An adept concept designer, creature artist and prop maker, Dane Hallett has earned a reputation for his passion, broad skill set and his interdisciplinary ability to carry a design from concept to creation. In addition to the illustration work for Alien: Covenant, his work has also been featured in productions such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Hacksaw Ridge, The Wolverine, Aquaman and notably several hero vehicles and props on the Academy Award-Winning Mad Max: Fury Road
Q & A
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
Strictly within the context of horror, if I didn't come right out and blurt Freddy Krueger, I'd be a filthy liar. I realize that any poser might be able to saunter in here and list that character in the hopes that their horror cred might stick, but not for me. Freddy is an important, imposing figure in my psyche. He's tethered to that formative, religious experience of intensely staring at VHS covers before you were old enough to rent them, hypothesizing about this terrifying entity only to finally watch those movies years later and find that he's even better than you imagined.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
"getting through the bad ideas to get to the good ones", indeed. My regular day job is to produce concept art in the film industry, and this philosophy is exactly how a good artist needs to approach their work. You must be aware that for the most part you suck and I have found that there is no better litmus test of said ideas than running them through a filter of trusted friends, colleagues and detached punters. In this case I worked very closely with my good friend and business partner John Marsh to weed out all my turgid dialogue, temper my insatiable lust for on-screen gore and, as a producer, check and recheck all my zaney physical production plans. An example of a bad idea might be to assume that an undertaking like this would be simple... You need that external conscience to tell you things like 'No, it will not'... On the other hand, there are some things I just know in my bones that I won't sacrifice and those are the things that every time I mentally revisit, keep that spark primed to become a raging house fire.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
The Horror community is one of the most deeply passionate, hopelessly enthusiastic movements I've ever been affiliated with. Not only because of my own internal bloody fervor but I've had the pleasure and privilege of contributing to some R rated big budget fare over the years; The Invisible Man, Alien: Covenant and Fury Road (though not really a horror, but sufficiently gory nonetheless!) to name a few, and the fans that reach out to me are absolutely besotted with their respective franchises/movies; which is exactly how I carry myself.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
I suspect the standard answer might list all of the incredible movies and filmmakers/contributors that have come before me (Cronenberg or Verhoeven for example) but I'm assuming I'm speaking to the converted, so I'll skip that and go to music, violent anime of the 80s and 90s and nature. I love Metal and Industrial music. The dusty, grimy choked out sounds of Ministry and even some powernoise like Combichrist. I find listening to these bands infinitely inspirational. They're challenging to digest, complex and thoughtful. They conjure images of flesh and bone, machine and decay - blood and rust. There's a tune for building every world I suppose, but I'd be kidding myself if I wasn't simply trying to perpetually manifest an 'Akira' experience on some primal level.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Go with it I suppose. I've often tried to affect my brain before or as I sleep so I can try to go to the nether reaches of my subconscious and exist there. I've set random alarms. Played obscure sounds - eaten expired food. I'm not a drug user, but perhaps I'd make an extraordinary one if I wasn't so afraid of compromising my work.
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Could there be anything more villainous than the entire squad of 'journalists' working for 60 minutes?
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy x100000. He is a true wellspring of violence through creativity! I'd take King because of the serious drama and tragedy at the center of his work. But it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to honour the influence that Lovecraft has had on so much of my creature design. Practical with a hint of CGI. I'm not as dogmatic about the practical VS CGI debate, but by default everything I do has and will be fundamentally practical, as my background is in SFX, and you gotta do what you know. Post apocalypse for sure. I've done two films set in the Mad Max world now, and there's no going back. Also The Road was one of my absolute favourite films for a long time.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Given my background in prop design, manufacture and on-set SFX work, I guess you could say it's my professional obligation to be good at those things (or else I'd be fired). Design wise it's the same process as ever for me. Look to mother nature, the undisputed queen of design. One will never dethrone her, so don't try. We can appropriate pre-existing things, and I suppose that's where the familiar component comes into it. I look at the Xenomorph as the absolute apex of creature design. Every single line and shape of it is familiar and yet a perversion of that familiarity. Gorgeous, terrifying - flawless. An impeccable design from a master artist.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
As a child my imagination frightened me, but that eventually morphed into a career making love affair, so on some level that 'inspired' me. As an adult however, I'm afraid of regular things. Heart attacks, car crashes or spree killers. Are they inspirational? To a degree, they inspire a great fear that I'll die before my work is done, so I need to be faster, better and more prolific. Thus far it's working pretty well, so hopefully I'll be terrified of dying for a looong time to come!...
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Alien. I'm not sure if mentioning a sci-fi horror counts, so I'll add Hellraiser as a straight up horror backup. Cheers!