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Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien

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For the first time, Oscar-winning production designer and director Roger Christian reveals his life story, from his earliest work in the British film industry to his breakthrough contributions on such iconic science fiction masterpieces as Star Wars, Alien and his own rediscovered Black Angel.   This candid biography delves into his relationships with legendary figures, as For the first time, Oscar-winning production designer and director Roger Christian reveals his life story, from his earliest work in the British film industry to his breakthrough contributions on such iconic science fiction masterpieces as Star Wars, Alien and his own rediscovered Black Angel.   This candid biography delves into his relationships with legendary figures, as well as the secrets of his greatest work. The man who built the lightsaber finally speaks!


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For the first time, Oscar-winning production designer and director Roger Christian reveals his life story, from his earliest work in the British film industry to his breakthrough contributions on such iconic science fiction masterpieces as Star Wars, Alien and his own rediscovered Black Angel.   This candid biography delves into his relationships with legendary figures, as For the first time, Oscar-winning production designer and director Roger Christian reveals his life story, from his earliest work in the British film industry to his breakthrough contributions on such iconic science fiction masterpieces as Star Wars, Alien and his own rediscovered Black Angel.   This candid biography delves into his relationships with legendary figures, as well as the secrets of his greatest work. The man who built the lightsaber finally speaks!

30 review for Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Labelled “A Memoir” and subtitled “How I Built The Lightsaber And Won An Oscar”, this is a personal account of designing the set decoration for "Star Wars", "The Last Remake Of Beau Geste", "The Life Of Brian" and "Alien". Also included are thoughts on the Russ Meyer version of the Sex Pistols film, working on "Return Of The Jedi" and putting together Christian’s own first short film "Black Angel". The book is fascinating, a very detailed and thorough look at the way a group of people (on "Star Labelled “A Memoir” and subtitled “How I Built The Lightsaber And Won An Oscar”, this is a personal account of designing the set decoration for "Star Wars", "The Last Remake Of Beau Geste", "The Life Of Brian" and "Alien". Also included are thoughts on the Russ Meyer version of the Sex Pistols film, working on "Return Of The Jedi" and putting together Christian’s own first short film "Black Angel". The book is fascinating, a very detailed and thorough look at the way a group of people (on "Star Wars" it was John Barry, Les Dilley, Norman Reynolds and Christian) battled against a low budget, studio (and crew) indifference and time to create a whole new way of presenting a sci-fi film. Taking in the whole process, from understanding George Lucas’ concept to creating the lightsaber, guns and Millennium Falcon hold, it’s an incredible account of an incredible job and as a huge Star Wars fan, I loved it. The "Alien" section is as interesting (and perhaps a little more in-depth) and, once again, it was so informative it made me want to see the film again. "The Black Angel" piece is interesting (I haven’t seen the film), though it does get a little bit pretentious at times but generally felt a little rushed. On the whole, I’d have preferred to see more of Christian away from the films - we get virtually nothing of his normal life, except his dad is mentioned once, his girlfriend at the time of Black Angel makes a brief appearance and he mentions working jobs that pre-date Star Wars but doesn’t go into detail. My only real gripe is that the book really needed another edit - Christian repeats himself a lot (especially in the Star Wars section), often over the course of a few pages and it’s usually quite obvious (Sir Alec Guinness rolling in the dirt to soften his clothing, for example) whilst a small paragraph about the Millennium Falcon hold appears on p.160 and is repeated, with a couple of extra lines, on p.164. Once or twice is okay, but by the end of the book it’s quite annoying and could have been easily fixed. Otherwise, this is a great record of groundbreaking work on two big films from the 70s that changed the look of sci-fi cinema and - repetition aside - I’d very much recommend it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Audience: Those who love Star Wars, Alien, Cult Movies or cinematography in general. Summed up in one word: Dedicated Author Bio: Roger Christian is an award winning production designer and filmmaker, whose significant contributions to the global success of Alien and Star Wars are legendary. As a director, Roger's work includes Black Angel, The Sender and Nostradamus, and he acted as second-unit director on Star Wars: Episode VI and Episode I: The Phantom Menace. First Impression: This is a must Audience: Those who love Star Wars, Alien, Cult Movies or cinematography in general. Summed up in one word: Dedicated Author Bio: Roger Christian is an award winning production designer and filmmaker, whose significant contributions to the global success of Alien and Star Wars are legendary. As a director, Roger's work includes Black Angel, The Sender and Nostradamus, and he acted as second-unit director on Star Wars: Episode VI and Episode I: The Phantom Menace. First Impression: This is a must read/own for any Star Wars, Alien or cult movie fans. Cinema Alchemist is filled with secrets from some of the defining movies of the 70's and 80's. From RG's work with George Lucas on the set of A New Hope, to his significant involvement in Alien alongside Ridley Scott. There are many stories, secrets, insights and anecdotes, every reader will find a treasure trove of movie secrets and insider knowledge on the set of genre defining movies! Summary: For the first time, Oscar-winning set decorator and director Roger Christian tells the story of his breakthrough work on such iconic science fiction masterpieces as Star Wars, Alien and his own rediscovered Black Angel. This candid biography delves into his relationships with such legendary cinematic figures as George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and the Monty Python team, and reveals many of the secrets of his greatest work. The man who built the lightsaber finally speaks! (Synopsis from Cinema Alchemist) Review Content: Roger Christian opens up about his time on the set of Star Wars, Alien, The Life Of Brian and his own short movie Black Angel. As one of the key set decorators involved in A New Hope, Roger Christian had a lot of say in prop design and set pieces. In this section of the book, you get an all access guide to how some of the most famous elements of Star Wars came to be. It is as good as it sounds :D. Then the mid-section of this book is dedicated to Alien, Ridley Scott, Roger Christian and the other set decorators working hard to bring us another genre defining movie full of excellent effects and memorable scenes. This section is the most juicy in terms of easter eggs and trade secrets. In between these sections, there are stories and anecdotes of other films that RG contributed to such as Monty Python's The Life Of Brian. Finally, we are treated to an in-depth piece on Roger Christian's first outing as director in the form of Black Angel. This section delves into the trials and tribulations that RG faced whilst trying to create a short film that would accompany Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Backs on its first run in cinemas. Author Style: There is no one that can say that Roger Christian does not work at 100%. He is a dedicated, artistic and enthusiastic human being and this definitely comes across in his writing. I felt at times that I was on the set with him, watching all the delicately prepared plans go wrong, and all the crew scrambling to fix, tweak and generate new ideas on the spot. I would like to say that RG doesn't toot his own horn to much...but being an Oscar winning artist comes with its bragging rights and RG takes several opportunities to exploit this. The main point to discuss about the writing in this book is that it is incredibly detailed. It is almost a textbook for film students at certain points, but I didn't personally find this to be an issue, it is inspiring to read such care and attention to craftsmanship. Accomplishments: This book accomplishes plenty. RG gets to explain and open up about the props, effects and set design that he worked on in Star Wars, and especially about how it was him who created the iconic Lightsaber! RG also gets to share stories and details about working alongside Ridley Scott, this is an excellent part of the book, full of wonderful stories, content and ideas. The reader gets to see how much work and detail goes into every second of a movie, the blood, sweat and tears that accompany getting the perfect shot or sound that makes a movie scene something special. Pros: Loads of insider information. Many funny stories. Inspiring. Informative. Awesome. Cons: This book is a bit of a time consumer, it took me quite a while to finish as it is rather dense with information. Similar to a textbook at times. We could always do with more Star Wars insider knowledge. Extras: There are plenty of photos in the book that compliment the text, some of which are fairly rare. There are lots of connections to other popular movies of the 70's and 80's, as well as RG taking inspiration from Arthurian Lore. Rating: This is a must own for movies lovers. If you enjoy know plenty about the process of making movies, or knowing more than other people about popular movie trivia then this is definitely for you. I am happy to have this on my bookshelf, I love the cinema and in many ways, Roger Christian helped make movies special, memorable and enjoyable. 9/10

  3. 4 out of 5

    Khairul Hezry

    Every fan of film and definitely every literate Star Wars fan should read this book. Roger Christian may not be a name one would recognise but he was the man responsible for creating Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, R2-D2 (based on Ralph McQuarrie's drawings) and the Millenium Falcon. We get to see the making of Star Wars (and Alien) from the point of view of the design department which often gets overlooked in 'making of' memoirs. Every fan of film and definitely every literate Star Wars fan should read this book. Roger Christian may not be a name one would recognise but he was the man responsible for creating Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, R2-D2 (based on Ralph McQuarrie's drawings) and the Millenium Falcon. We get to see the making of Star Wars (and Alien) from the point of view of the design department which often gets overlooked in 'making of' memoirs.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    This book needed editing desperately. Phrases and entire sentences repeated throughout; it felt as though the book was cobbled together from an oral history where the historian described things exactly the same way each time he discussed them. This detracted from the experience. While there were interesting rich details for lovers of Star Wars and Alien, it just wasn't very well written, and should have been about 33% shorter. Too bad. This book needed editing desperately. Phrases and entire sentences repeated throughout; it felt as though the book was cobbled together from an oral history where the historian described things exactly the same way each time he discussed them. This detracted from the experience. While there were interesting rich details for lovers of Star Wars and Alien, it just wasn't very well written, and should have been about 33% shorter. Too bad.

  5. 4 out of 5

    PJ Wenzel

    Great topic, and very fascinating to hear the behind the scenes stuff. Yet...very poorly edited.

  6. 5 out of 5

    C.J. Bunce

    Originally published online at BORG.com. Roger Christian’s success is a testament to the idea of thinking outside the box. If you stop in the middle of age-old processes, no matter what you’re doing and what field you’re in, and consider trying a different method, you may trigger something special. In Roger Christian’s new memoir Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, it is the old Hollywood method of making movies that is the villain of sorts, with Christian coming to the rescue as the Originally published online at BORG.com. Roger Christian’s success is a testament to the idea of thinking outside the box. If you stop in the middle of age-old processes, no matter what you’re doing and what field you’re in, and consider trying a different method, you may trigger something special. In Roger Christian’s new memoir Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, it is the old Hollywood method of making movies that is the villain of sorts, with Christian coming to the rescue as the hero with a new way of creating movie magic for audiences in 1977. And it just so happens he came to the rescue of George Lucas and landed a gig making of one of the greatest science fiction fantasy of all time, the original Star Wars, and the greatest sci-fi horror film of all time, Alien. In Cinema Alchemist you learn Christian’s modern method of set decoration and design perfected in Star Wars, a method copied by many, that he would soon use again for Alien. Ridley Scott specifically chose Christian to create the same look he came up with for the Millennium Falcon in his new ship the Nostromo and other sets. In any memoir you can expect some amount of hyperbole, although Christian likely deserves a pass simply because the Academy Awards endorsed his work as set decorator of Star Wars with an Oscar. So he is certainly the real deal. Countless Star Wars fans have spent years re-creating his original design for the lightsaber, tracking down the original camera parts he used, as well as re-creating all the rifles and pistols used in the film. Christian had his hands in the creation of R2-D2, C-3PO, the landspeeder, the Sandcrawler, Luke’s Tatooine homestead, the Millennium Falcon, the giant dinosaur skeleton in the desert sand, Mos Eisley and the Cantina, and set after set created for the film. The value of the book is in Christian’s accounts of prop making, set design, and using found objects like old airplane scrap metal to create a “real world, lived-in” feel on Star Wars and Alien in light of severe time and money constraints, plus Christian’s personal recollections of conversations and observations with George Lucas on Star Wars and Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger, and Moebius on Alien, and his play-by-play of the filming of the Alien chest-buster scene, arguably the most famous horror scene of modern cinema. After reading Cinema Alchemist, you will absolutely watch Star Wars and Alien differently, and notice details of the film you haven’t seen in your previous 300 viewings of the films. That is quite a feat. What most will overlook is the repetition in the book. We understand the author’s loyalty to George Lucas, yet he repeats this ad nauseam. Many jobs have monotony, and much of his recollections recount that monotony, but much of that could have been edited away. No doubt many diehard fans will be looking to the book for more specifics on parts used for props and sets, but this comes in only small doses. The book also seems to be Christian’s response to other unspecified accounts of Star Wars creators and a defense of others’ actions. This kind of discussion of office politics seems petty and unnecessarily portrays Christian as a bit defensive. Christian’s honest recollections are what readers are after, and an edit down to a “just the facts, ma’am” approach could have resulted in a better tribute to the author’s legacy. Finally, one question many have had about Christian is why he seems to have stopped after Star Wars and Alien. Only more recently we know he has rekindled his directing work, but he doesn’t address that even in a footnote. He does offer some chapters to his work on Lucky Lady, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, Life of Brian, and his short film Black Angel. We know he was a second unit director on Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, and director of Battlefield Earth. That is all skipped over. Ultimately this account of his life’s work is pared down to just before Star Wars and ends in 1979. What else has the moviemaker been working on over the years? Originally written more than five years ago, Cinema Alchemist has finally made it to bookstores with this first edition through Titan Books. Pick up your copy of Cinema Alchemist now, recommended for fans of Star Wars, Life of Brian, and Alien, moviemaking enthusiasts, Star Wars replica propmakers, and anyone interested in a career in set design.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A fascinating but unevenly paced read about the experience of production designer Roger Christian as he helped craft a new visual reference for sci-fi cinema. Christian's experience of creating lived-in aesthetics for the original Star Wars and Alien films is a real wonder, if dry, tome; he talks about the process from meeting the directors and viewing concept art to scouting sites to sourcing scrap - the two movies are essentially made with jet engines, aerospace junk, and any other kind of bui A fascinating but unevenly paced read about the experience of production designer Roger Christian as he helped craft a new visual reference for sci-fi cinema. Christian's experience of creating lived-in aesthetics for the original Star Wars and Alien films is a real wonder, if dry, tome; he talks about the process from meeting the directors and viewing concept art to scouting sites to sourcing scrap - the two movies are essentially made with jet engines, aerospace junk, and any other kind of building/material scrap he could find - and literally crafting a rich world to match the director's vision. I loved reading about how he designed the iconic weapons for Star Wars from existing guns, used scopes, greeblies (bric-a-brac), and t-rubber. My mind was blown when I found out that lightsabres were made with the some light strips, rubber padding, tape, and a old-timey camera flash tube. The flip side is that the book's pacing suffers. Sections are organized by film but Christian often jumps around in a timeline and goes into very granular detail. Momentum started and stopped for me depending on my own interest in whatever decoration or design he was discussing at the time. Overall, a neat read if you're interested in some of the behind-the-scenes movie magic of two iconic films.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ahimsa

    Roger Christian is undoubtedly a genius partially responsible for some of the seminal films of the latter 20th century. Which is a pity that this book is so repetitive and dry. It's still worth reading for film fans but it should be a delight, and it's not. Roger Christian is undoubtedly a genius partially responsible for some of the seminal films of the latter 20th century. Which is a pity that this book is so repetitive and dry. It's still worth reading for film fans but it should be a delight, and it's not.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Thrilling to see the processes of two of my SF favorites, and the photos are pretty awesome too!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Ogborn

    Three and a half stars for this look primarily into two iconic films that had such a profound effect on both myself and many others. Thanks to Christian's incredible memory and enthusiasm, I now have an even greater respect for the artistry and hard work that went into Star Wars and Alien. The Tunisian exteriors for the former and UK interiors for the latter were beautifully crafted and still hold up today, arguably far better than the lazy CGI we often see. Three and a half stars for this look primarily into two iconic films that had such a profound effect on both myself and many others. Thanks to Christian's incredible memory and enthusiasm, I now have an even greater respect for the artistry and hard work that went into Star Wars and Alien. The Tunisian exteriors for the former and UK interiors for the latter were beautifully crafted and still hold up today, arguably far better than the lazy CGI we often see.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Reader

    I received this book in Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review... Being a HUGE, HUGE Star Ways AND Alien fan, I dug right into this book and was very eager to soak up all the information this author would provide. I was extremely disappointed and had no much difficultly getting through each chapter. This book lost my attention so quickly into it, I almost wanted to cry. It had no much potential, and fell incredibly flat. There was way to much filler, way to many repeated details I received this book in Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review... Being a HUGE, HUGE Star Ways AND Alien fan, I dug right into this book and was very eager to soak up all the information this author would provide. I was extremely disappointed and had no much difficultly getting through each chapter. This book lost my attention so quickly into it, I almost wanted to cry. It had no much potential, and fell incredibly flat. There was way to much filler, way to many repeated details and information, and overall way to long. This book felt like it dragged on endlessly, and was very poorly written and poorly put-together/organized.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sander De Lange

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Morss

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Wainerdi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Darren Companion

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ty Beard

  18. 5 out of 5

    Craig

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brent Doerzman

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leandro Romero Jr.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eric E

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt Bielewicz

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Lee

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine Hassan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eva

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael Clark

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sean Mead

  30. 5 out of 5

    Todd

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