Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool.
There are two ways to perform a magic trick.
The first is to make sure you’re the center of attention, focusing the audience on you and your actions rather than the trick itself. It’s magic as the cult of personality and, oddly, the only real reason why performers like Paul Daniels and David Copperfield share common ground.
The second way to perform a trick is to make it all encompassing, to fold your life and your persona around it until the only thing people see is the reality you’ve helped create and your invisibility becomes your reward. This second type is much less prevalent in stage magic these days but it’s still the mark of a truly brilliant special effects artist.
There’s the same need to misdirect and entertain, the same need to disappear into the work in order to maintain its reality and the same elegance that comes from a perfectly executed magic trick. Carlo Rambaldi, who died yesterday, aged 86, in Lamezia Terme in Italy’s Calabria region, embodied this second method.
Rambaldi learnt his trade working with some of the best directors in the world, including Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. His work on Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, directed by Fulci, was so realistic that animal cruelty charges were brought against him. Rambaldi had to replicate his effects in court to prove they weren’t real before the case was dropped.
His work in the US began with King Kong in 1976 where he designed the 12 meter tall Kong puppet and a large mechanical arm for close up scenes with star Jessica Lange. Next, he went on to work on extra-terrestrial visualisation for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and was recruited by HR Giger to be part of the design team for the Xenomorph in Alien, where he was responsible for the mechanics of the on-set creature’s head.
From there he returned to work with Spielberg on ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, his background as a practical effects specialist and puppeteer proving vital to bringing the alien to life.
His last high profile genre work in the US was designing for David Lynch‘s Dune where he worked on creature design. Rambaldi’s influence was, in short, felt at every level of commercial science fiction cinema in the west and without him the visual definitions we have of the alien, hostile or cuddly, would be very different.
A true magician disappears into their work and Carlo Rambaldi did exactly that, producing elegant monsters that sculpted a generation of sci-fi cinema. He’s not a well known name but he is an essential one and I find it genuinely touching that Rambaldi, the mysterious monk who developed countless impossibly high-tech gadgets in Alias, was named after him.