Carlo Rambaldi 1925-2012

Special effects legend dies aged 86

One of the great pioneers of movie special effects, Carlo Rambaldi has died at his home in Italy after a long illness. He was 86.

Rambaldi had recently been living in the southern Italian city of Lemezia Terme, but was born in the north, in the village of Vigarano Mainarda, in Emilia-Romagna. He attended Bologna's Academy of Fine Arts as a teenager, and had intentions of becoming a painter. But an offer from Italian director Giacomo Gentilomo to create a dragon for the film Sigfredo proved life-changing.

Rambaldi's work immediately became a staple of Italian horror and fantasy cinema. He worked with the maverick likes of Mario Bava (Planet Of The Vampires, Twitch Of The Death Nerve) and Damiano Damiani (The Witch In Love), and had the dubious honour of having to legally prove that his work was pure artifice, when some unpleasantness with a dog in Lucio Fulci's A Lizard In A Woman's Skin saw the director facing a two-year jail sentence. Rambaldi was able to demonstrate his animatronic creature work in court, and Fulci was exhonerated.

After Dario Argento's Deep Red, Rambaldi caught the eye of super-producer Dino De Laurentiis, who gave him the immense task of reinventing King Kong for the ambitious 1976 remake. While the film itself may not have been flawless, the creature work was effective and Rambaldi and his team won an Oscar for their efforts. Rambaldi worked on a further spate of Laurentiis films in the 1980s, including Dune, Conan The Destroyer, and the Stephen King adaptations Cat's Eye and Silver Bullet. For the latter he created the werewolf, completing a trimumverate of his own versions of the classic monsters that he'd begun with Andy Warhol's Dracula and Frankenstein.

Working with De Laurentiis kept him with one foot in Italy, but it's for his work with Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott - to the tune of further Oscars - that Rambaldi will perhaps best be remembered. It was Rambaldi and his team who brought HR Giger's extraordinary Alien to life. And following a fruitful collaboration on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Spielberg entrusted Rambaldi with the design and creation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. All those '80s kids clutching plush E.T.s could thank the man behind Dagoth and the Guild Navigator.

His final credits were all on projects directed by his son, Vittorio Rambaldi: Primal Rage, Decoy, and A Friend From Space. The last was made in 2006, but Rambaldi always stuck to practical effects, and never embraced CGI. "E.T. cost a million dollars and we created it in three months," he told La Repubblica. "If we wanted to do the same thing with computers it would take at least 200 people a minimum of five months!"

"Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.'s Geppetto," said Spielberg at the weekend. "All of us who marvelled and wondered at his craft and artistry are deeply saddened at his passing."