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Left: H.R. Giger applying details to ‘Alien’ costume headpiece (Credit: 20th Century Fox) • Right: Brushwork sketch by Salvador Dali

Giger vs. Dali: Alien Autopsy Remix

Was H.R. Giger’s ‘Alien’ movie monster design copied from a Salvador Dali sketch?

It’s impossible to recall now the book that I happened to be thumbing through when I ran across the sketch by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. But it was sometime during my first semester of graphic design school. That would probably date the photocopy that I made of the sketch to sometime in ‘94 or ‘95.

Come to think of it, there was a Grateful-Dead-tie-dye-t-shirt-wearing ex-hippy-classmate named Orin, who was a tremendous fan of Dali. I vaguely recall him coming to class one morning with a hairy armful of books devoted to the work of Dali. So he must be the source to whom I will credit my discovery of the sketch.

By the way, I myself was never a fan of Dali. As an artist, he was responsible for a staggering body of work that didn’t generally appeal to me.

What’s more, unlike my former classmate, I was an infant during Woodstock, I have never taken a hit of LSD, and did not subconsciously look to surrealist art to trigger any previously experienced altered states.

What I was at the time, ironically, was a fan of the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger.

When first introduced to Giger’s work, though, I was not a fan. His artistry scared the complete crap out of me when I saw it skulking around on a spaceship in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien.

I was a 10-years-old at the time and, like everyone else in the movie theater, had never dreamed of anything as terrifying as a 7-foot alien with a decayed-looking exoskeleton, a fleshless skull of a face, retractable inner jaws, and a deformed-ass embryo of a head.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

For me, Giger’s alien creature was like a walking, fever-induced nightmare, and any childish thoughts I had at all back then of being an astronaut “when I grow up” were summarily ‘ixnayed’ when that bad boy hit the screen.

After seeing Alien it was hard to imagine walking into my bedroom when the lights were off, let alone exploring the dark outer reaches of space!

But over the years, as I grew out of my fear of monsters––and particularly after the 1985 sequel, Aliens––I somehow became a fan of Giger’s work.

Maybe it was because, aesthetically speaking, I’d never seen anything like it. And that remained true until sometime in the mid-1990s, when I ran across a sketch of a deformed humanoid figure created by Salvador Dali.

The loose brushwork illustration isn’t dated, and I can’t recall now if there were any details about it on the facing page. But as I walked over to the photocopier in the classroom to make a duplicate, something about it made me feel certain that the image pre-dated Giger’s terrifying Alien design.

Maybe it seemed just too unlikely that two different artists could separately concoct such a uniquely grotesque creation.

It was possible, sure, but it seemed unlikely. And especially when factoring in that Dali was already a world-renowned artist by the time that Giger began making a name for himself in the nightmares of others in the late 1970s.

After chancing upon the old photocopy today, I still think that Dali’s sketch was the visual inspiration for Giger’s Alien creature––right down to its jaw line and stegosaurus-plated spine. And it doesn’t make me think any less of Giger’s creative genius, but reaffirms for me the idea that nothing comes from some dark, empty corner of space where “no one can hear you scream.”

Inspiration, in fact, comes from everything around us. And each generation gets much of theirs from the drawing boards of the past.

Image: 20th Century Fox