How Aliens pulled off that iconic Ripley vs. Alien Queen fight with trash bags and puppets

Contributed by
Jul 19, 2016, 3:45 PM EDT

It’s one of the most iconic fights in sci-fi history, and it turns out James Cameron pulled it off with puppets, garbage bags and a whole lot of ingenuity.

With Aliens celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cameron chatted with Entertainment Weekly about the process of making the film, and how they pulled off some of those epic set pieces with the extremely limited effects technology of the era. Not surprisingly, it’s fascinating — and shows just how creative Cameron and effects guru Stan Winston had to get to make this movie actually work.

The biggest tidbits: They originally tried out the massive Alien Queen puppetry by using garbage bags on a makeshift model hoisted on a crane. They shot it with a camcorder, and figured out it would work, then put Winston to work on the real model. As for the fight itself, you probably never even noticed, but the Ripley vs. Alien Queen battle jumps from life-size to 3-foot-tall models as the fight moves. It looks seamless, for the most part, which is a legit feat of engineering for the time when the film was made.

Here’s an excerpt from his comments:

“So we hung up this body [skeleton], put a couple guys in it. We covered them in black plastic garbage bags. It was just easy, and cheap, readily available black polyethylene. Then we took it outside and hung it up on a crane, and we shot it with a, you know, camcorder. If you kind of squinted right, you kind of saw how it would work, and so we figured that that was a successful experiment…

One of the harder shots was getting it to run after [Ripley] when she runs to the airlock, and that was a miniature puppet that was probably only about three-feet tall, operated by rods with a slot in the floor. You had to frame it very carefully so you didn’t see the rods, since in those days, you couldn’t even take rods and wires out [digitally]. So that [fight] was basically a giant exercise in practical effects. So it was either practical full scale, or it was practical miniature.”

Check out the fight scene below, and see if you can spot the changes in the scene:

(Via Entertainment Weekly)