Carlo Rambaldi: E.T. creator, three-time Oscar winner dies. Special-effects designer and mechatronics expert Carlo Rambaldi, best known as the creator of the alien E.T. in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, died at age 86 on Aug. 10 in Lamezia Terme, a town in Calabria, in southern Italy.
Rambaldi’s three Academy Awards for Visual Effects were for John Guillermin’s King Kong (1976, non-competitive Oscar, shared with Glen Robinson and Frank Van der Veer), a widely panned but moderately successful remake of the 1933 classic, with Jessica Lange replacing Fay Wray as the heroine; Ridley Scott’s horror sci-fier Alien (1979, shared with H.R. Giger, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, and Dennis Ayling), considered a classic both for Scott’s direction and for the film’s still-impressive special effects and production design; and E.T. (shared with Dennis Muren and Kenneth Smith), a cultural phenomenon to this day.
Carlo Rambaldi: ‘E.T.’s Geppetto’
“Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Geppetto,” said Steven Spielberg, referring to Pinocchio’s father. “ All of us who marveled and wondered at his craft and artistry are deeply saddened by the news of his passing.”
Born on Sept. 15, 1925, in Vigarano Mainarda, a small town located between Bologna and Venice in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, Rambaldi graduated from Bologna’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1951.
According to the Carlo Rambaldi IMDb page, his first (uncredited) film creation was a dragon in Giacomo Gentilomo’s Sigfrido (1957), inspired by the legend of Siegfried. Since then, Rambaldi continued to sporadically work on Italian movies of the ’60s and early ’70s – e.g., Piero Schivazappa’s Femina ridens / The Laughing Woman (1969), Giorgio Ferroni’s La notte dei diavoli / Night of the Devils (1971), and Paul Morrissey and Antonio Margheriti’s Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein / Flesh for Frankenstein (1973).
In 1975, Rambaldi’s visual effects in Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) reportedly caught the eye of legendary Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis. The following year, Rambaldi became known as the creator of the giant ape in King Kong, a megabudget release produced by De Laurentiis in Hollywood.
Rambaldi would continue working on Hollywood (or part-Hollywood) productions for another decade. In addition to Alien and E.T., his most notable efforts include Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Richard Fleischer’s Conan the Destroyer (1984), and David Lynch’s critical and box office misfire Dune (1984).
Rambaldi was also responsible for the bizarre creature in Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 psychological horror drama Possession.
Carlo Rambaldi vs. CGI
An old-school mechatronics master, Carlo Rambaldi remained unimpressed by digital techniques. “Digital costs around eight times as much as mechatronics [a mix of mechanical and electronic engineering],” Rambaldi was quoted as having once said in the Rome daily La Repubblica. “E.T. cost a million dollars and we created it in three months. If we wanted to do the same thing with computers, it would take at least 200 people a minimum of five months.”
Steven Spielberg / Carlo Rambaldi quotes via The Washington Post / The Associated Press.