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Film set building Part Two – Alien: Covenant

Alien Covenant bridge setIn the second part of our look at modern production design, KFTV talks to Chris Seagers about his experiences building sets for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror Alien: Covenant.

Scott’s sci-fi follow-up pitches a crew of space travellers against the iconic xenomorph monster that the director first introduced to audiences back in 1979.

Production was based at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney, where Seagers and his team built an immense set of the Covenant – the movie’s main spacecraft setting.

“We spent a couple of months at the RSA (Ridley Scott Associates) offices in London brainstorming the design of the ship and how to put it together,” Seagers tells KFTV of the genesis of the Covenant spacecraft as the crew's home.

“Ridley was very ambitious with his ideas and it turned out we didn’t have the budget to realise everything he wanted, but he thinks on his feet and is very much up for figuring out how to make it all work – he loves ingenuity.”

The Covenant was eventually designed as several key sets including the main bridge from where the ship is piloted, transit corridors and a ‘hypersleep’ chamber where the spacecraft’s cargo of human colonists are stored in stasis during long interplanetary travel.

“It was a ‘Lego kit’ of compartmentalised set-building,” Seagers tells KFTV. “We worked everything backwards from those key sets, while also having a sense of the overall layout of the ship.

Working with flexible set parts is a common component of the production process and echoes Scott Chambliss’ experiences on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

Alien Covenant corridor build

“We wanted to keep that movie geography to support the logic of the story and aid the editing process, but building a set that could be altered was important as the script was changing and you want to be able to heighten tension on demand,” says Seagers.

“Corridor sections were mounted on wheels so that new parts of the ship could be created in varying sizes depending on specific on-the-day factors like the availability of stages and actors.” 

Despite the sleek metallic appearance of much of the Covenant ship, the entire set was in fact built of wood (specifically MDF) and then coated in a specialist silver and gold paint that the team had to locate in New Zealand.

Alien Covenant corridor final

“We actually ran out of that paint and had a challenging time finding a replacement when we did some re-shoots in the UK,” Seagers tells KFTV.

Seagers firmly believes that physical set-building for film and TV is safe as a production method. The directors he has worked with in recent years have been keen to tap into the sense of realism that a physical film world provides for both actors and the audience.

Before Alien: Covenant, Seagers worked on Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s recreation of BP’s oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. An 85% scale replica of the rig was built in southern Louisiana over eight months for the shoot.

“Realism is the key,” says Seagers. “Visual effects are often used to extend sets and as a form of digital tidy-up, but you need a physical structure to deliver those goosebumps.” 

To read about set building on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 click here.

Images courtesy of Chris Seagers


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