These concept images by character designer Aaron Sims (War of the Worlds, The Mummy) represent the challenging development of the alien character ‘GORT’ for the remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. Though the humanoid, faceless, laser eye Gort from the original film became an icon in the science fiction world, Director Scott Derrickson and the production team were unsure how the character may translate to a contemporary audience. They found the depiction of GORT in the screenplay quite nondescript, and so Aaron Sims began tinkering around with some abstract ideas and designs for the modern reproduction of the character. At the beginning of the process, Derrickson told Sims that he wanted to achieve a character different, organic and alien-looking in its technology, and to avoid a robotic nature for the GORT character. The alien’s nano-bot makeup allowed for it to take any shape, thus opening up infinite possibilities for the look of GORT.
Derrickson first wanted a humanoid or biped design so that audience members could more readily identify with the character. The first approach thus had arms and legs but was very obscure and sculptural, without facial features and seemingly made of stone. As the exploration of different design possibilities progressed however, the team gradually moved away from the familiar human look.
At this stage, GORT began to take the shape of a futuristic and menacing dung beetle, but experimentation continued, concepts becoming increasingly bizarre until Derrickson felt as if he was looking at images that belonged in the museum of modern art. The more GORTs they produced, the more confused the team became. Alas, they had finally settled on a strange, Dali-esque creature with four awkward legs, smooth texture, no real head and no real personality. Luckily, a moment of clarity struck during a meeting where the team was observing an image of GORT. Jeff Okun, visual effects supervisor, realized that GORT was not the enormous and strange alien entity in the centre of the image, but that GORT was the little blank-faced guy placed in the bottom corner of the artwork for scale purposes.
He dropped a dose of reality on the team, asking why, if he has the ability to take any shape, would GORT not come to Earth resembling one of us? A human shape with a blank face and a laser eye was perfect for a character with no emotion, keeping audiences on their toes, unsure of whether they should love or hate him. The final decision resembled 1951 Gort, adding the extra bonus of pleasing the enormous fan base of the original film. Aaron Sims was then put to work on the final concept, a humanoid, imposing yet blank, with body posture so he can display emotion without emotion. He explored different possibilities within the new confines, applying contemporary design to the original concept. And so they ended up with a character closely resembling the original in almost every way, just 100 times his size.