Creatives: Alien Day 2018 – Creatives: Dane Hallett and Matt Hatton, Set Dec Illustrators and Concept Artists – Episode 9 – Yutani Podcast


Title card design by Frans Hattingh

Welcome to our Alien Day Creatives series special!

We have a jam-packed 2.25-hour podcast filled with special greetings from many in the Alien Universe.

We would also like to announce that Dane and Matt are releasing a special David 8 Visual Art Diary, due to be released at SDCC. Pre-order the book here. Special world-first David’s Drawings Book Preview with Dane Hallett.

As discussed with Matt Hatton on this podcast, here is an analysis of the Shakespeare Flute/recorder scene Hamlet & the Flute Scene.

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Matt Hatton and Dane Hallett worked on David’s laboratory in Alien: Covenant, providing Concept Art you see hung in the lab and you may have had the opportunity to view on the home video extras. Due to some technical difficulties, we had to split up Dane & Matt’s podcasts. So their parts are recorded separately, hopefully, we can get them both on at the same time in future.

From left to right: Matt Hatton, Sir Ridley Scott and Dane Hallett.

Clara Fei-Fei/ @muthur9000: Thank you, Matt, for spending the time with me to be a part of this project. Could you, tell me what made you decide you wanted a career as a concept artist?

Matt Hatton: Mmm because storyboarding is so much work? Haha Nah probably my background as a graphic designer and character artist. And growing up with movies like Star Wars, Alien and The Dark Crystal (and reruns of Harryhausen movies and the like) that were so visually rich.

Also, I do like to mix it up and jump around so not just concepts but also boarding, set design, props, hair and makeup, weapons, whatever they need. And when not on the live action I do animated features. Variety is the spice and all that. It also helps to think holistically as filmmaking is such a multidisciplinary and interconnected form…

But in a nutshell, I’ve always loved movies and finally wanted to put my money where my mouth was.

CF: Which concept artists would you say inspire you?

MH: Giger, Brian Froud, Ron Cobb, Rick Baker and Phil Tippett (as great at design as they are at execution), Syd Mean, Steve Wang, Eric Tiemens, the monumentally under-appreciated Joe Johnston, Dave McKean, Carlos Huante, Crash McCreery, Jordu Schell, Chris Cunningham, Jack Pierce, Harryhausen, Rob Bottin, Rob Bliss, Neville Page… Lots more but those are the ones I can think of right now!

CF: What sort of advice can you give to those who want to get where you are? How do you suggest they start?

MH: I guess in opposition to some artists who advise to go crazy with super out there concepts, I’d say get your traditional skills down and be able to attack any subject matter. Crazy sci-fi horror fantasy action is probably the thinnest slice you can aim for in terms of filmmaking and if you can’t draw a man or woman’s face, jump from the future to the distant past, have a working knowledge of general aesthetics, architectural style, fashion and whatever, it’ll be hard to get in and hard to stay in the business. It’s as much a regular job as a dream one. And you don’t just get to do whatever you like, so you need a realistic approach and varied skillset. 3d is fantastic as is Photobashing but if you cant sculpt or draw/paint from scratch you’re going to find yourself in some very tight spots when it gets to deadline time. It’s all very boring but yeah being flexible and having basic skills down is a good bedrock. Doing comics is great too because you need to be able to draw many things, not just monsters. I got my first gig because Alex Proyas had seen comics I’d done. And as to folios, have a good variety but as well as stuff which shows you can follow a brief, throw in a version that IS out there. As well. Not instead of.

I’m self-taught art-wise but I did do graphic design at TAFE. And God how I wished we did life drawing. We actually had six lessons (!) and I LOVED it.

And I’m just trying to get where I want too. Even on Covenant I barely got to do creature stuff (which is what I love) just because of time resources and the way things panned out (which made sense). So I need to really get into sculpting, improve my anatomy skills and show more of the type of work I want to get. Especially as there’s not much opportunity to do it down under. Despite me being a character and Mascot designer in the advertising world for ages. So again I guess it’s a combo of being a jack of all trades but showing what you like as well.

CF: Now about Covenant, could you tell me what the idea was behind David’s Lab and the copious amount of Giger style drawings?

MH:  Part of David’s hubris and sociopathy is his view of himself as the creator which comes as much from his twisted father figure as self-stylings. And the style isn’t as much Giger per se as the content. So Giger shape language and forms but rendered in a classical style. As David patterns himself in the classical style. It was also a way to chart (in a very literal sense) the progression of David’s psyche and arc manifesting itself through his ‘work’ and the storyline of the film. Starting out seemingly innocent in content and intent and gradually becoming more unhinged and sinister. With the film being so cut-to-the-bone I’m not sure how much of that came through but hopefully, the book of David’s visual diaries will show how Dane and I metered out the arc more clearly. There’s a very linear progression that mirrors a three-act structure from the initial David’s quarters set to the Lab (I think many people think they’re the same thing) to finally the scroll room and Shaw reveal.

One other thing about the Giger-esque stuff is that on the very first day I asked about the connection/aesthetic disconnect between the monolithic architecture and spare forms, as opposed to the baroque (in its ornate detail) Giger biomechanoid look. The answer was that it was a good question and we’ll find out. And we never did. So I constructed a backstory where the internal logic was that it followed a typical historical, aesthetic and technological path. The look of the Engineers and the city are great cinematic shorthand for classic/powerful civilisations. I incorporated that into a timeline where the Engineers have progressed through technological ages past the point of form following function to the age of space travel. And the massive simple structures giving way to industrial then technological shape languages until all the pipes and practical detail on the ships and spacesuits, for example, gives way to a more organic look where the forms retain the techno traces but become more organic and aesthetically-minded. Hence making an internal logic that incorporated both Roman/Greek cities and Giger ships.
And I thought an obvious place to look for organic/aesthetic inspiration was to the native flora and fauna. So like the larger than human Engineers themselves, it seemed reasonable that the plants and animals had that look and strong structure. And made sense they’d incorporate/look to nature to arrive at their post-tech taste. So I reverse engineered (hurr) the flora and fauna to show bracing and ribbing creating both structural fortitude and the Giger feel as respectfully as I could. Also in some of the creatures biological reasons for the rapid growth, extended brainpan of the Proto/Xeno and so on.

Oh yeah, when I say I did the artwork that way I mean we, as Dane-o, did too! One of our proud little moments was that Ridley didn’t realise there were two artists at first. Which is great, because the whole point is that it all flows from David’s hand. We can tell of course, but others shouldn’t be able to as the stuff flashes past. Of course, that’s also the reason we worked seven days a week around the clock for months. More artists would mean more disparate styles.

CF: What was it like to pretend to be David for the short ADVENT?  How did that come about?

MH: Haha that was funny. We were going hard right up to the last second of main unit shooting, but splinter unit was still doing stuff after the main wrap. And they wanted shots of David actually doing the vivisections and drawing and so on.
Most of the time that stuff is utterly unconvincing with an actor dabbing at a section obviously already done (I’m sure Mr Fassbender would have killed it though) or whatever so it’s nice that they wanted to get the artist to do it. Unfortunately, Dane is left-handed (sign of the devil) and I’m right-handed so it fell to me. And God knows I was all in the zone with my actor-like backstory shenanigans for David’s ‘scientific notation’ haha…

CF: That must have been a lot of fun, I did notice those hands weren’t David’s. You were very convincing in the role.

CF: What could you tell me about the original artworks you did for the Paradise Lost Script? Does any of it make it into the art diary?

MH: As to Paradise Lost, the aborted Alex Proyas movie has nothing to do with the earlier title for Covenant. It was the film Dane and I met on though. We both had a good time on that. Although the bastard got to do demons and I was tied up with angels the whole time. Was desperate to do demons and they promised me but beyond a bit of work on Bradley Cooper’s Lucifer and a lotta hair/makeup stuff, I never did get to the gross stuff before it folded. Ah well. You wanna talk baroque though!

CF: Also, there must have been a bit of confusion that Paradise Lost and Alien: Covenant were the “same” movie.

MH: yeah – it seemed from your question you thought they were the same! It was pretty close timing-wise I guess. Funny to us of course, that name coming back to haunt us!

CF: Thank you again for participating in my Creatives series, and following my blog from the tumblr days. We’ve come a very long way, from me just transcribing David’s work to film analysis, now I have a supportive team of people working with me, volunteering their time and efforts to contribute to the blog and the Yutani Corporation fan page and being on a podcast/interview with you both is so surreal. It’s nearly a year on and I can say this movie is my favourite because of how much work all the people involved in the movie put in, and how much it keeps giving to me in so many ways, whether it be analysis or appreciation of the efforts put in behind the scenes.

You can follow Dane on Facebook or Instagram and Matt on Instagram.

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