Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger knows both the highs and lows of working in the film industry.
In 1980, he won an Academy Award for his design of the alien in Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi film "Alien."
He's since designed the monsters and extraterrestrials on other sci-fi and horror films--"Poltergeist 2," the first two "Alien" sequels, "Aliens" and "Alien 3,"--and the sexy she-alien Sil for the 1995 film "Species."
But last fall, while at his home in Zurich, Giger received word from friends in the United States who had seen an early screening of the fourth "Alien" installment, "Alien Resurrection," that he was not mentioned in the credits for his design.
Enraged, he sent two letters to 20th Century Fox asking that he be acknowledged in the credits for his design. He has since published the letters on his official Web site under the pithy heading "Alien Insurrection."
Fox agreed to give Giger credit for original alien design on the video release of "Alien Resurrection." Still, Giger's New York-based agent Leslie Barany says his lawyers may pursue the matter.
And now, on the eve of the release of "Species II," Giger is courting credit controversy again.
After viewing the film Giger says that it does not reflect his work and he is distancing himself from it.
Early posters publicizing the film read "creature design by H.R. Giger" but MGM has now complied with Giger's request, and when the film opens in theaters on Friday, the credit will read "original species design by H.R. Giger."
Last August however, while in town to observe work on "Species II," Giger was in good spirits.
The artist, known for his otherworldly art that's both macabre and erotic, is genial and gentle in person despite an appearance that is as ominous as his art; he has a shock of gray hair, large, dark haunting eyes, and dresses exclusively in black.
At the Galerie Morpheus in Beverly Hills, surrounded by his own fantastic paintings, sculptures and furniture, Giger, 58, discussed his childhood, artistic influences and thoughts on film.
Question: Describe some of your influences while growing up in Switzerland.
Answer: The strongest influence I had growing up was the cruelty to the animals in the country in Switzerland. I could see how [the farmers] knock down a cow with the big hammer. One was holding her and the other was hammering this cow. It was terrible. And they'd cry, and this noise, I never will forget.
Q: Did you grow up on a farm?
A: No, my father was a pharmacist. Once my father received in a package a human skull and an animal one. And [he makes a grabbing motion] that was mine! And I was very proud. It was not just an object. It was having power over a human being, even if it was dead. At first I didn't like to touch it. But I still have the skull. Later on, I owned skeletons. I have about eight skeletons. Human ones.
Q: Where do you keep them?
A: In the house.
Q: What else do you have at your house?
A: Oh my God, everything. Everything to do with magic, with death, with bodies. The whole garden is crowded with things.
Q: When did you start drawing, and what would you draw?
A: My favorite thing to draw was trains. I started drawing locomotives, big locomotives. And castles. When I was around 5 years old, maybe it was 1945, some American soldiers came to Switzerland from Germany to get a rest from the war, and they brought us Life magazine, and in this Life magazine I could see stills of Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast." And for me these images--the long corridor with these lamps and candelabra--never will go away. I asked my mother, who spoke English, "What is this?" But she couldn't explain what it meant, only that it was from a film.
Q: When did you finally see the film?
A: I saw the film very much later, about 25 years later. I'm still fascinated by this film.
Q: Did you have a movie house where you lived?
A: We had three cinemas. And at that time there was no television so my parents went 3 or 4 times a week. I think the first thing I saw was something with Charlton Heston . . . "The Greatest Show on Earth," I think.
Q: Did you receive formal training as an artist?
A: I went into the military service, which was required in Switzerland. And then from the age of 22 to 26 I was in school in Zurich and studied architecture, and interior and industrial design. And I learned to work with polystyrene. After I finished school, I worked with a man who made furniture, and after a two-year [apprenticeship] I became a free artist, which my father disliked. "Where will you get your bread from?" he would say. "Art is useless!" But when I was 27, I sold my first sculpture piece for 1,500 francs--that was a lot of money--and my father was very proud and he said, "Now you have to do this!"
Q: How were you recruited for the first "Alien" movie?
A: [Ridley Scott] had seen my book "Necronomicon" [Giger's art book of disturbing and surrealistic drawings and paintings.] I did my first monster, my first E.T., in '68 or '69.