Issue 132 – The Dark Arts

The Dark Arts

Concept artist Olwen Foy shares the journey from creature conception to film.
‘You don’t understand what you’re dealing with. A perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.’ – The android Ash from Alien, written by Dan O’Bannon in 1976.

The way in which Ash admiringly describes the alien to the horrified crew of the Nostromo is a pretty perfect description of the artistic brief for the vast majority of horror and science-fiction creature designs.

Most concept artists today start at the beginning with the script and whatever descriptive lines or character dialogue have been provided. This indicates to the artist the nature of the creature that they are dealing with. From aliens to man-made monsters, from robots to zombies, somebody at some point in the production must begin the process of realisation of the creature, from page to finished glory. This conceptual process takes many forms. Often, a director or designer will employ a concept artist to create a bespoke piece based on a brief or will reference an existing or historical piece of fine art.

An emotional response
The route of this art is particularly intriguing. Filmmakers have always had an intrinsic relationship with the world of art, and fine art has a rich history of visual, psychological and emotive truths. These tend to work well when applied to film creature design, provoking an emotional response and enriching the experience of the movie audience.

Many of the most memorable, iconic and potent creatures in film history were designed or influenced by fine artists. Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) creature was designed by the Swiss master-surrealist H.R. Giger, who was in turn influenced by Salvador Dalí and Zdzisław Beksiński. Giger’s designs actually existed in his book Necronomicon (1977) before Alien’s script had even been conceived and were originally illustration’s of H.P. Lovecraft’s demons. The strength of his artwork was a key factor in convincing the studio, 20th Century Fox, to finance the film. H.R. Giger’s artwork has subsequently been used in the remaining Alien franchise, Poltergeist II (1986) and Species (1995). In Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror Jacob’s Ladder (1990), the horrific post-Vietnam war demon-visions were inspired by the violent treatment of the figurative heads of Francis Bacon…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.

To see more of Olwen’s work, please visit or email

To see more of Ben’s work, please visit


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