Obituary: Carlo Rambaldi, 1925-2012

Special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi, whose work on the films Alien (1979), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and King Kong (1976) won him three Academy Awards, died on Friday, August 10, in a hospital in Lamezia Terme, Italy. He was 86.

Carlo Rambaldi scene

Carlo Rambaldi stands between two of his creations--King Kong and E.T.

Born in 1925 in northeastern Italy, Rambaldi attended Bologna’s Fine Arts Academy. He first entered the world of cinema with his uncredited creation of a 52-foot-long dragon created for the 1957 Italian production Sigfrido, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo.

Rambaldi subsequently worked on some three dozen films, creating effects primarily for the Italian cinema throughout the 1960s for such well-known Italian filmmakers as Marco Ferreri, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento (Deep Red) and Mario Bava, before moving on to Hollywood.

It was during Rambaldi’s Hollywood years that he developed his skills in mechatronics, a mix of mechanical and electronic engineering used to produce special effects. From his pioneering work in field emerged the creatures that yielded his three Oscars—the ever-drooling, multi-jawed Alien (with whom he collaborated with Swiss artist H.R. Giger), the cuddly E.T. and the gargantuan King Kong.

Rambaldi also created the child-like aliens in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the sand worms in David Lynch’s Dune (1984), the creeping severed limb in Oliver Stone’s The Hand and the monstrous Dagoth in Richard Fleischer’s Conan the Destroyer (1984).

But it is for E.T., which Rambaldi constructed from steel, polyurethane and rubber and brought to life via hydraulic and electronic controls, that he will be best remembered.

“Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Geppetto,” Steven Spielberg said in a statement on August 10.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.