4.12.12

Outstanding Effect Shots, part 4 of 24

Welcome to the Single-Minded Movie Blog advent calendar. Between the 1st and the 24th of December every day will bring you a short post about a classic or not so classic shot from the golden era of visual effects.

Gateway station establishing shot
- from Aliens (1986)

For his ambitious, action packed follow-up to Alien (1979), James Cameron went back to Earth, and so did his leading lady Ripley. When she wakes up in the beginning of Aliens (actually, she's still dreaming, but never mind that) she finds herself on the orbiting space station Gateway.


The establishing shot of this station is a magnificent effect, created by Bob and Dennis Skotak, and their team. It features several elements that are tied together beautifully and seamlessly, without the use of blue screen of CGI trickery.


The Earth is a separate matte painting, so is the station itself, the right side of the station is a model, we have a few small model space ships gliding through the frame on wires, plus light effects, such as practical lights on the station and a lens flare, to tie the whole thing together. The shot was accomplished in-camera, by using a beam splitter, which facilitated unique lighting schemes for each element.


For an establishing shot, this goes by pretty fast, but even if you freeze frame the Blu-ray, the shot holds up remarkably well. This is paint on glass and models on wires, for crying out loud! No, I stand corrected, this is pure movie magic.

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