., who worked with Giger on the 1995 film “Species,” told the Dallas Morning News, “You expect Peter Lorre, but he’s probably the most gentle, kind human being you’ll ever meet.”

Scott saw Giger’s role as key to “Alien” being a hit. “I loved the script, but on one level it was a B-movie,” the director said in a 2003 interview with the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. “The monster has to be great; otherwise, you haven’t got a good film. We got a great monster, and I never questioned anything else.” Giger shared the Academy Award for special effects.

Hans Ruedi Giger was born Feb. 5, 1940, in the town of Chur, Switzerland. He described the house where he grew up as dark, with few windows. He started to draw at a young age, but his art did not foster acceptance. “When I was young I entered so many art competitions,” he said in an interview for Canada’s National Post. “I never won. I was always shut out, isolated.”

After required Swiss military service, Giger studied architecture, industrial design and interior design, and apprenticed to a furniture maker. Finally, at 27, he had his first major sale of an artwork. His subsequent book of paintings, “Necronomicon,” helped convince Scott that he was right for “Alien.”


Although his work on “Species” was highly praised, the sometimes-temperamental Giger did not always have good relations with filmmakers after “Alien.” On sequels to that film, he was billed only for the original design of the monster.

Giger retained ardent fans, some of whom got tattoos based on his work. “To wear something like that your whole life is the largest compliment someone can pay you as an artist,” he told Seconds magazine in 1994.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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