How to make an alien for a short film?

HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

I'm making a short film, currently in pre-production. It's called The Survivors, just for the record. Anyways, it's about an alien invasion of sorts, and I need to figure out how to have an alien for the scenes. Problem is, I have a small budget, and two, I have multiple aliens called for in a scene, and I only have one actor for the aliens. I really have no mindset for what the aliens should look like, so I'm open to any suggestions. I just don't want to go down the cliche little green men approach. But whether they just look like aliens, or are wearing some sort of armour, I'm open to anything, really. What's something I can do on a small budget (say no more than $100 for the alien, and that's even pushing it) to create what looks like an alien?



  • GrayMotionGrayMotion Website User Posts: 1,368 Enthusiast
    edited December 2018

    " I really have no mindset for what the aliens should look like, so I'm open to any suggestions."

    Many abductees report a vast array of non-terrestrial beings.  Blue Avians (5th density beings), Nordic (Inner Earth beings), The Draco Reptilian , Eben's, Orb Beings, Golden Triangle Heads (9th density beings), Blue Bird beings, The Anshar (4th density human beings) ,Green Skinned Humanoids, The Ant People and of course tall (8ft) and short (3-4ft) Grey's.

    Of course all of these beings are our protectors and not invaders :-)

    That should give you a good start as to the look of an ET

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,286 Ambassador

    Let's talk design, first.

    Problem is this is a general question with a lot of possible answers, so only general advice can be given. 

    Probably the best way to approach this is to search online (Amazon is a good place to start) for things like "Robot Costume" or "Alien Costume" then filter the search results to "Price: Under $25" to look at the cheap items, then plan on mixing and matching items together. Most single costumes (especially in that price range) will look pretty bad, but if you mix/match/attach multiple items you can get something really effective - case in point, many years ago I needed "spooky black robe." The individual robes all looked terrible, but I bought three. I kinda tack-stitched them together at the shoulders then sliced away parts of one, stitched on bits of another, and, when I was done, I had something that looked really good! The three different fabrics and different "blacks" in shreds and layers really added depth and texture. 

    So, you'll want multiple things and you'll want to be prepared to make modifications. Taking an existing mask and repainting it or gluing on new bits (or both) can create something different. Look around the house and see what you can find. There are amazing DIY builds you can see on YouTube that show what can be done with cardboard and paint. Getting little plastic bits and bins from a dollar store and gluing/painting them can create interesting shapes quickly.

    Just for fun here's some stuff I found on Amazon for under $25. Some great things that can form starting layers  be mixed and/or modified.,p_36:2661612011&pi=SL140_CR0,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,p_36:2661612011&pi=SL140_CR0,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,p_36:2661612011&pi=SL140_CR0,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,p_36:2661612011&pi=SL180_SX89_CR0,0,89,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,0,114,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes,0,140,180_QL70&keywords=Alien+costumes

    And some DIY videos

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,286 Ambassador

    Having one actor means cloning. There's tutorials for that. 


  • GrayMotionGrayMotion Website User Posts: 1,368 Enthusiast

    Wow @Triem23 - Put my Smart-A comment in it's place didn't you. Nice collection of information Mike!

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @Triem23 thank you for the very detailed reply! I'll spend a while watching all those videos!

  • DataDesignDataDesign Website User Posts: 440 Enthusiast

    This may help.

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out
  • GavinBarkerGavinBarker Staff Website User Posts: 98

    I think you've pretty much been given a treasure trove of fantastic information already, but just to come at it from a different angle, does your script demand we see the alien up close, in detail and in full focus?

    Because one thing that always creeps audiences out is something human but with something...'off' about it. It's not sci fi but 'It Follows' is a fantastic example of using a human-looking monster and simply have them ACT in such a way as to be incredibly un-human. The creature simply walks, always looking at the main character. It simply keeps. on. walking. And it doesn't stop until it catches you. Ever. In practice its utterly horrifying and is one of the reasons many people put it on 'top horror movie' lists. 

    So could you go down that route? Could the alien find a way to look human but act in such a way as to be 'off'? It would save you money on anything elaborate and you could spend time instead working on the 'hook' - what will make us fear it?

    Just an idea though, you know exactly how you want it! :) If Triem, GrayMotion and DataDesign's ideas are more in line with what you're looking at, you could find clever ways to never actually fully show the alien...if you can tease the creature and show bits and bobs, our imaginations will likely conjure up a more horrifying creature than even anyone in Hollywood could create!

    I'm really excited to see the end result, so please keep us updated on how you end up tackling the alien question! :) 

  • DreamArchitectDreamArchitect Website User Posts: 595 Enthusiast

    To expand on what @GavinBarker said. Writing to your expected budget is something you should always have in mind. Does that scene really need multiple aliens or to see them at all. If you know you have little or no budget, write to those constraints. Imply things rather than having to actually see them. Show just parts of the Alien rather than the whole creature. Unlike in Hollywood, hobbiest film makers usually have a handle on their budget before they write something. It's always worth considering re-writing parts if they are prohibitive to film. Do it with skill and it can sometimes improve the finished movie. Sometimes this isn't possible I know and it is just a suggestion.

  • JBaymoreJBaymore Website User Posts: 334 Enthusiast

    What a great post full of useful ideas/information.

    I recently shot an "extra"-type alien Jedi character for a background 'cantina' shot on greenscreen...... and with a latex mask and latex hands, and some 'laying around stuff' like an iaido gi, an old leather belt, some tape of various sorts, my ultrasabers hilt, and a few extra misc. clothing items layered up, and my 6' 4" tall son-in-law under it all....... bingo...... tall Alien Jedi.  In a distance shot....... looks just fine.



  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out
    edited December 2018

    @GavinBarker and @DreamArchitect I knew my budget going into the script. I've thought about it, and I'm rewriting the scene with the aliens. The scene is vital, but there doesn't need to be so much emphasis on the aliens. I can use camera techniques so you never fully see them. Maybe, I can go down the horror route. These are scary aliens. Thanks for all the suggestions!

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    So, new idea. The aliens are humanoid but you never fully see them. So, I can utilize a cheap costume and cheap mask and always keep them out of focus and/or not fully seen!

  • WhiteCranePhotoWhiteCranePhoto Website User Posts: 896 Enthusiast

    Yes, shadows and bokeh are good ways to hide your production value (especially if you don't have the budget to make the props + costumes look authentic). 

    Definitely watch some science fiction and horror films to get some ideas, though.

    It's actually pretty impressive what you can accomplish without spending a lot of money if you have some craft skills and some ingenuity though.


  • GavinBarkerGavinBarker Staff Website User Posts: 98
    edited December 2018

    Spotted a great example of the 'humanoid but wrong' concept in a Film Riot 1 minute short competition

  • PalaconoPalacono Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 3,442 Enthusiast

     @GavinBarker so we know what you do all day on YouTube, ;) but not sure that's the link you intended?

  • GavinBarkerGavinBarker Staff Website User Posts: 98

     No possible idea what you could be talking about @Palacono... *cough* amended *cough* 

    South Park is the backbone of a healthy, happy workplace! ;)

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,286 Ambassador

    @GavinBarker certainly helps when I work my KJ gigs. I whip out at least one South Park (or Team America) song almost every night! 

    "Lonely Jew on Christmas" gets a lot of play in December. 

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    So, I've decided to combine the best of what everyone's said. I'm going to use something cheap to give it a sci-fi or at least not human look. Then, use shadows and bokeh and keeping the aliens out of focus so you never even fully see them. I'm thinking something like a black morph suit, and cover any part close up with a black slime to give it a shiny, goopy (almost Venom-like) look. But, I still want to do something to give it a human look. Just like to part of it. Something other than its humanoid form, that makes it seem human, like one human body part (like its feet or something, I don't know), but it's off because it's covered in slime or something else. Does anyone have any ideas?

    @GavinBarker you were the one who mainly suggested the human but off idea. What's your thoughts on this?

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,286 Ambassador

    Here's a low-budget idea yhat should work with a black morph suit. 

    Trash bags!

    Get some black trash bags and shred them up. Start wrapping shreds around the morph suit (maybe using a spray adhesive on the plastic to let it stick). Go ahead and let the plastic bunch and bubble.

    The shine on the bag will pick up light and give a bit of a wet look. If you fill a spray bottle with water and spray your actor down before shooting the water will soak into exposed cloth (and darken it) and bead on the plastic.

    Maybe try a test with just an arm. You can use a black long-sleeve T-shirt or sweatshirt for the test.

    Remember for dark scenes you're better to overlight a bit on-set and darken in post. 

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @Triem23 good idea! That's certainly cheaper than making a slime.

    What should I do for the more human aspect of it, though? To make it that one step creepier?

  • Stargazer54Stargazer54 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,722 Ambassador

    Less is more.  Creepy is, out of the corner of your (actors) eye that there is something moving.  They turn and spin to see only  (cut away to)  some fleshy piece of something sliding out of view behind a doorway.  Was it a hand, was it a foot, was it an internal organ being pulled down the hallway only to be devoured by the "monster"?  SFX (chomp, chomp, chomp . . .).

    All you need is a "hint" of something. The audience will fill in the rest with their imagination.  Half or most of the battle is engaging the audience to participate.  If they can't quite see thru the mist they will imagine "something".  If you give it away up front you have no film.

    The scariest movie I ever saw was the original Alien.  You never saw the creature until the very end.  Up to that point it was all fleeting glimpse and conjecture by the characters with the audience filling in the rest. 

  • GavinBarkerGavinBarker Staff Website User Posts: 98

    I think your idea paired with @Triem23's is definitely a great way to go @HeySiri. Do some tests on-camera a long time before shooting and see how it'll save you a lot of hassle and time wasting than having the idea and hoping it'll work on the day :)

    I think what MAKES the alien scary will differ depending on who you ask, but @Stargazer54 makes a perfect point with Alien. I had actually typed up an 'Original Alien/Predator fear-factor vs Alien vs Predator's lack of anything scary' post a couple of days ago but wanted to see what other people responded with, so I'm glad we both went with Alien as a source-point!

    I always found scenes that cause me to be constantly looking behind the character utterly terrifying. A lot of it is in the camera movement and the sound design so it's 100% something you could use. Funnily enough the early Paranormal Activity films did that very well. Regardless of the overall quality, the use of movement in the corner/background of frames and non-jump scare noises is very effective. See: the 1st minute or so of this. Netflix's Haunting of Hill House is also a very good example.

    So if you had a character aware of there being 'something' nearby, you could play around with having dead silence, then the alien making noises just out of ours & the characters view (it doesn't have to be a jump scare...just a door creak or something similar). Follow that up with a 1 minute 'hunt'  or have the character shrug the noise off, and intersperse with very small glimpses of the alien out of the characters view, but in the background of the shot so WE can know it's there. You're building the audience's fear of the alien, giving us vague glimpses but not revealing it in full.

    Just remember that the creature will service whatever story you want to tell. Sometimes the narrative & themes even help elevate the design. Just read up on why Alien's designs are so effective, it's fascinating (and just plain uncomfortable)! Your alien will be best when its look, personality and goals service the overall narrative you want to tell, rather than the story servicing the alien.

    If you end up having a go with the design, feel free to post any images or screen tests you do...I know I'd love to see how it comes along! :) 

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @GavinBarker I watched that clip from Paranormal Activity... that was just... creepy...

    I think I have a scene I could work a very similar idea into. There's one where they're in the middle of a factory. You know the aliens are guarding the outside of the factory and probably the inside because of dialogue. Now, there are two human characters there. One of them is setting up a bomb in the corner, while the other is slowly looking around. I could do a shot of him looking around, but he's at a distance from the camera, and then whenever he says, looking to the right, a shadow moves in the left side, and so forth. You know someone's there, but he doesn't...

    I like the idea in those movies (another example is M. Night Shyamalan's Signs) where you don't see the alien, until the end at least. In mine, you'll just never see the aliens, because then I have to be able to afford it at the end, which I can't. But, the problem with my story is that the aliens have been on Earth for four years when the movie begins, and that's actually a crucial part of the storyline. They've gotten almost lazy in their ruling of Earth, which is why the new resistance is able to form and et cetera... So, the humans would already know what the aliens look like. However, I am going to use the "you never see the aliens so it makes them more creepy because less is more" approach, because even if the humans know what they look like, if they show any sort of fear during these creepy scenes, you'll get thinking oh so these aliens aren't just ruthless they're scary or something like that.

  • TxH003TxH003 Website User Posts: 37 Just Starting Out
    edited December 2018

    You might be able to rent or find a silicone alien mask on ebay that is within your budget.

  • GavinBarkerGavinBarker Staff Website User Posts: 98

    Imagine watching that scene in a was absolutely nightmare inducing! 

    I love the factory idea! That feeling that they're definitely not alone, and anything could stop them at any second. You could try a mid-close shot on the actors face as they look left and right, have the camera slightly off-center showing an out of focus background  (which the audience is focusing on, because subconsciously the shot indicates there HAS to be something in the background...right?) and do a very gentle trucking shot or even a pan following the head movement and end up showing the background over the OTHER shoulder. At the last moment have 'something' move quickly in the background.


    I think you've got the right mindset there, just because the aliens have been there for years, they could be so feared that no-one goes near them. Play around with what you've got and storyboard a few different approaches to camera'll likely pick out ones that resonate with how you want to ustilize your aliens :)

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @Triem23 about two months ago you said use trash bags, rip them up, and attach them to the black morph suit for my alien.  Apropos that, what sort of adhesive would I use to attach trash bags to a morph suit?

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