Home > Film, TV & Radio, Graphics & Illustration, People, Sci Fi, Things I Like... > Ron Cobb’s Semiotic Standards for Alien…

Ron Cobb’s Semiotic Standards for Alien…

With the new Alien film Prometheus coming up in the next few weeks, I watched the first film again recently to remind myself of the story and came across these forgotten gems, referred to on one of the extras spread across the rather excellent fluorescent green, nine dvd box set…

It is a series of signs designed by the graphic artist Ron Cobb (although this sheet is a digitised version based on his hand drawn originals). Ron Cobb was the man responsible for imagining and designing all the human technology in the first and second Alien films. HR Giger of course was famously responsible for the monster itself, and Ridley Scott apparently kept the two men apart so that their particular visions would not become compromised or tainted by the others ideas…

These signs were intended for “all commercial trans-stellar and heavy element transport craft” and are wonderful examples of graphic design. Conceived when the film was in pre-production sometime during the mid/ late 1970’s, they have a graphic simplicity and an almost contemporary feel that would not look out of place in todays CGI-tastic adventures.

In fact thinking about it (and yes I know it’s not heavily CGI’d) one of my most favourite recent Sci Fi films, Duncan Jones’s low-key and very stylish directorial debut Moon from a few years back has similar looking graphics, creating a retro feel that undoubtedly references back to the 1970’s and Ron Cobb’s designs (although confusingly of course, both these films are set many years in the future, so explain that one away..)

Anyway, next time you watch Alien, keep an eye out for Ron’s brilliant little graphics. They are clearly there to see all over the Nostromo; above doorways, arranged in groups around control panels, sometimes glimpsed in the distance through the steam and the panic, looking for all the world as if they’d been there forever… which should mean they should also be evident on the new ship Prometheus? (fingers crossed)

Ron Cobb worked on many classic films during his career, including Star Wars, Total Recall and Back to the Future (I believe the time travelling DeLorean was basically his idea) but I’ll leave you with some fine sketches that he did for interiors of the Nostromo and the original felt tip pen artwork for the crew patches and the signage…

  1. July 24, 2012 at 18:30

    It’s absolutely mind boggling to see details like this come out of a movie. I can’t believe how many details like this are created just to make one film. However, it’s exactly this type of detail that captures you and makes the movie feel real. Great signage. I love the “artificial gravity absent” sign.

    • July 24, 2012 at 19:36

      Cheers Jeff
      mind boggling indeed, in fact I suspect with digital technology, the average sci-fi production will go through many more iterations than would have been possible with good old pen & ink…
      many thanks for visiting and commenting

  2. Darrell Curtis
    May 14, 2014 at 17:31

    Reblogged this on Deep Space from the Deep South and commented:
    A blogger, after my own science fiction heart, writes about the overlooked art of Ron Cobb and its effective legitimization of the set dressing of the Nostromo. Long live the ‘Semiotic Standard’!

  3. Darrell Curtis
    May 14, 2014 at 17:33

    Awesome article, my friend! I have been fascinated by the semiotic standard Cobb created since realizing how widely it was used to give the Nostromo believabliity. And then when I saw it was used in ‘Prometheus’ further thrilled. I enjoy watching modern SF films and looking for such verisimilitudes. Thanks for helping point this stuff out and for a great read. Cheers!

    • May 15, 2014 at 12:02

      Hi Darrell
      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve loved all things Sci and Fi for as along as I can remember and I’ve always thought it odd/ unfair that as a genre it seems to be looked down on as somehow inferior and not as important as other genres, whereas you and I both know that you can’t beat a bit of proper future escapism..
      Sad news that H R Giger died this week by the way, his crazy imagination will surley be missed…
      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment. It’s always good to know there are like minded people out there…

  4. gallinago
    June 18, 2016 at 16:46

    I’m late to the party, but wow, awesome artwork! Could you make a poster out of this?

  1. May 7, 2015 at 15:08

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