Carlo Rambaldi, the three-time Academy Award-winning Italian-born visual effects artist responsible for creating the alien E.T. in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, died today in Lamezia Terme, Italy after a long illness, according to the Washington Post. He was 86 years old.
Born on September 15, 1925 in Vigarano Mainarda, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, Rambaldi got his start in the Italian film industry providing visual effects for films such as Bloody Pit of Horror and Mario Bava’s highly influential sci-fi chiller Planet of the Vampires. He would later reunite with Bava to execute the gory murder sequences for one of the acclaimed filmmaker’s finest films, Twitch of the Death Nerve (a.k.a. A Bay of Blood). In 1971, Rambaldi’s mutilated dog effects for Lucio Fulci’s psychedelic giallo Lizard in a Woman’s Skin were deemed so realistic that the director was prosecuted in Italian court on charges of animal cruelty. Only after Rambaldi presented the fake dog effects in court was Fulci exonerated.
Rambaldi would continue to hone his craft in European horror cinema working for directors such as Dario Argento (Deep Red) and Paul Morissey (Andy Warhol’s Dracula). In 1976 he was hired by famed Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to create the visual effects for his extravagant remake of King Kong. In addition to creating masks and other effects Rambaldi’s primary responsibility was to construct a life-size, fully functional mechanical Kong, but his final effort was replaced by a cheaper gorilla suit designed by fellow effects expert Rick Baker. The mechanical Kong can only be glimpsed briefly in the finished film. Rambaldi also designed the two giant ape arms used to hold actress Jessica Lange.
The next year he created the spindly extraterrestrials for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and two years after that he worked on the xenomorph head effects for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Rambaldi received a Special Achievement Award at the 1977 Oscars for his work on King Kong and a Best Visual Effects award for Alien.
In 1982, Rambaldi re-teamed with Spielberg for what has become one of the finest effects of his career, creating the lovable titular alien of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The good-hearted visitor of space became a pop culture icon and earned Rambaldi his third and final Oscar. Other films he worked on in various effects capacities included Nightwing, Possession, The Hand, David Lynch’s adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel Dune, Conan the Destroyer, the Stephen King-based features Cat’s Eye and Silver Bullet, and King Kong Lives.
Carlo Rambaldi’s creations were the stuff of dreams and the product of nightmares. In the days before the onslaught of CGI he brought all manners of beasts to vivid life on the silver screen. His legacy will endure for generations to come.
RIP Carlo Rambaldi
September 15, 1925 – August 10, 2012