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See how James Cameron brought LV-426 to life in throwback sci-fi book 'The Making of Aliens'

By Jeff Spry
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Director James Cameron's sci-fi juggernaut, Aliens, took audiences hostage for a wild bug hunt back in 1986, even perhaps eclipsing the merits of its elegant 1979 predecessor, Alien. In a rare case of ultra-successful Hollywood sequels, Aliens elevated the franchise to even greater heights of terror by returning Ellen Ripley to LV-426 accompanied by some "very tough hombres," the dauntless Colonial Marines.

To honor the filmmaking expertise that is the legacy of Aliens, Titan Books is launching a lavish coffee table book titled The Making of Aliens (available Aug. 25)which will serve as a definitive guide to the creation of a true modern classic — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look inside its many secrets.

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Written by film historian and former Lucasfilm editor J.W. Rinzler (All Up,The Making of Star Wars, The Making of Alien), this 300-page hardcover tells the total story of how Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, united with a talented cast and crew, delivered space heroine Ripley back to the big screen — and seriously raised the stakes by pitting her and a posse of heavily armed soldiers against an army of angry xenomorphs.

The Making of Aliens is locked and loaded with fresh cast and creator interviews, revealing BTS photography, illuminating concept art, rare storyboard breakdowns, SFX miniatures, and a complete starmap of the blockbuster's eventful journey from blank page to the silver screen. 

All images taken from The Making of Aliens by J.W. Rinzler, published by Titan Books. TM & © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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"I think Aliens is kind of an anomaly in the sequel business," Rinzler tells SYFY WIRE. "The first film was a sci-fi haunted house movie, and the second one was a sci-fi action adventure. Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd were very clear that they didn't want to duplicate the first one and had already established their style with Terminator. He'd studied movies like The Road Warrior and the Stars Wars movies and the Indiana Jones movies and understood how to make an amusement park ride where the story is so well written that once you get to a certain point, it's all action with a couple pauses for the audience to catch their breath. I saw it in the theater the first week it was out and remember it being an incredible experience. It's one of the last great analog effects movies."  

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Fox gave Rinzler as much access as they could to compose this expansive volume. One of the more amazing things he discovered was how many roadblocks Cameron and Hurd had to overcome to get Aliens made.

"One of them was even hiring Sigourney Weaver," he recalls. "There was a lot of studio resistance to casting her again, and they actually had to quit and revert to scheming to get her back as Ripley. 20th Century Fox wanted anyone that didn't cost as much. The studio didn't want to be backed into a corner where Weaver's agent could say, 'Hey, you have to use her.'"

"I got to go through the image archive and we found some good black-and-white photos that hadn't been seen before, and Stan Winston's group sent me some never-seen shots, and people who were on the visual effects team got me photos of models and storyboards. What was interesting to me was the fact that people assume movies are made in a highly efficient way, and sometimes they are, but in some ways they're chaotic.

"It wasn't until she was on set that Sigourney Weaver realized she was playing a character she referred to as 'Rambolina.' Cameron would say, 'Here's your gigantic gun and you're going to be blowing away aliens.' She was part of a pro-gun-control lobby, so there were a definitely few conversations between her and Cameron on what her character's motivation was besides killing aliens."  

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"Even though he had a pretty big budget, Cameron came from the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, and there wasn't a lot of wastage," Rinzler adds. "[Concept artist H.R.] Giger was not involved in Aliens, and he wasn't too pleased about that. Cameron said at the time that he wanted to do it himself. Giger had done the heavy lifting and Cameron, being a designer himself, created the Queen Alien himself. Very astutely, he realized he didn't need to spend a lot of time on the warrior alien suits, since they were only on screen for a second or two each time. Cameron was somebody who could read tons of VFX magazines and engineering magazines and synthesize it all, so when he got to the set he knew pretty much more than anyone else on how to do it right."

Now step back to the excellent '80s in our exclusive look below at J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Aliens, available Aug. 25 from Titan Books.