Carlo Rambaldi in the 70’s

Giuseppe_Pinelli_3On 12 December 1969, a bomb went off at the Piazza Fontana in Milan that killed 17 people and injured 88. Giuseppe “Pino” Pinelli, a Italian railroad worker and anarchist was picked up, along with other anarchists, for questioning regarding the attack. Just before midnight on 15 December 1969, Pinelli was seen to fall to his death from a fourth floor window of the Milan police station. The coincidence of far too many random factors surrounding the death of the anarchist has made people openly doubt whether the cause of death was natural. Three police officers interrogating Pinelli, including Commissioner Luigi Calabresi, were put under investigation in 1971 for his death. In this period, the magistrate responsible for the investigation into the death commissioned Rambaldi to design a mannequin with the characteristics of the body of the deceased. Rambaldi had to figure out the cause of death by means of a fake doll of Pinelli. Rambaldi was intended to provide more clarity about the way in which Pinelli’s body had fallen through the window. However due to lack of evidence, the case was closed.

Dead of Summer (1970) Ondata di calore  where he builds an inflatable mannequin equipped with a mechanized head. For the action thriller Violent City (1970) Città violenta, deals with various FX including a mechanized black widow.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) Una lucertola con la pelle di donna The film is perhaps most famous for a scene in which Florinda Bolkan opens the door to a room filled with dogs that are apparently being experimented on. The dogs are cut open with their hearts and guts still pulsating. The scene was so graphic and realistic that several crew members were forced to testify in court to disprove the accusation that real dogs were used in the film. Producer Edmondo Amati, and the director, Lucio Fulci are denounced by the companies for the Animal Protection of three Italian cities for an alleged “scene of cruelty” contained in their film. Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects artist, saved Fulci from a two-year prison sentence by presenting the fake dog props in court to a seemingly unconvinced judiciary. This was the first time in film history that an effects artist had to prove his work was not real in a court of law. For the same film, the artist also dealt with a cloud of bats lined up against the Bolkan.

Rambaldi also contributes to the success of the 1971 film / documentary Oceano (1971) The Wind Blows Free from Ferrara, building faithful skeletons of sailors and beautiful giant corals for this work that closes the trilogy of the acclaimed underwater oceanic naturalist, after The Last Paradise (1955) and the aforementioned Tiko and the Shark (1962).

Pinocchio (1971) Un burattino di nome Pinocchio was shot, a six-hour TV movie each, directed by Luigi Comencini. Rambaldi was approached in 1970 by Rai-TV to produce three mechanical Pinocchios with different performances, such as walking slowly, running, gesticulating and talking. The Rai-TV would have approved the project only after having seen an audition with the character in action together with the actors. In four months Rambaldi realizes the three mechanical Pinocchios, whose appearance recalls the puppet designed in 1883 by Enrico Mazzanti, first illustrator of the collodion fairy tale. the author’s work is perfect and Comencini falls in love with his creatures. But after a few months Rambaldi is still on stand-by and learns that some technicians are finishing four mechanical Pinocchios obviously copied from his original work. The puppet that appears in the film is therefore not his work.

1971 Four Flies on Grey Velvet

He worked on Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) 4 mosche di velluto grigio, the excellent thriller of the rising star Dario Argento: effective the four insects of the title and fascinating the optical system with the laser beam able to read how much he was impressed on the retina of the victim’s eye.

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1971 is also the year of Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (1971) Reazione a catena  violent murders.

This is followed by The Life of Leonardo da Vinci  (1971) La vita di Leonardo, directed by Renato Castellani and interpreted by Philippe Leroy. One of the memorable moments of the work is that in which Leonardo’s helper decides to wear the prototype of the wings built by the master. The boy falls on deaf ears and dies. The scene (shot in Calcata, in the Viterbo area) involves the use of a pair of wings faithful to the original ones, and Rambaldi builds them with the same materials used at the time by Leonardo: rods for the ribs of the wings, linen for the covering of the ribs, a hemp cord for the joining knots, leather for the bodice, wood for the levers and wrought iron for the mechanical joints.

1972 Bluebeard

In 1972 he collaborated on four films: Bluebeard (1972), for which he made the mannequins of the seven wives of Bluebeard, with faces drawn from the faces of the actresses. The French Sex Murders (1972) Casa d’appuntamento Rambaldi handled the throat slashings and beheadings that take place in the movie.

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Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) Non Si Sevizia Un Paperino the fall of a priest from the top of a cliff, the mechanical dummy of the priest for his progressive destruction against the rocks below.

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For Night of the Devils (1972) La notte dei diavoli, from the story of Tolstoy, Rambaldi builds heads taken from the casts of the actors for some special effects; in particular, intended for the transfiguration scenes of the Wurdalak (vampires / zombies) that when they are killed decompose in a horrible way as well as in “splatter” sequences, those in which pointed branches and firecraft are embedded in the flesh of the victims.

The Canterbury Tales (1972)
The Canterbury Tales (1972)

The Canterbury Tales (1972) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, for which he creates a curious giant demon in a defecating position, from which a group of monks is expelled, six of which are detailed.


La Grande Bouffe (1973) The Big Feast artificial heads with the features of Marcello Mastroianni and Ugo Tognazzi in the scene of continuous vomiting.

1973 Flesh for Frankenstein

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein  Rambaldi contributes (providing limbs and mechanized heads)

1974 The Antichrist

The Antichrist (1974) L’anticristo, for which Rambaldi reproduces in full the body of the protagonist Carla Gravina with the mechanized face to obtain surreal muscular contractions, which demonic spasms outside while giving birth to a horrific diabolical entity. His are also the two mannequins of the embraced lovers who are charred by lightning in the film Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights (1974) The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights, as well as Moses’ little newborn dummy, placed in a basket, in the television drama Moses the Lawgiver (1974). In the same year he created a mechanical crucifix that moves and catches fire for the horror film Enter the Devil (1974) L’Ossessa; generic mannequins and casts of the actors. A dummy destined to be torn apart by real lions in  Savage Man Savage Beast (1975) Ultime grida dalla savana (The Lion Attack of Pit Dernitz). A coconut-electric drill that works both on land and in water for La via dei babbuini (1974)  The Way of Baboons.

Some visual effects for Zanna bianca alla riscossa (1974) White Fang to the Rescue, FX for Le amanti del mostro (1974) Lover of the Monster & The Hand That Feeds the Dead (1974) La mano che nutre la morte .

1974 Dracula cerca sangue di vergine… e morì di sete!!! (1974) Andy Warhol’s Dracula


Rambaldi is engaged in seven films. the first is the comedy Amici miei (1975) My Friends; the artist supplies hospital bandages in fake plaster that are easily removable and some generic mannequins.

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For the thriller The Baby Sitter (1975) La baby sitter  Rambaldi creates a mechanical mannequin with the features of the actress Sydney Rome, destined by the script to be hit by a running car. In the spaghetti-western, Cipolla Colt (1975) Cry, Onion!, Rambaldi realizes a and his radio-controlled electric crow. The Mazurka of the Baron, the Saint and the Early Fig Tree (1975) La mazurka del barone, della santa e del fico fiorone , creating a curious, able to change the leaves according to the season .

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Deep Red (1975) Profondo Rosso , the horror thriller of Dario Argento, played by David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi, also owes its great success to Rambaldi: in fact it created, for what it is one of the best Italian “cine-nightmares” of all tempos, a mannequin with the mechanized head of Macha Meril for particular expressions of terror, the faithful reproduction of Calamai for the final scene of beheading, a “terrible” boy with a mechanized and walking face and a mummified body.

1976 Adventurous Orzowei, the Son of Savana

Rambaldi creates mechanized and very plausible creatures (the panther and the boa snake assaulting the protagonist) of the Adventurous Orzowei, the Son of Savana (1976).


Rambaldi, shortly afterwards, reproduces for Salon Kitty (1976), the body of a pregnant actress, a dummy that has been destroyed to show the fetus inside it. After a small but functional scenographic effect for The Secondo Tragico Fantozzi (1976) Il secondo tragico Fantozzi (his famous work is the “cloud of the clerk” that haunts the unfortunate accountant Ugo Fantozzi). Rambaldi indelibly marks the last final scene of The Last Woman (1976) La dernière femme, one in which Gerard Depardieu turns himself on with an electric knife.


King Kong (1976) At the beginning of 1976 Rambaldi moved with his wife Bruna and their young sons Vittorio, Alessandro and Daniela to Los Angeles, starting the so-called “American Period”. the first US-registered work is the mega budget (25 million dollars of the time) King Kong by the British specialist John Guillermin (Crystal Hell), a modernized remake of the 1933 film of the same name directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedack, produced by Dino De Laurentiis.

He begins to prepare the “protagonist” by leading a team of about 200 people. Rambaldi is the author of the entire project and builds all the gorillas in the film together with Glen Robinson, MGM’s workshop chief: a mechanical Kong of 12.50 meters, a costumer man scale and six mechanical masks for different “radio-controlled” expressions, two mechanical arms six meters long, two legs of 4.5 meters (able to cover with a single step about six meters) and a “dummy”, that is a sort of puppet (empty) helpless and rigid for the final framing (the death of Kong) all with the special collaboration of the skillful Rick Baker, wearing the costume man-size of Kong. Kong’s enormous hand is equipped with phalanxes moved each by a hydraulic cylinder and therefore it is necessary to combine three cylinders with compressed oil to give movement to each finger.

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Kong is able to move and take on a wide range of expressions thanks to 944 meters of plastic tubes and the over 1300 meters of electrical wires and conductors that run inside its body; it has a skeleton on which tendons are placed that move artificial muscles, which in turn move the epidermis. the giant weighs six tons and its “skin”, which has an area of 120 square meters, is lined with 490 kg of horse hair, made expressly from Argentina.

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The White Buffalo (1977) this film he gives life to a very suggestive creature, a mythical white bison, fierce in striking and quick to run. its electromechanical animal, 5 meters long, 3.5 meters high and 600 kg heavy, gallops perfectly, runs at 50 km / h and is equipped with a mechanized head 140 cm high capable of various expressions.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)  Steven Spielberg contacted me in Jan try and asked me 10 come to the United States to discuss an extraterrestrial creature that he needed for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When we met. he told me he wanted something about four feet tall, with very large head and slender body. but he gave me actual designs, So I went back to Rome to develop my concept. I felt that, though humanoid in form. the extraterrestrials would be at least ten to twenty thousand years more advanced than humans, so I designed the lead proportionately larger. But with their increased reliance in pure intellect, they would have a decreased need for such senses as hearing and smelling, and so other facial features would became much less prominent. And because of their extreme technological orientation, felt they would no longer smile as broadly: but since they would still retain certain emotions, I gave them a slight smile. Also, as the brain expanded, other parts of the body would take it opposite course. The need for muscular movements would diminish, and so their limbs would become thinner and longer.

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I prepared several sketches of my design and sent them to Spielberg. He said it was exactly what he wanted. We made a contract agreement over the phone and I started to work. I sculpted the form of the creature first in clay, and then made a positive and negative mold. In the negative part, we fused a special polyurethane skin, which was about a quarter of an inch thick, and very realistic. Like human skin, it even changes color when pressure is applied to it. This was fitted directly over a skeleton framework of aluminum and steel. The skull was made of fiberglass, with pieces cut away for the concealed mechanisms used to move the eyes and create expressions. All of the movements were accomplished with flexible cables. Each was connected to a mechanical joint or muscle and ran down through the body and out at the feet. The cables connected to levers, and by manually moving the levers, the cables operated just as human tendons would. By manipulating the levers controlling the head, for instance, the cables would either push up or pull down on the mechanical muscle next to the skin to create a facial expression. I prefer using a mechanical system rather than an electronic one because I think the human hand is capable of producing a more natural and subtle movement. Also, there are certain places in the body where it would be impossible to install electronic devices, even though miniaturized, because of limited space. For example, I could not have implanted an electronic device in the elbow of the extraterrestrial and yet retained the natural flow of the creature.

When I came back to the United States in March to receive my Oscar for King Kong (1976), I brought my work with me. I also brought Isidoro Raponi, one of my four assistants from Rome: and along with Dick Cobos, an American makeup specialist, we finished it up at Columbia Studios. The extraterrestrial had fifteen cables, one for each required movement. It took seven just to operate the facial expressions, and another five to create the arm and hand signals. Esophagus and chest movements we accomplished by pumping air from cylinders in through tubes. We also constructed a walking mechanism which would allow it to take two steps, but that was not used in the film.

Steven Spielberg was very pleased with my extraterrestrial. In fact, he spent a lot of time playing with it. He especially liked the smile: and during the filming, it was he who operated the levers controlling it. All together, it took eight people to operate all the mechanisms and we practiced with it for almost a week before shooting to get it perfect.

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Alien (1979) Rambaldi’s work for Alien, like that for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, was in the role of troubleshooter, as one who was brought onto the production to save an impossible situation. “I got a call from the ALIEN production office in London.” said Rambaldi. “They asked for my help because it was impossible for them to get what they wanted over there.”. Rambaldi agreed to study the problem, and was sent copies of Giger’s design paintings for the alien, indicating the action of its protruding tooth encrusted tongue. Rambaldis was asked to devise the mechanism to make it all work. After studying Giger’s designs, Rambaldi offered to come up with a solution in four weeks time and accepted the job.

Rambaldi began work at his Hollywood company with little collaboration from the production in England. In addition to Giger’s concept paintings, Rambaldi was provided with a “rough” sculpture on which to base his work. He began by sketching a schematic of the alien head and the mechanical parts required. Working from Giger’s concepts, Rambaldi devised facial characteristics facial movements for the alien that would suit its unique anatomy. Using these sketches and mechanisms involved, Rambadi made his own modifications on Giger’s design, dictated by the mechanisms required, and sculpted a final version of the alien’s head out of clay. He forwarded a videotape of the finished clay models, showing all angles, along with copies of his design to the Alien production office n England for final approval.

Given the go-ahead, Rambaldi proceeded with construction by making polyurethane, which provides a natural flexibility for the flesh-like moving parts of the alien’s face. Rambaldi had developed his own custom made polyurethane formula over the years, one that provides a texture that closely approximates living tissue in both stretch and appearance. Coloring, added during the mixing process, provides the alien flesh with its characteristic huge of metallic grey. The polyurethane casting of the heads was formed over a strong skeletal understructure of molded fiberglass. Moveable fiberglass parts covered in polyurethane, such as the Alien’s face, jaws and protruding tongue, were attached to the fiberglass heads by means of interlocking joints. The Alien’s skull-like face is attach to the head at one pivot point  which permits controlled independent movement in either a horizontal or vertical direction. This allows the Alien’s face to glance from side to side, or up and down, without making a corresponding movement of the entire head. The protruding action of the tongue is governed by a geared track for smooth movement, and operates independently from the action of the jaw muscles. The tongue could move slowly, and stop at any point, or could be shot away from and returned to the head in a quick movement governed by a powerful spring mechanism. Rows of metallic teeth are attached to the upper and lower jaw, and behind these, movable sets of additional teeth are place on the end of the tongue, which opens like another little mouth and acts like a grappler. Rambaldi chose to fashion the Alien’s teeth out of polished steel for maximum reflectivity, adding just the right touch to make the creature’s appearance as a cold, vicious, nearly indestructible killer more convincing. Controls for the upper and lower lips of the Alien were installed to permit the creature to bare its hideous teeth merely by curling its lips. Prophylactics, three on each side, were used to simulate the tendons which attach the jaw to the skull. Being translucent, they permitted visibility of the moving tongue inside the mouth from side angles. The final thought was a 1/2″ thick, shiny plastic dome which covers the top of the head, from the nose up, for its entire length. Capable of being either translucent or opaque depending upon the lighting and comer angles employed, the dome gave the Alien an ever changing appearance.

Rambaldi constructed three heads for use in the film; two mechanical heads used primarily for close-up work, and a lightweight, non-mechanical head for long shots. Of the two mechanical heads, only one was fully mechanized to perform all of the head movement functions he designed, and was the one that was used most of the time during filming. The second mechanical head was lighter in weight and easier to work with, but was rigged only to cause the creature’s lips to curl. Rambaldi delivered the completed heads to England and spent two weeks there conferring with director Ridley Scott, working on the painting and final detailing of the models, and instructing the production team on their operation and movement capabilities. Due to prior commitments, Rambaldi could not be on hand for the actual shooting, but brought in his collaborator from Rome, Carlo DeMarchis, to train the crew and supervise the operation of the controls during filming.

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Each movement of Rambaldi’s articulated Alien head is controlled separately by hand via the action of a flexible cable. A lever control causes the cable to constrict or release, causing a corresponding action on a muscle, tendon, or moving part of the model. The principle involved is the same as that which operates the cable release on the camera. Each cable runs up into the head through the neck opening, and if 45 feet in length, to permit both concealment within the suit as well as considerable freedom of movement for action scenes. During the filming of ALIEN, it took a crew of six operators to control all of the head movements for the most complex scenes. In contrast, only a maximum of seven operators were required to manipulate the Rambaldi alien see in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and that involved torso and body movements in addition to those of the head, giving some indication of the much greater complexity of head movement capabilities designed by Rambaldi for ALIEN. Special techniques employed during the shooting which added a note of realism including running fluid through the mouth as the creature opened it jaws, providing   cascade of saliva; KY Jelly added a glistening, membranous appearance to the action of the protruding tongue; and oil was rubbed onto the head to give it a sweaty, reflective sheen .

For the film Nightwing (1979) Le ali nella notte, 80 “vampire” bats, six larger and more detailed and another 120 for scenes in which they rest.


Carlo Rambaldi in the 70’s
1970 Dead of Summer (1970) Ondata di calore
1970 Violent City (1970) Città violenta mechanical black widow
1971 Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971) Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
1971 Lady Frankenstein (1971) La figlia di Frankenstein
1971 A Bay of Blood (1971) Reazione a catena (1971) A Bay of Blood
1972 Night of the Devils (1972) La notte dei diavoli (1972) Night of the Devils
1971 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) 4 mosche di velluto grigio
1972 The French Sex Murders (1972) Casa d’appuntamento
1972 The Weapon, the Hour & the Motive (1972) L’arma, l’ora, il movente
1972 Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) Non Si Sevizia Un Paperino
1972 Tragic Ceremony (1972) Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea / Excerpt from the Secret Police Archives of a European Capital
1972 Bluebeard (1972) Carlo Rambaldi
1972 Frankenstein ’80 (1972)
1973 La Grande Bouffe (1973) The Big Feast
1973 Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
1974 Dracula cerca sangue di vergine… e morì di sete!!! (1974) Andy Warhol’s Dracula 
1974 Zanna bianca alla riscossa (1974) White Fang to the Rescue
1974 Moses the Lawgiver (1974)
1974 Enter the Devil (1974) L’Ossessa (The Eerie Midnight Horror Show)
1974 Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights (1974) The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights
1974 Le amanti del mostro (1974) Lover of the Monster
1974 The Antichrist (1974) L’anticristo
1974 La via dei babbuini (1974) The Way of Baboons
1974 The Hand That Feeds the Dead (1974) La mano che nutre la morte
1975 Savage Man Savage Beast (1975) Ultime grida dalla savana
1975 Amici miei (1975) My Friends
1975 Deep Red (1975) Profondo Rosso
1975 The Baby Sitter (1975) Scar Tissue / La baby sitter Dead Dog in Fridge
1975 Cipolla Colt (1975) Cry, Onion!
1975 The Mazurka of the Baron, the Saint and the Early Fig Tree (1975) La mazurka del barone, della santa e del fico fiorone
1976 Adventurous Orzowei, the Son of Savana (1976)
1976 Salon Kitty (1976)
1976 The Secondo Tragico Fantozzi (1976) Il secondo tragico Fantozzi
1976 The Last Woman (1976) La dernière femme
1976 King Kong (1976)
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
1977 The White Buffalo (1977)
1979 Alien (1979) 
1979 Nightwing (1979) Le ali nella notte

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