In a new short from Tested, an astonished Adam Savage examines the exquisite design and complex build of the spacesuits used by Ridley Scott in the new film Alien Covenant. The amount of detail that goes into every inch of these suits is astounding–even while the camera doesn’t capture most of it on film.
Most of the time, the reverse is true: props that look realistic in movies look ridiculously fake in real life. The Imperial Stormtroopers suits in the original Star Wars is a good example. I remember being amazed the first time I saw one; I thought, “they look like crap.” But in Alien Covenant and other Scott movies—like The Martian—the props look like real spacesuits stolen from the future, both on film and in real life.
The key is London-based special effects house FBFX, which designs and builds them (almost) like the real thing.
The studio first created the suit in 3D and tested its practicality using fully articulated 3D-printed models. Then they rebuilt every thingamajig that went into the suit separately, creating custom parts for joints, locks, and everything else that makes a real spacesuit. Every square inch of these sci-fi suits is loaded with design details that make sense too, stuff that has a function even while they don’t really function. Even plates with serial and model numbers. Most of them are beautifully crafted in metal that gets etched, painted, and weathered until it looks like the real thing. Other parts include custom electronics, screens, and lighting that serve real functions even while they don’t actually work. They even add details that would never appear on camera, like the bottom of the boots, which have real rubber bas-relief soles and a metal strap etched with the logo of Weyland-Yutani, one of the mega-corporations that controls everything in the Alien universe.
To all this detail, you have to add the engineering challenge of designing something the actor can wear for an entire day: lightweight carbon fiber parts, anatomical harnesses, and air ventilation systems. In that sense, as Savage points out with glee, even while these suits won’t keep you alive in space, the guys building them have to face some of the same spacesuit engineering problems that NASA does.