Ridley Scott's Alien took 1979 by storm and was followed by three additional films in what is known as the Alien Quadrilogy, with the aliens appearing in several additional films. Scott is returning to this universe in the upcoming Prometheus, a prequel to the original film. The popularity of this franchise has led to many different releases on tape, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-Ray through the years and there is a vast array of behind-the-scenes footage on the films.
This post is about the extras relating to the visual effects and miniatures in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set. However, the content on these discs appears to be included on the Alien Anthology Blu-Ray release as well.
Alien - Outward Bound: Visual Effects (Disk 2) - 19 minutes
Covers the design and construction of the various spaceships used in the film, as well as the filming and problems they encountered (director Ridley Scott knocking chunks off a model with a mallet and telling the model makers to have it redone for shooting "after lunch" when it had taken them six weeks to build!) Lots of commentary from the artists and some excellent close-up images as well.
Aliens - The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects (Disk 4) - 27 minutes
Lots of variety here, much more in the way of miniatures than the original film. Not only spaceships, but full miniature environments, from the hanger deck of the marine cruiser where the climatic battle between Ripley and the Alien Queen takes place, to the interior of the atmosphere processing facility, to the exteriors of the far-flung space colony the aliens have attacked. Of special interest was the discussion of the use of puppet miniatures in filming the fight sequence of Ripley in the power loader suit against the Alien Queen. There is a separate segment in the special features titled "Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Alien Queen" which give more insight into this sequence, but does not discuss the puppetry aspect in any depth.
Alien3 - Optical Fury: Visual Effects (Disk 6) - 23 minutes
The third film in the series takes place primarily inside of an off-planet penal colony and miniature use was not needed as much as on the second film. However, there are a few sequences that utilize them, but they are covered sparsely in this look at the visual effects. There is an additional look at the matte paintings used, but the longest visual effects discussion is around the use of a miniature puppet for the alien. While this section is interesting, it's not as an effective use of puppetry as in the earlier film where the puppetry merely augmented certain sequences rather than became the normal mode for the alien. Still, I love the creativity and the effect that they did achieve is very interesting.
Alien Resurrection - A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography (Disk 8) - 23 minutes
While the movie itself was lackluster, the miniature work was amazing and there is some good behind-the-scenes info on the spaceship and space station models and the methods employed for realism. There is some discussion around why they went with models instead of CGI (they felt CGI was not advanced enough and the volume of shots needed).
It's great to see how movies with similar themes approached story elements requiring miniatures in this collection, but the clear winner here is the segment from Aliens, the second film in the series. Much more for the miniature enthusiast to sink the teeth into regarding variety.