1. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    How to get away from the Giger alien?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Chinspinner, Feb 3, 2015.

    When trying to design an alien species (generally around the principle of convergent evolution on an earth-like planet), the same image keeps popping up in my head and pushing my ideas aside...
    [​IMG]
    Dam you Giger! (Edit: I should mention that this isn't Giger, but the original design is.)

    I just find this to be the elephant in the room in any film or literature involving aliens or unusual creatures. There are few things that seem to be unsurpassable in terms of their concept and design, but this is one of them. Also why is spell checker on this site picking up unsurpassable?
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2015
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Let's see if I understood correctly...

    You could start by designing their home planets first and then see what kind of aliens (I guess they wouldn't be called aliens except by those who don't live on their planet and who'd want them to get out of their planet. Damn immigrant lizards!) would develop there?

    I guess not all of them would turn out to be perfect predators. Some might like munching on algae and building sand castles. There was an interesting article in this science mag I've subscribed to about aliens and aliens worlds and what could they "realistically" be like, but I'd imagine just by googling you'd get a few ideas about how they might look like.

    It doesn't like 'googling' either. *shrug*
     
  3. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure if this helps but I have never had this problem. I mean I have aliens in my world.
    http://andromon1217.deviantart.com/art/Jessica-Color-406091402
    ^ she is an alien. Actually the blending in aspect of her appearance is a major plot point. As she hides her nature to avoid conflict. I have reasons explain this design and she technically has things different than a human. Just would take a doctor or tools to see them.

    You are the designer. Your limits are your mind and creativity. Don't ever let anyone elses work ever hold you back ;)
     
  4. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    It could be worse, at least it is not

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I can only come up with one answer, I'm afraid. Imagination.

    There are plenty of aliens in film and print, and few resemble Ripley's nemesis. There are scary aliens, funny, quirky aliens, godlike aliens, human-like aliens with superpowers, pachyderm aliens (see Larry Niven's Footfall) and variations along every axis.

    For a starting point, ask yourself: What kind of alien does my story require?
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hm.... I did a critique for you not long ago and if the story you are working in is still the same, the Xenomorph is the last thing I pictured. Perhaps this is another creature for the same world? Going with that premise, what is the use for this creature in your story? Is it a predator they are forced to deal with? A grazing animal? An omnivorous opportunist? What is the engagement between the protags and this beastie? There's too little to go off of in your OP for to ask better questions to help you.

    On a side note, as much as Giger's Xenomorph has haunted my dreams since I saw the film as a 9 year old boy in the summer of 1979, it's never been a template for any of my aliens. It's hard to create aliens that are sufficiently novel and also sufficiently relatable. There are always going to be alien's in someone else's books that seem uncomfortably like the ones you've just created. In one of my WIP's, I discovered that the creatures that inhabit "the alien fleet" are drawn in my mind's eye very, very much like the aliens from Cowboys & Aliens, and this is proving to be a serious distraction to me. But, truth is, they also look a lot like an alien species in David Brin's Uplift series. And something tells me that there are probably plenty of other analogous for this particular look across the sci-fi landscape.

    ETA: Another thing to consider in your quest to create this creature is that animals don't evolve in a vacuum. If this beastie is an organic member of the biosphere it inhabits (as opposed to something imported), it's going to to belong to a lineage of creatures that have at least roughly similar attributes. You and I are vertebrates and all vertebrates are distinguished by their spinal column or in some cases a notochord. Terrestrial vertebrates are also noted for always being tetrapods (four limbs). We sometimes have fewer than 4 limbs, but at no time, barring mutation, are we ever hexapedal or octopedal. The tetrapod form and programming was laid down early and it is a robust bit of programming. Early on in the evolution of vertebrate tetrapods, there were some examples whose limbs ended in feet with more than five digits, but the five-digit plan predominated and superseded any other plan. Today there are no tetrapods with limbs that end in more than five digits. Some less, but never more. Certain bits of the genetic programming are tied to other bits in such a way that seemingly trivial features get set down as unbreakable rules, even when it would seem intuitive that a mutation to this feature would benefit the creature. Take the 7 neck vertebrae rule of mammals. One would think that somewhere along the way of giraffe evolution a mutation that caused 8 or 9 neck vertebrae would seem to be advantageous had that particular mutation ever popped up, but sadly in mammals the number of neck vertebrae is tied to some other bits of programming that makes a mutation to this feature pretty much a fatal no-go in mammals even though other lines of animals (birds & reptiles) happily ignore this rule and have any number of neck vertebrae.

    Anywho... just food for thought. ;)
     
  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically, when one idea is dominating your thought process in a way that you don't like, the best thing to do is find more ideas to think about. Look up as many species as possible from as many sources as possible: scifi or fantasy; games, films, TV shows, or novels; invented wholesale or based on real world mythologies…

    You won't be copying anything directly, but once you've got more ideas for what other species could look like, then you will be in a better position to judge which ones will or won't work for you (and then invent entirely new ideas in the same directions). I personally am a huge fan of the Water Leapers (Welsh folklore) and the Psoglavi (Eastern European), and I'm told that other authors have had good luck adapting creatures from the D&D Monster Manuals.
     
  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks all. Some interesting responses.

    As @Wreybies pointed out, I am sticking very closely to this idea of convergent evolution; given earth-like conditions evolution will find similar solutions for survival as found on earth- this really is dictating how my aliens will look. I am not going to have jellyfish floating around in an earth-like atmosphere or animals with six legs culminating in wheels as these things simply wouldn't exist. In addition for my aliens to have achieved space flight there are few things they will need as a prerequisite (to have achieved a sufficient level of intelligence), including opposable digits, bipedal walking allowing them to free up their front limbs to manipulate their world and so on. This is on top of the givens like a spine and skeletal structure, four limbs, two eyes, two ears, all those things we see in almost every higher creature that walks the surface of the earth.

    I am not designing all flora and fauna, they will simply be trees, or flowers, or dogs, or ungulates or sea mammals or flying mammals or birds etc.

    I've got one of my aliens down pat. Even this one has some similarities to Giger's. It is in designing my second sentient alien that I find myself getting stuck on Giger's. My issue simply is that it has become one of those genre-defining creations, and it casts a huge shadow.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2015
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Googling
    Works for me.

    It's a proper name, maybe you needed to capitalize the first letter?
    Nope, tested googling and no red line.

    This one works for me too.
    unsurpassable

    And taking an s out to check if spellchecker is paying attention, I get the red line.
    unsurpasable
     
  10. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    You know, the problem with designing aliens is that we're basing them off the anatomy and physiology of Earth lifeforms. Which means, the hypothetical planet that these aliens evolved on would be in the similar or same conditions we have on Earth (Gravity, atmospheric pressure, make-up of the air we breathe, position in the solar system, etc). It must be really hard to conceive a life form in your head that looks nothing like we have seen on Earth. It's just hard to picture what another sapient lifeform could look like without making it look like the Homo Sapiens of Earth. You could put consciousness in any creature all you want. Physically, if you want these aliens to be building spaceships, they will need something that humans have. Dexterity in the hands. Or something that can similar to a hand.

    And since you posted a picture of the xenomorph, I wanted to talk about that particular creature. Look, I like the Alien films a lot. At least the first two. They're considered one of my favorites. The thing is, the xenomorph and other aliens in fiction have always been designed to be some sort of monster rather than a simple predatory organic lifeform. But since I mentioned that, isn't the xenomorph genetically engineered by the space jockeys according to the Alien lore? (I think that's what was being shown in Prometheus).

    Anyways, a bit back on topic. If you're going to base your aliens off the conditions of a planet similar to Earth, go for it. It's easier that way. But I would like to see something more unusual. Planets where exotic creatures thrive but are nowhere near the conditions for Humans to live on. One cool idea is aliens living in a big gas cloud or ones that evolved to the point where they can live in the vacuums of space.
     
  11. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    For a more radical idea, instead of the alien being a carbon based life form, make it a silicon or phosphorous based organism.
     
  12. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have a look at James White's "Sector General" series. He goes into a fair amount of detail regarding all the aliens populating his universe - he has to since they are all working in a huge space hospital.
     
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  13. Ryan Tanner
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    Ryan Tanner Member

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    I would suppose that an effective way would be to develop the culture of the alien first, and worry about the physiological aspects after. A notebook filled with cultural attributes to draw from as you write, would then help to characterize the physical look of the alien.

    Example:

    A social structure that is based on war (i.e valuing warriors over tradesmen) would have significantly different physical attributes than a society based on religion. Reason being that whatever the society values the most is what the future generations will be primarily bred for.

    So perhaps going about the alien development at a different angle will help spark something?
     
  14. DaveOlden
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    DaveOlden Member

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    How to break the association? Simple, use a different word, one that doesn't have same association.

    Call it something else. The study of life forms off earth is called exobiology, so how about 'exo-creature' or 'exo-beast'? I like 'exo-beast,' it reminds me of a Dan O'Bannon script called The Star Beast, which was was filmed, and released as ... (oh no)...Alien.

    This is gonna be a lot harder than I thought.
     
  15. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    Given that the setting for my (first completed) novel is a world different to Earth, I've given this lots of thought over the years. In the end, I lobbed for carbon-based life, with similar but somewhat different creatures to those we have on Earth. I didn't go into the flora and fauna in detail though, because my story is about the people who are there. The rest is just background, but it needs to not impinge on a reader's suspension of disbelief.

    Watching any of David Attenborough's works will give an idea of just how creatures have solved issues of survival and reproduction around this world. I tend to believe there are certain rules (or guidelines, if you prefer). Like predators having binocular vision to give an accurate depth of field (though sharks in general seem to be an exception), and the eyes are close to the brain so the optic nerves can transmit information rapidly to the brain. Prey often have their eyes further to the side, giving a wider field of view, but the eyes are still close to the brain.

    Our teeth reflect our omnivorous nature. Our hands allow us to easily make and use tools - something other primates struggle with. We stand upright with ease (when sober). We have lost a lot of the strength of our predecessors simply because there is no need for it.

    Personally, I'm tired of seeing aliens that are extraordinarily unlikely because they are ungainly (Jaba the Hutt, for example) and/or possess outrageous growths that seem to serve no purpose. Yet they are portrayed as a dominant life-form. It just seems so unlikely to me, although I'll allow that many things are possible.

    There are some fascinating aspects of life on Earth that indicates how evolution has solved issues of survival. Who would have designed a creature that is a predator, yet has fixed eyes, and at some time in its evolution, felt the best means to immobilize its prey was to reach behind to its abdomen and grab what was exuding and slather it with that? Yet we have spiders aplenty, and they need all eight legs to build a web.

    And years ago, I read an article about an experimental early-warning defence system that was based on the faceted eyes of the common housefly. It seems that lenses of a similar design give a near 180 degree field of view and because each of the many facets will detect movement almost simultaneously (though not be able to focus), a mass of information can be gathered quickly for computer analysis. (I don't know what ever became of this.) This is why houseflies with little brainpower at all, can be so hard to swat with a hand: they detect the movement so early and reflexes do the rest.

    I happily accept that there can be similar creatures on other planets that differ in basic ways to those on Earth. But if a writer proposes something with a biochemistry other than that of terrestrial life, then it needs to make sense and there are many questions to answer, like nutrition, respiration, energy production, waste disposal, and so forth.
     
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  16. odolmen
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    People probably already pointed this out, but H.R. Giger's Xenomorph was designed to fit very specific premises. It had to be at once the perfect predator, showing no weakness whatsoever (hence the lack of eyes or anything flesh-coloured, heck, even the thing's wounds are a threat, each puncture through the beast's skin being a gateway gushing acid), and a more pernicious threat to the strong female protagonist, a phallic form who reproduces by forcing its eggs into its victims.
    So really, unless you need your aliens to be the perfect, Darwin-approved rapists, I wouldn't mind about Giger's work, however emblematic it may be.

    Function creates form. Figure out what your alien species' purpose is, how it lives, how it feeds and breeds, its shape will appear on its own.
     

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