Dane Hallett is one of the very talented concept artists who has worked on Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant and helped bring the highly anticipated Prometheus sequel to life, through art. In November of last year I got in touch with Mr. Hallett and asked him if he would enjoy vetting some questions the Alien fan community and myself had concerning his involvement with Alien: Covenant. Dane graciously agreed to answer what questions he could, despite having a very busy schedule. Fans were able to submit their questions in our forums, which I paired with many questions of my own. You can enjoy the interview in full, below!
Alien-Covenant.com (AC): What initially made you a fan of Alien?
Dane Hallett (DH): I must admit that Aliens 'burst' my cherry, leading to Alien 3 and Alien; which immediately became my all time favourite film. I couldn't tell you why I loved it so much at the time (I think I was 10) but in retrospect, I suspect I was as enchanted by the mythology of the whole world. The same things I love about it today. It just felt holy. Somehow, by omitting details such as the derelict crafts origins or exactly what the Jockey was, made Ridley's Alien universe seem ancient and important.
Plus, Giger's design is so utterly perfect in nature. It's intrusive, beautiful and ultimately perverted in the true sense of the word. It's so fundamentally terrifying that it earnt a place of great esteem in my little brain, managing to frighten me on such a primordial level that I suppose I couldn't help but eventually admire it.
AC: How did you get involved with Alien: Covenant?
DH: I have worked with the supervising art director Ian Gracie before and as soon as I heard he might be doing Alien: Covenant (A:C) I sent him an email which read, word for word: "I just wanted to drop you a line, as the Alien roomers are flooding hard and fast and it would be remiss of me if I didn't express a couple of tidbits of info with you while its still early days... Firstly, for the entire duration of your life - you wont meet a person who loves 'Alien' more than I... Secondly, I can illustrate the shit out of those creatures..."
He was kind enough to refer me to the Production designer and the rest is history.
AC: As a fellow Alien fan, upon realizing you would be working on an Alien film, what was your initial reaction?
DH: 5% Excitement, 95% fear, stress and sleepless terror. It's easy to worry about impressing Ridley himself, or the talented crew. But I couldn't forgive myself if I stepped into this revered world and didn't bring something that I felt to be special or worthy of the mythos. Ever since I was a child I wanted to play a role in this universe and unbelievably it happened. Imagine if you always wanted to pilot a jet and in one sudden moment you're piloting the coolest jet you have ever dreamt of. Your first thought isn't 'How great is this!?' it's 'Don't choke, don't choke, don't choke... '
I guess it's an experience that's unique to each artist, but I can be pretty harsh on myself and from the outset I was already in the spiritual company of some of my artistic heroes (Cobb, Cameron and Giger). I usually watch one of the first three Alien films at least once every couple of months, but in this instance I couldn't afford to scare myself, reminding myself of the cinematic legacy I was about to tangle with.
AC: You created artwork for a 2011 film titled "Paradise Lost", which unfortunately never entered production. The concepts of that film however, were based on the poem by John Milton. Ironically this was also an angle Ridley Scott expressed interest in during Covenant's early beginnings and at one point Alien: Covenant was even referred to as "Alien: Paradise Lost". Can you comment on the similarities between Paradise Lost and Alien: Covenant, from your perspective as one of the artists on both projects?
DH: 'Paradise Lost' (PL) 2011 was distinctly an Alex Proyas film which had a finished script that myself and a whole bunch of great artists spent at least 12 months working from. It was based on the original literature but the world described in it was way more rooted in fantasy than anything from Miltons poem. To give you an example, on PL we would reference Terry Gilliams Brazil every so often. While on A:C we would refer to a short film that Ridley enjoyed called 'The Eel' by Dominic Hailstone, a friend and fellow artist who also worked on A:C.
As far as viewing the two projects (A:C and PL 2011) as an artist, they are worlds apart. If I had to guess, I think early drafts of A:C's story reflected the themes of Miltons Paradise lost, much like Prometheus did with the ancient Greek stories about the titan. Since the name has changed, I suppose someone above my pay-grade felt that they were too different at this point to be relevant, but it's all information that I'm not really privy to.
AC: You also created a concept space craft during your time working on Jupiter Ascending, titled "Skull Craft" (pictured above). The design of this ship had a very Giger-esqu tone to it. It's apparent you were influenced by the late H.R. Giger and specifically the aesthetic of biomechanics. Did Alien: Covenant provide you with a perfect outlet to express this style of artwork, or were you limited with how biomechanical you could make your creations?
DH: As a child, Alien had such a profound impact upon me that Giger became the first artist whose name I actively sought to learn. His work arrested my attention and for the longest time it was all I cared for (artistically). As a pre-teen I remember being too afraid to steal a whole book from the library, so I'd carefully rip pages out of the Necronomicon to smuggle home and put up all over my walls. I was passionately obsessed with his work. Unfortunately, as an artist, that whole phase really hamstrung my ability to grow. I found my 'go to' style was a poor knock off of the legend himself. When I became aware of it I had to pair it back and forced myself to branch out. However, there's no denying that I still regard his work with childlike awe and it will regularly find it's way into a design or two on any film I'm contributing to.
With A:C however, I really felt like I was allowed to tap back into my first love. Not just allowed, but I felt it was my responsibility to do so.
AC: Has Zdzislaw Beksinski's work have any influence on you as an artist?
DH: I wouldn't describe him as an influence. I do really enjoy his hellish visions, but since moving into the film industry I shifted my focus to other great concept artists and peers, like Anthony Jones and Carlos Huante.
AC: You worked on concept art and set design for Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant. Which sets did you work on for the movie, those of the human space vessel "Covenant" or those of the planet featured in the movie? Of the set designs you were involved in what influences were used (Ron Cobb, Moebius, Giger, Cameron, Stan Winston etc.), and do you have any anecdotes about one of the more interesting or technically challenging set designs you helped realize practically for the movie?
DH: I can't say too much about this one, but my style doesn't really lend itself well to the rigid shapes of a spaceship etc. Albeit essential and cool, I find those aspects of film design to be kind of tedious. Not that I don't do them, but I'd just prefer to design monsters or if I need to illustrate a set, hopefully it's shrouded in brooding atmosphere or at least covered in blood. Besides that, you have masters like Steve Berg smashing out concept after concept of awesome spaceships, I simply can't complete! As for influences and anecdotes (of which I have a few) they'll have to wait until the film is out - sorry guys!
AC: A fellow artists of yours on Covenant, Wayne Haag expressed that Alien: Covenant's overall aesthetic is not as biomechanical as the 1979 original, but is definitely more dated looking than the sets of Prometheus - almost like a blend between the two. Can you elaborate on this at all and give us any insight as to the difference in aesthetics between Alien: Covenant, Prometheus and Ridley Scott's original Alien?
DH: Haagi nailed this in his answer. He managed to walk the beautiful fine line between what we can say and what we shouldn't. I'll just leave it at that. Sorry man!
AC: Many fans are curious to know - were you given guidelines specific to unused Alien / Prometheus concepts for your work on Alien: Covenant? We know many unused Prometheus and Alien concepts have been resurrected for Covenant. Without divulging any sensitive information, can you say whether or not you were provided any unused work from either film?
DH: I'm not being intentionally vague here, but sort of. I worked closely with another incredible artist, Matthew Hatton and we were tackling a lot of things in tandem. We were provided with a folder of reference within which were some of Carlos Huante's awesome Prometheus illustrations but by the time production was fully up and running we were going off specific directions from Ridley and the insurmountably cool set decorator, Victor Zolfo. I suppose it's exactly as you might expect. Everything kind of evolved from Prometheus in terms of the production and the illustrations followed suit.
I will say that between Matt and I, we were very protective of the Alien mythology and we did our best not to let anything/anyone forget any of the sacred components that make the Xeno family unique among it's Hollywood brethren.
AC: Would you describe working on Alien: Covenant as a dream come true for someone who has an obvious adoration for the franchise?
DH: Unequivocally, a dream come true. Ridley, the Xenomorph, the creature team (Adam Johansen and the Odd Studio team) - Brilliant! It was an absolutely grueling schedule, but I loved every micro second of it. As an artist, its very typical to be 'reigned in' on films. But this wasn't a typical team, or a typical film. Ridley was thrilled with our work and when the director (who also happens to be a hero of yours) repeatedly expresses how much he enjoys your work - it simply doesn't get anymore fulfilling.
AC: Did you ever get to physically meet Ridley Scott? If so, how would you describe that experience?
DH: Matt and I were lucky enough to meet with him fairly regularly as the shooting schedule drew closer to our sets. He took a personal shine to our work and would casually compliment our efforts in conversation, which was just surreal. His time was understandably precious and it would have been awesome to be involved in a less official capacity as he was always super keen to discuss art and artists. But from all reports we were apart of the very fortunate minority. The man is clearly firing on all cylinders, as passionate as ever.
AC: Did you get to meet any of the cast as well?
DH: Not in any meaningful capacity.
AC: Did you provide any of your own styles and ideas to any of your work on Alien: Covenant? If so, were any of them used officially that you know of?
DH: Indeed. But nothing that I can really talk about.
AC: Is there one specific piece of artwork you provided for Covenant that you were most excited about, or enjoyed creating the most? If it's not too secretive, can you hint to us what it was?
DH: Yes, but I'm gonna have to pass on this one, sorry!
AC: What was the most challenging aspect of working on Covenant?
DH: The schedule. As Ridley tells it, he works fast, and he isn't kidding. At any given time the workload can increase and alter dramatically and you need to be versatile enough to roll with the punches. A:C was about 8 months of no weekends and several hours of overtime each day. If I didn't care as much as I did about the end product I probably could have gone to bed at a reasonable time each night, but then what kind of Alien fan would I be if I did that!
AC: Will we be seeing a collection of your artwork for Covenant in the new year or has much of your work been kept for reference and use on later sequels?
DH: I don't know about reference for later sequels, as whatever is ultimately seen on screen is probably whats going to be most relevant, and that might eventually be referenced. In terms of a collection of work, a lot of that stuff is in the hands of the marketing team at this moment. I met with them a few weeks ago and they're all right into the franchise, just about as much as we are, so I'm sure they'll find a way to share it all at the right time.
AC: Comparatively speaking, how would you rate your time working on Alien: Covenant compared to previous films you've worked on? Has it been your favorite to work on so far?
DH: Its a close race between this and Mad Max: Fury Road (MM:FR). As a creative, it's a most fulfilling experience to be appreciated by your bosses and peers. I have found that the more trust that is placed in you, the more willing you are to go the extra mile. Subsequently, you respect the source material and end up contributing a truly endeared offering. On both A:C and MM:FR I was off my leash. It was TERRIFIC! I have a lot of fun in my line of work most of the time, but I think A:C takes the cake. You just can't beat Sir Ridley digging for work so much that he agrees to take photos with you on set. Gold!
AC: What's next for you? Are there any other science fiction films you'll be lending your talent to over the next couple of years?
DH: I hope so. I'd love to stay in the Alien world as long as I can, maybe get into some of those Dark Horse comic covers, or video games. I loved Alien: Isolation. I'm currently working Pacific Rim 2 with an amazing team and an infinitely cool production designer - Stephan Dechant. Needless to say, there's an overjoyed 8yr old me inside who I'm not looking to disappoint anytime in the near future.
After doing an Alien film, I guess all there is left to tick off the bucket list is a Star Wars movie, or a Predator flick... Fingers crossed!
Dane Hallett has worked on a number of major blockbuster films including Mad Max: Fury Road, Jupiter Ascending and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, Dead Men Tell No Tales and of course, Alien: Covenant! Below are a few pieces of his artwork, of which you can view plenty more of on his official Facebook page!
I would like to thank Dane Hallett for taking the time to answer our questions and geek out about all things Alien! We wish him all the very best of luck with all of his upcoming projects and hope to see more of his talent transfer to the silver screen in the future (hopefully lending some to the upcoming Predator movie)!
Also, thank you to everyone who submitted questions for Dane in the forums!
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