Carlo Rambaldi in the 80’s

Director Oliver Stone brought Mark Brandel’s story for his film The Hand (1981), starring Michael Caine, to the screen. Stone needs the “protagonist” limb, and Rambaldi makes four mechanized right hands, two radio-controlled hands and a mechanized hand/prosthesis.


Following his work on ALIEN, GIGER recommends Carlo Rambaldi to the filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski who is looking for someone to conceptualize the Possession (1981) monster taking slowly human form, a nightmarish evocation of the dereliction of a couple in a vein somewhat similar to ERASERHEAD’s David Lynch. The Italian creator accepts the contract after a quick reading of the scenario, despite a more modest remuneration than that of Hollywood productions. After two months of work, he brings to Berlin the five suitcases containing the creatures in spare parts and must work to train the assistants who are at his disposal. But the Polish filmmaker who is not known for his temperance is unfriendly with the creator of special effects, believing that his monster is a big pink condom approaching a lively marshmallow, and strives to edit. Carlo Rambaldi fulfilled his mission; following the initial stage of a mud-like rot on a wall, the Italian creator realizes three stages of the creature, the rudimentary form handled by an assistant from under the bed while the long tentacles are animated by long invisible strings, the being in full mutation and covered with blood, vaguely humanoid silhouette, and finally the semi-anthropomorphic monster that mates with the actress Isabelle Adjani by enclosing it in its tentacles, a strange scene that marked and disturbed many moviegoers.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rambaldi accepts the assignment for ET – The Extra-terrestrial (1982) and asks for nine months of time. Spielberg grants him six, during which the artist works twelve / fifteen a day seven days a week. Rambaldi takes inspiration for his face and head, frontal and in profile, from his beautiful Himalayan cat “Chica”, while he rounds it back (on the nape) like Donald Duck; then he inserts his head on a long retractable and slightly curved neck, the one painted 30 years earlier in his painting “Women of the Delta”; therefore it places the whole on a squat, short, compact body and rather flaccid in the abdominal area, with the two upper limbs enormously developed and with the lower ones short, with a wide plant and triangulates, all in a Picassian figure of a total height of 105 cm.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rambaldi creates different models of the alien protagonist with the same principle: a supporting structure in aluminum and steel, on which muscles are fixed in fiberglass, polyurethane and rubber. each main muscle is connected to a mechanical-electronic system, which allows to perform certain movements and to assume a particular expression. Rambaldi provides a unique and detailed body of three different heads: the first, equipped with a mechanical system controlled from six meters with simple levers, is used for wider movements; the second is equipped with numerous electronic controls that allow greater expressiveness; the third head, the most complex, summarizes the characteristics of the first two, and is the one used for details and close-ups; provided with ten main points of articulation, it allows Spielberg a very wide freedom of action. in total, it has, from head to toe, 17 main points of articulation, and many other secondary joints. To maneuver it correctly you need a team of twelve technicians, four of whom are in charge of facial and head movements. After two weeks of exhausting tests, the team reaches the necessary fluidity in coordinating all the movements. The contractile pupil of age can shrink and dilate depending on the ambient light; his language is moved by complex miniaturized mechanisms; to simulate breathing and heartbeat, it is necessary to compress some balloons connected to the model with very fine plastic tubes; the heart of age is, on command, luminescent; his body is crossed by a pulsating blood system. In the end Rambaldi builds four different models of the alien, an electronic one, the most complex, equipped with 85 movement points and operated by a large electronic control unit, a mechanical and electronic one with 60 movement points, a mechanical one with 40 movement points , and a costume, with a head without movement, worn by two dwarfs.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rambaldi’s contribution to Conan the Destroyer (1984) assisted by Steve Townsend, Paolo Scipione, Bruno Rubeo, Bruno Landis, Laurie Marems and Federica Gallen consists in creating the stone statue of the god Dagoth which (once animated) gradually turns into a monster, until the final stage , a unicorn colossus with large bat wings and elephant legs; the mechanical costume is worn by André the Giant.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dune (1984) The FX of the film carry the signature, as well as of Rambaldi assisted by 15 technicians, creates the imposing “Navigator” (third-stage Guild navigator), a spatial creature similar to an insect, with the body “cocooned” in an embryo, 8 meters long, in aluminum and other metal structure, fully mechanized and well detailed in wide eyes, in the mouth, in the broad and protuberant head, in the arms and hands, rather small. Powered by 21 people with levers and other manual controls without the aid of a computer, the “navigator”, covered with flexible rubber, has 40 separate movement points. Rambaldi also designs and builds the fetus of small Alia, a mechanized creature operated by six operators. the worms of the arid planet Arrakis, underground masters of the Dune saga, are executed by Rambaldi in as many as 16 specimens, built in aluminum and steel, also covered with rubber, entirely mechanized and electronic; in the film they seem gigantic, hundreds of meters long, and much more numerous, in reality they are eight, six and four meters long. the worms are able to sway and flex in the sand thanks to complex mechanical systems, so they can also undulate suspended from the ground, open the mouth and agitate the tongues inside the jaws. the longer and more complex worm (the one of eight meters) is moved by 18 technicians. all the worms are equipped with small holes connected to compressed air pipes, so that they can raise clouds of sand forward and move on tracks hidden under the sand. Rambaldi also builds a “full size” worm section, 15 meters in diameter for interaction sequences with some actors.


Cat’s Eye (1985) Rambaldi creates a monster dubbed the “Troll” . Rambaldi built the articulated head to be worn by one of three midget actors in costume. The design follows the same basic principle as E.T., which Rambaldi also built, but he is quick to point out the differences.


“It’s only mechanical,” he said. “No electronics. He needs only expression.” The features of the troll are fashioned in latex over a metal framework. The inside of the head appears to be a chaotic tangle of springs and levers that push and pull at one of the twenty-five movement points. And all of that tangle of metal “guts” is designed to permit the mask to fit over the head of the actor who will wear the troll costume.Making the mask more cumbersome and unwieldy are the twelve cables running from the rear of it, connecting the interior workings to the control levers several feet away. And there’s more. Rambaldi reaches for two hollow tubes and blows into them. The creature’s jowls suddenly puff out, making the snarl on the face all the more amazing.”It is terrible, monsterous,” Rambaldi said. “At the same time it’s sympathetic.”

Like most of Carlo Rambaldi’s recent creations, the werewolf in Silver Bullet (1985) is primarily an articulated head capable of striking any number of facial expressions through a combination of movements produced by manipulation of the mechanical “guts” inside the head, a tightly-packed collection of springs, rods, and levers that push and pull on the face. Twelve levers operate the interior mechanics. Moving a lever pulls a cable that in turn moves part of the mask’s inner mechanism which causes the face to move. The operating principle is similar to that of hand brakes on a bicycle.


“The most difficult thing,” Rambaldi said of designing his werewolf, “is movement; many, many movements.”, the werewolf must appear to talk. In one sequence the angry werewolf snarls, “Bastard Marty,” and Rambaldi assures the assistant director that the werewolf will speak on cue. To make the werewolf appear to speak the necessary words requires precise manipulation of the proper levers and Rambaldi has spent a great deal of time making sure that the final effect will be the desired one. For less demanding shots there is a second head, identical to the first in every way except mechanization. The fixed head will be used for long and medium shots that don’t require the werewolf to use facial expressions. Both heads are constructed of flexible polyurethane over a metal frame. The interior mechanics of the articulated head are made of aluminum or steel depending upon the amount of stress necessary to produce the desired facial movement.


De Laurentiis set up King Kong Lives (1986) at the North Carolina studios, also directed by veteran John Guillermin, starring Linda Hamilton, Brian Kerwin and John Ashton, produced on a budget of several million dollars. The De Laurentiis did not hesitate to entrust Rambaldi with the construction of new gorillas necessary for the film. Ten years have passed since the first Kong and Rambaldi has refined its techniques. The new Kong giant version is now taller (15 meters), is more mobile and expressive and has a more detailed and mobile mechanized head. Rambaldi also dedicates himself to the creation of the two versions, 15 and 1.75 meters, of the “Lady Kong” (the costume is worn by the mime George Yiasomi), the gorilla that in the film gives Kong an heir, “Baby Kong”, made in costume version with mechanized head; it also creates two giant and articulated arms six meters long, one of King and the other of Lady Kong, capable of holding tight in their powerful fists (each finger can be bent thanks to a single hydraulic cylinder, against the three used ten years before) people and objects of various sizes.

Although used only minimally throughout the movie, the full-sized King Kong did receive considerable screen time during the Atlanta Institute sequences, playing an essential role in the pivotal heart transplant scene.  Fiberglass and steel and a round chassis. Kong’s real heart, however, was what a real, diseased ape heart looks like. We did full research on it to make it anatomically correct. It was molded and cast, then constructed primarily out of foam rubber and rubber skins.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In addition to the full-sized Kong, a separate pair of twelve foot legs complete with mechanics for a minimal, natural looking knee-bend – was also devised for use during the live action shoot to facilitate authentic interaction with the players. The primary spare appendage used during first unit photography, however, was a full-sized mechanical arm expressly designed for the safe conveyance of the actors. “The mechanical arm was actually used a lot throughout the film,” said Rambaldi. “And it was made quite differently from the one used in the first King Kong. Ten years ago, the arm was designed primarily to reach outward  the concept being that the arm had to grab and hold and raise the actors. It was built full-scale, which was very heavy and very complicated. It was great for supporting human weight, but it created other problems. Because it was so heavy, the possibility for speedy action was drastically reduced.


Rambaldi takes a year off, before returning to the set for special effects and visual effects for Primal Rage (1988) which sees the sons Vittorio and Alessandro as registers and FX Make-up Artist.


Carlo Rambaldi, his sons Alessandro and Vittorio, Ron Goldstein and Cathy Butler collaborate on the film Cameron’s Closet (1988). Rambaldi designed and constructed the demon.

Rambaldi’s creature does feature a very unique streamlined design with subtle reptilian features, a thickly coiled tail, and long insectoid arms framed by leathery wing like flaps of skin. The beast in some ways reminds one of an outstretched bat ray with appendages and a personality. The body design, which Rambaldi describes as “semi-elegant,” rapidly tapers off to a wicked tail.

The stuntman in the suit wears the demon mask appliance on top of his own head, uses clawed arm extensions, and has his legs completely obscured behind the creature’s tailpiece. Rambaldi promises the creature will fly, flap and coil its snaky tail as well as rip the living crap out of several hapless victims.

Carlo Rambaldi in the 80’s

The Hand (1981)
Possession (1981)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Dune (1984)
Cat’s Eye (1985)
Silver Bullet (1985)
King Kong Lives (1986)
Primal Rage (1988)
Cameron’s Closet (1988)

Fangoria 49
Fangoria 70
Fangoria 43
Cinefantastique 15 N 4
Cinefantastique v12n05
Cinefantastique Vol 07 No 3-4
Cinefantastique 09 01

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s