Five of our favourite alien movies from 20 years of DNEG VFX

Celebrating World Space Week 2018

Since the earliest days of cinema, generations of filmmakers have sought to answer a big question: If there is life out there, what’s it like?

VFX in movies today gives us a chance to enjoy evermore-realistic close encounters with a range of aliens.  As part of our celebration of World Space Week and DNEG’s 20th anniversary, we have delved into our back catalogue and picked out five of our favourite movies featuring extra terrestrials of all shapes, sizes and attitudes.
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Collaborating to create creatures

All the creatures brought to life on TV and the cinema screen by VFX artists are the product of a huge collaborative effort involving a range of specialists. With so many people involved, we’re always searching for talented and creative people to join us. Check out our Careers pages for more. But not before you’ve checked out our five favourite alien films.
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1:Pitch Black (1999) Cert 15

What’s it about?

Passengers on board a commercial transport ship – including a dangerous, light sensitive prisoner (Vin Diesel) — are marooned on a planet full of bloodthirsty creatures that only come out to feast at night. But things go from bad to worse for those stranded when they discover that the planet they have landed on is about to experience a rare month-long eclipse.

Our work on this movie

This was DNEG’s first project. Our VFX experts collaborated closely with practical effects vendor John Cox’s Creature Workshop to deliver around 200 CG shots to bring to life the darkness-dwelling pterodactyl-like aliens.

To see a trailer, head over to our Pitch Black show page.
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2: Paul (2011) Cert R / 15

What’s it about?

Paul is a small alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who decides it’s time to return to his home planet. He escapes from the secret U.S base where has been living, pursued by a secret government agency. A freak accident, however, brings him into contact with two British sci-fi geeks (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). Together they must figure out how to get Paul home.

Our work on this movie

We were responsible for all the VFX on this film, including development, build and animation of the title character. Paul was a particularly challenging character to animate and our teams were tasked with marrying Seth Rogen’s larger than life gravelly voice with the body of a 4ft grey alien. Speaking to Digital Media World, DNEG’s Animation Supervisor for the film, Anders Beer said: “The challenge was to keep the essential qualities of a grey alien, while making him personable and humanistic, not fantastical, but someone you could relate to in a buddy movie. The audience should even be able to forget he is an alien now and then and only be reminded of it occasionally.”

Eye Spy

Look out for Paul’s nictitating membrane. This is a protective inner eyelid often found in reptiles. According to Anders, while it was tricky to create, it helped maintain a balance between Paul’s “one of the lads” charm and the fact that he is still an alien – “spooky but not repulsive”.

Check out the Paul show page for images from the film, more about our VFX work and links to articles.
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3: Attack the Block (2011) Cert 15

What’s it about?

Before stepping into the role of Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker’s first on-screen close encounter with aliens (and DNEG) came with her role as Sam in the British sci-fi horror comedy Attack the Block. This was also the big screen debut for writer/director Joe Cornish (The Kid Who Would be King) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Set around a south London residential tower block, a teen gang fights against an invasion of furry bear-like aliens with razor sharp fluorescent teeth.

Our work on this movie

As lead VFX vendor for this movie we delivered a wide range of services to support Joe Cornish’s vision. This included VFX for the aliens’ dramatic arrival from outer space, which features a firework display that grows into a much larger meteorite shower and causes a lot of destruction. Our artists also made the alien beasts look more menacing by adjusting the lighting of the black fur and by making it look spikier.

Check out the Attack the Block show page to see a trailer.
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4: Life (2017) Cert 15

What’s it about?

The six-member crew of the International Space Station is tasked with studying a sample from Mars that may be the first proof of extra-terrestrial life. Named Calvin, the creature quickly proves to be more intelligent than expected.

Our work on this movie

We were one of the main VFX vendors for this movie and delivered around 600 shots to the final show. Our artists worked on the seven stages of Calvin’s accelerated evolution from a petri dish to something that is big enough to kill a human!

Separate creatures were created for each evolutionary stage and the rigging became more complex as Calvin evolved and its ‘personality’ developed. As DNEG’s VFX Supervisor Huw Evans told Artofvxf.com: “Calvin isn’t just a killing machine. It’s a creature trying to communicate…It was nice to play with this slightly timid and exploratory character that flips and loses it when pushed.”

Our teams also created the exterior shots of the Earth and the International Space Station (ISS), which was nominated for a Visual Effects Society Award for Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project.

Visit the Life show page to watch a VFX breakdown.
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5: Annihilation (2018) Cert 15

What’s it about?

A biologist, played by Natalie Portman, signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious quarantined zone in the US, known as the “Shimmer”. Inside the zone an alien force spreads across the land, mutating every living thing in its way.

Our work on this movie

DNEG was the primary vendor for this show and Andrew Whitehurst was the Overall VFX Supervisor. Our teams were involved in all aspects of creating the alien landscape on Earth and the creation of alien beings and delivered around 800 VFX shots.

Look out for the Mandelbulb

For the otherworldly look of The Shimmer and its energy source, our artists took inspiration from the world of mathematical fractals – infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. The Mandlebulb is organic-looking, 3D fractal shape that our VFX team used throughout the show to signify the alien presence.

Discover more about Annihilation, watch a trailer and find links to more articles about its VFX over on the Annihilation show page.
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Coming soon to a screen near youDoctor Who

If you love aliens and sci-fi, look out for the new Season of Doctor Who. DNEG was the lead VFX vendor for the BBC’s flagship sci-fi series. Check out our Doctor Who show page for more details.
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To stream, rent or buy – that is the question.

If our brief overview of these movies has whet your appetite, then you’ll be pleased to hear that all of the movies mentioned above are available to stream, rent or buy online around the world. For more information on which service(s) to use to watch them in your location, visit: https://www.justwatch.com/
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Discover more about our space VFX work 

If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at these other World Space Week stories:

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