Like me, I imagine that most people had never heard of Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi until his death was announced in the media a few days ago. And yet he was the creator of one of the best known characters in the history of cinema: E.T.
Rambaldi was the winner of 3 Oscars for his effetti speciali (special effects): in 1976 for John Guillermin’s version of ‘King Kong’, for which he created a 12 meter tall robot Gorilla, in 1979 for bringing to life Hans Ruedi Giger’s ‘Alien’, and, most famously, in 1982 for his creation of the extra terrestrial, ‘E.T.’ in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film of the same name.
Having been duly chastised by Serena for my ignorance, I decided to find out a bit more about Rambaldi, and discovered a few interesting lesser known facts about him.
Odiava i computer (He hated computers): “Si è persa la magia, come quando un prestigiatore rivela i suoi trucchi ai presenti. Adesso tutti i ragazzi possono creare i propri effetti speciali con il computer di casa” (“The magic is lost, like when a magician reveals his tricks to the audience. Now all the kids can create their own special effects at home with their computer”), he would say to those who asked about his work. “Il digitale costa circa otto volte più della meccatronica – effetti speciali ottenuti con l’unione di meccanica ed elettronica. E.T. è costato un milione di dollari, l’abbiamo realizzato in tre mesi. Nel film ci sono circa 120 inquadrature. Se noi volessimo realizzare la stessa cosa con il computer ci vorrebbero almeno 200 persone per un minimo di cinque mesi” (“Digital costs around eight times more than mechatronics – special effects obtained through the combination of mechanics and electronics. E.T. cost a million dollars, we created it in three months. In the film there are 120 frames. If we wanted to create the same thing with the computer we’d need at least 200 people for a minimum of five months”, he explained).
Il Processo Pinelli (The Pinelli Inquest): In 1969 the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli fell to his death from a window of Milan Police Station, where he was being held under investigation in connection with a bomb attack known as La Strage di Piazza Fontana (The Piazza Fontana Massacre). Due to the suspicious nature of his death an inquest was held during which Rambaldi was called in by the magistrate to use his renowned expertise. In order to demonstrate the manner of Pinelli’s fatal fall Rambaldi produced a manichino (mannequin) replicating the victim, which was used to simulate the incident.
È stato il primo autore di effetti speciali cinematografici costretto a dimostrare davanti a un giudice la natura artificiale di quanto appare sullo schermo (He was the first cinematic special effects creator constrained to demonstrate before a judge the artificial nature of what appears on the screen): Film director Lucio Fulci was taken to court and accused of cruelty to animals for a scene in his 1971 film Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (A lizard with the skin of a woman) which depicted the vivisection of dogs. Fulci would have faced a severe penalty if Rambaldi hadn’t demonstrated his innocence by producing the fantocci (puppets) used in the scene, together with cuts not included in the final production.
Riposa in pace Carlo Rambaldi: 15 settembre 1925 – 10 agosto 2012