Carlo Rambaldi, a special-effects virtuoso who won two Academy Awards for his work on Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and a special achievement award from the Motion Picture Academy for John Guillermin’s 1976 remake of “King Kong,” died Friday in southern Italy. He was 86.
Every artist of my generation has seen his work and been inspired by it.
1985 Silver Bullet (werewolf suit creator)
1975 Deep Red (special effects)
His expertise in techniques including puppetry and mechanical and electronic engineering allowed him to breathe life into the most fantastic movie creatures of the 1970s and ’80s.
He designed and built an eyeless animatronic head that realized H. R. Giger’s parasitic beast in “Alien” and the benign, musical aliens of Mr. Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He also collaborated on animatronic masks, suits and a 42-foot-tall ape for “King Kong.” But his crowning achievement was “E.T.”
In “E.T.” an alien is marooned on Earth, where he befriends a lonely boy named Elliott who helps him to contact his home planet and return to space. For the movie to succeed, audiences would have to identify with, and love, a prop.
So Mr. Rambaldi used steel, polyurethane, rubber, and hydraulic and electronic controls to create an alien so ugly it was beguiling, with outsize eyes based on his cat’s and wizened skin (in some scenes E.T. was played by an actor in a suit). The alien was capable of 150 separate moves, like wrinkling his nose, furrowing his brow and extending his neck.
“Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Geppetto,” Steven Spielberg said in a statement on Friday.
The movie has grossed nearly $800 million worldwide, proving that special effects could endear as well as titillate and horrify.
“The success of ‘E.T.’ means that it no longer is important that you have Marlon Brando or John Travolta,” Mr. Rambaldi told The New York Times. “If the special effect is created very well, most people don’t think whether it’s mechanical or not — they’re thinking about the story.”
He spent several months building the squat alien with the extended neck and the glowing fingertip. “I finished E.T. exactly two days before we started shooting,” Rambaldi says via a translator in the video interview above. “In that case, you can imagine my responsibility in case it didn’t work very well.”
The gentle animatronic alien that Rambaldi created seemed so hyper-realistic in its features and emotional response that it could make children — and even grown adults — cry. But Rambaldi said E.T. only made him cry when the prop didn’t work properly.
“All of us who marveled and wondered at his craft and artistry are deeply saddened by the news of his passing,” said E.T. director Steven Spielberg in a statement to the Associated Press.