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HR Giger

Artist and designer of Alien

Artist and designer of Alien

Born: February 5, 1940; Died: May 12, 2014

HR Giger, who has died aged 74, was a surrealist artist who designed the disturbing but captivating look of Ridley Scott's 1979 horror film Alien. Not only did the work win an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 1980, it was hugely influential on the entire look and feel of science-fiction movies. Before Alien, science fiction was clean and glittering and hopeful; after Alien it was oily and dirty and nihilistic.

He was born Hans Rudolf Giger in Chur in Switzerland and grew up in the apartment above his father's pharmacy. After school and national service, he studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. In his spare time, he also worked as an artist and created tables, masks and other works in polyester and paper, and published a number of drawings in underground magazines.

His first full-time job in the 1960s was designing office furniture but his passion was drawing and he began to exhibit some of his work including Birth Machine which featured a gun loaded with bullets resembling babies and showed his interest in the relationship between machines and the human body. Giger called the style biomechanical.

Eventually, he gave up his job to work as an artist full-time, producing a range of works in different media including paintings designed to look as if they were covered in skin.

His first work in film was producing props for a short science fiction film Swissmade but it was through Necronomicon, a compendium of his images, that Ridley Scott first came to know of Giger's work. Scott asked Giger to produce designs and paintings for the film and it was these that inspired the special effects and the striking look of the Alien creature.

Five years later, Giger was commissioned to create various horror scenes for the film Poltergeist II, under the direction of Brian Gibson, although he was unhappy with the finished film. He also designed the cover of Debbie Harry's solo album Koo Koo, which shows the singer with spikes through her face, furthering deepening his cultural influence in pop, film and art.

In the late 1980s, Giger worked on the design of a bar in Tokyo but he disowned the results and went on to work on two other eponymous bars in his home town of Chur and Gruyeres in Switzerland. Gruyeres is also the site of the HR Giger Museum, a permanent repository of his work.

He continued to work in films throughout his career, including the Alien sequels Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997) and Prometheus in 2012. In 1998, he also worked on Species, a film about an alien who is determined to mate with a human male. He also exhibited his art widely around the world.

For several years, he had a relationship with the Swiss actress Li Tobler until she committed suicide in 1975. He was married twice, first to Mia Bonzanigo; secondly to Carmen Maria Scheifele, who runs the HR Giger Museum and survives him.

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