R.I.P. Carlo Rambaldi, the Special Effects Wizard Who Brought E.T. and Other Aliens to Life

This week, we reflected on movies that gave us a sense of wonder, and Carlo Rambaldi was a big part of creating science fiction movie wonder. The practical special effects artist, who passed away yesterday at the age of 86, brought E.T., the original Alien xenomorph, the Close Encounters of the Third Kind Greys, and numerous other science fiction creatures to life on the screen.

After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna, Rambaldi found his way into the world of special effects when he was asked to create a dragon for the low-budget movie Sigfrido. His effects were so convincing that, after viewing the 1971 film A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, many audience members were convinced that the sequences of dogs being gruesomely experimented on involved real dogs. Rambaldi had to bring his fake dog props into a court in order to prove to a jury that the effects were not real, the first time a special effects crew needed to prove such a thing. Eventually, he attracted the notice of producer Dino De Laurentiis, who brought him to Hollywood to help create the giant gorilla for John Guillermin's remake of King Kong.

From there, he constructed and created a number of fantastical and alien creatures that continue to enflame the minds of science fiction fans: the head of the H.R. Giger-designed Alien xenomorph, the Greys from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, kindly E.T., Dagoth from Conan the Destroyer, and the Guild Navigator from David Lynch's Dune. He took home Academy Awards for Visual Effects for his work on both Alien and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and a Special Achievement Academy Award for his work on King Kong. In talking to the Washington Post, Steven Spielberg described Rambaldi as "E.T.'s Geppetto," and many colleagues saw him as an amazingly talented toymaker who loved playing with his grand toys. Popular culture has paid tribute to him; the Alias prophet Milo Rambaldi and Star Fox's Falco Lombardi are said to have been named in his honor.

While many Hollywood productions have moved away from practical effects in favor of computer-generated effects, Rambaldi's work continues to infuse us with the wonder (and sometimes terror) of seeing aliens and monsters on screen. Rambaldi will be missed, but his work won't be soon forgotten.

Italian special effects master Carlo Rambaldi, father of "E.T.", dead at 86 [Washington Post via MeFi]
Video via Badass Digest via MeFi.
Photo from Getty Images.