One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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I looked down the narrow eerily blue-lit hallway and saw a warm glow coming from the end office lighting up the faces of the people staring back into the office.

James Cameron on the set of Aliens

James Cameron on the set of Aliens

Pressed for time, I had hustled my way from the parking lot behind the sound stages through the New York streets to a must come now power meeting at Fox marketing and either a UFO had landed or the Virgin was in that room.

My office had been blessed to be chosen to create a marketing campaign for the movie Aliens, the James Cameron sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien.  It was an important release.  The key art image had to be as good as the Steve Frankfort image for Alien.

But, our directive was that the Aliens icon had to be less minimally symbolic than Frankfort’s egg hatching who-knew-what.

Aliens original art; art direction by Mike Salisbury

Aliens original art; concept/art direction by Mike Salisbury

Burning hours looking over acres of unit photo shoot contact sheets of the production, I found the image of Sigourney Weaver holding the child.

Classic Joan d’ Arc protecting child from danger.  Potemkin.

What is the danger?  The most indelible danger image for Alien — and the icon for Alien — is the egg.  I looked through even more stills for eggs.

Taking a print of Sigourney and the child, we modified the vaguely distracting background of the still and built a field of not yet hatching eggs, placing the two of them as intruders in the territory of an unseen terror.

Finished Aliens poster; art direction by Mike Salisbury

Finished Aliens poster; art direction by Mike Salisbury

This was all combined by cut and paste.  The background assembled as a unit and photographed with the figures then placed on top; then after that, carefully defining them, and the gun, and adding the glow to the eggs with retouching.

The entire composition was still not in a finished state when the call came to get something to Fox immediately.

Since the art was not exactly finished, I didn’t have anything splashy enough for a presentation worthy of this movie.  Or my bills.

So knowing bigger is better, we built bigger.  With the figures pasted over the background we added the title, the copy line and the credits at the bottom of our art and blew it up to head height.  When we got the enlargement we cut it out around the figures with the eggs at the bottom as a base.

We rigged it with lights behind the cut out and built an easel back stand to hold it up.

That statue of liberty was delivered to Fox before the deadline of my do or die meeting.

Gently pushing my way through the small crowd seemingly mesmerized by that light emanating from the marketing chief’s outer office, I saw the light and it was beaming from our Sigourney and Child religiously iconic faux statue made of foam core.

Aliens less dramatic final poster.

Apparently this one got past Cameron...

The concept was bought, the posters printed and put up on theatres the country over.  Rejoicing in victory, I taped one to our Sub Zero.

I may have the only poster.  Immediately upon the posting, James Cameron called for all of the posters to be taken down.  We replaced the design with one of the new logo alone on a black background.

LA Times Calendar, 6.5.10; article by Betsy Sharkey

LA Times Calendar, 6.5.10; article by Betsy Sharkey

I was bummed.  Yet our art concept was used in buses, on benches, on billboards, for VHS and DVD packaging, in Europe and recently on the front page of the L.A. Times Calendar section.

It is not the almost-Catholic image of the messianic egg in the sky of Alien, but ours is in the tradition of the indelible image of the Madonna protecting the child.

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4 Responses to “James Cameron Bummed Me Out”

  • Richard Says:

    Well, what a story (again) !
    This piece was seen and known in Europe.
    Is it me or her gun looks magical in that picture ? Not the raw bad gun as seen on Rambo’s arts.

    MS Reply:

    thanks. it was a different type of gun. very spacey.

  • bobscott Says:

    The mad dash to get work done results in a iconic poster design. But why would James “control-freak” Cameron want the posters taken down?.

    MS Reply:

    i don’t think we ever got a knowing answer but the image was used worldwide and ultimately on the packaging. thanks bob.