Turns out that while the band of soldiers, scientists and civilians tries to unlock the secrets of the Destiny's Stargate to survive, they were under attack by aliens in "Space." After initially being tasked with creating the space ship and environments, the Vancouver-based Image Engine was approached about designing and animating the alien as well.
Image Engine worked on four episodes: "Darkness," Light," "Space" and "Pain" (which airs May 14).
Indeed, despite a very different look, the rig was a variation of the one used for District 9. Rather than the crustacean design of the Oscar-nominated movie, SGU offers a more exotic-looking alien and much more translucent.
"The big theme of this alien is that they wanted that slimy look to it," offers Jason Gross, Image Engine's visual effects supervisor on SGU." James Stewart, creature supervisor on District 9, was brought in since they had "an open brief" as far as design.
"It's one of those aliens, [despite razor-sharp teeth], where you don't know if it's scary or not," Garrad adds. "There's obviously a threat, but in many ways it conformed a lot to the District 9 alien in terms of having a very thin waist and skeleton-like legs and being slightly taller than humans. And it has fleshy, translucent, blue skin -- but before Avatar  did it."
Gross says that "what makes this special compared to other work we've done, especially for TV series, is that we made use of a lot of our film pipeline tools in order to really nail down that look and bring the quality way up. So, in a way, we were bringing film quality work for a television series."
There is one model with some basic variations in terms of height and scale, and a maximum of six aliens on board pushing Star Trek-like buttons.
As far environments, Gross says they were responsible for creating a gas giant in "Darkness," which was recognizable yet contained an alien quality. On "Light," the featured environment was the sun. Again, Image Engine used reference from our own solar system, and NASA, in getting exceedingly close to the sun with a lot of creativity.
Garrad concludes, "They are definitely upping the threshold and we couldn't have done it without the previous alien work in District 9. We can use what we have and push forward at the same time. We'll just have to see if the aliens return in season two."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.