The world of special effects has lost one of their own< as Carlo Rambaldi, famed special effects wizard, died Friday, August 10, in Lamezia Terme in Southern Italy. According to the Italian news media, Rambaldi, who was 86, had been suffering from a long illness. No other details were given.
Rambaldi was a genius in the world of mechatronics, a specialty that combined mechanical, electronic and system design engineering. In an era where computerized effects barely existed, Rambaldi was able to create what could only be imagined and had the ability to bring it to life. Although he’s worked in over 30 films, it’s his creation of the alien in Ridley Scott’s film ‘Alien’ and the iconic E.T. in Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial’ that brought him recognition. In fact, his work on those films each earned him an Oscar in the Visual Effect Category.
Born in 1925, Rambaldi had intentions on becoming an artist after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. But in 1956, when he was asked to create a dragon for the low-budget fantasy film, ‘Sigfredo,’ he became so enamored with the world of cinema that his career was born.
Rabaldi’s work was so life-like that in 1971, he became the first special effects artist required to prove that his work wasn’t “real.” At the time, an Italian official prosecuted the director of one of the films that Rambaldi had worked on accusing him of animal cruelty in connection with scenes that involved a dog mutilation. Rambaldi illustrated to the judge the props he used to prove what was seen in the film was fake, and charges against the director were dropped.
In 1975, Rambaldi’s work caught the eye of legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis who brought the special effects master/creature creator to Hollywood to work on the remake of the film ‘King Kong’ starring Jessica Lange. His creation of the giant ape in the film earned him a Special Achievement Oscar as at the time, the Visual Effects category had not yet been created.
Rambaldi’s role in films began to diminish as more and more studios began to rely on computer graphics for their visual effects. Not shy about giving his opinion on the subject, Rambaldi had been quoted as criticizing, “Digital effects cost around eight times as much as mechatronics. Effects on E.T. cost $1 million and took three months. If we wanted to do the same thing with computers, it would take more than two hundred people and five months.”
“Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Geppetto,” said Spielberg, referring to Pinocchio’s fictional father and creator, “All of us who marveled and wondered at his craft and artistry are deeply saddened by the news of his passing.”
Upon hearing the news of Rambaldi’s death, Jeffrey Okun, chair of the Visual Effects Society, sent out the following statement:
“While I never met Mr. Rambaldi, I know I speak for the entire Society when I say that the lifelike breakthrough puppeted alien he created for ET significantly raised the bar for all creatures, including what would become CG created creatures. His ability to inject emotion into plastic and metal still stands as a monument to what is possible… His talent was immense and he will be missed, but his legacy and challenge will live on.”
The world of science fiction, fantasy and horror owe a debt of gratitude to Carlos Rambaldi as his ability to create the iconic characters to many of the genre’s films would not have been the same without his wizardry.