After Dune, O'Bannon crept off and began to work on Alien. While he and Ron Shusett were still plugging away on the first draft of the script, O'Bannon paid a visit to Ron Cobb. He listened as O'Bannon outlined the story, then agreed to do some preliminary drawings and paintings. At this point the film was being thought of as a small budget project.
RON COBB: I just sat down and started blocking out a ship - which I love to do. Anyway, Dan's original script called for a small, modest little ship with a small crew. They land on a small planet. They go down a small pyramid and shake up a medium-sized creature. Thats about it. He meant it to be a low budget film, like Dark Star, and Iloved the idea. So I did a few paintings and Dan scurried off with them and a script.
DAN O'BANNON: The first person I hired on Alien, the first person to draw money, was Cobb. He started turning out renderings, large full-colour paintings, while Shusett and I were still struggling with the script - the corrosive blood of the Alien was Cobb's idea. It was an intensely creative period - the economic desperation, the all-night sessions, the rushing over to Cobb's apartment to see the latest painting-in-progress and give him the latest pages.
And he was doing some incredible stuff. Wow! I was really happy during this period, seeing the movie appear under Cobb's fingers. Of course, we usually had to go over and sit on his back to get him to do any work - otherwise he would just party on with his friends - but how beautiful were the results.
Then, BOOM! Our little Alien became their big ALIEN. Somehow I managed to remain on the production after it made the transition to 20th Century-Fox in Los Angeles, and the cold winter of '78 at Shepperton Studios outside London. I made the two-hour round trip with him every day in a miniscule red Volkswagen Golf. I hate to drive, so the first time I got behind the wheel I took off for London at about 70 mph and made it back in record time, through the most horrendous commuter crush and with all the traffic going the wrong way as well. Toward the end there, Cobb actually screamed, and cried out something about how I was going too fast. The next morning when he picked me up in the Golf, he told me firmly that he would be doing all the driving from here on out, so that took care of that.
During the hellish grind of Cobb's two and a half year stint on Alien, he produced hundreds of drawings and paintings, many of them seemingly endless variations on an assigned theme, many of the most beautiful never reached the screen.
In one way or another, Cobb was involved with the design of every room on the spaceship. Following his thesis of the "frustrated engineer," Cobb designed rooms and details that were meant to be functional, and in many cases were funtional. It is his aesthetic which binds the film together.