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How’d They Do That? – E.T: The Extraterrestrial

Welcome back to How’d They Do That! Each week we check out behind the scenes stills and video from the making of some of cinema’s greatest! Following on from last week’s look at Alien, I thought it would be great to look at the friendlier side of alien encounters – E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. 

In 1982, straight off the back of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg embarked on his most personal film yet. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is an absolute joy to watch from start to finish, filled with amazing performances, a brilliant score, a fantastic cast both young and old, and an some amazing effects work that helped bring E.T. into the hearts of audiences world wide. Lets take a look at what happened behind the scenes of this classic!

First is a picture of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who was hired to design and build the animatronic E.T. Carlo previously worked with Spielberg designing the aliens from the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He won two Oscars in his lifetime, one for his work building the animatronic head of the creature in Alien, and the other for his work here on E.T.


Ever wondered what makes E.T. tick? Ask no more.


Below, Spielberg treats his star to a bath! The below still comes from a sequence that didn’t make it into the theatrical cut. The sequence has E.T. creep into the bath while Elliot is on the phone to his mum. Unhappy with the animatronic effects, Spielberg cut the sequence from the film. If this sequence sounds familiar, you wouldn’t be wrong! For the 20th anniversary in 2002, Spielberg actually put this sequence back into the film with a CG E.T.

ET Bathtub

Not only did Spielberg work well with his animatronic star, but was able to pull absolutely amazing performances from the lead kids! Drew Barrymore was 6 at the time she was cast as Gertie and established a lifelong relationship with her director. When Drew posed for Playboy in 1995, Spielberg sent her a quilt with a note ‘Cover Yourself Up’. Along with the quilt came a copy of the magazine, in which the art department had covered up each shot.


Below is a shot of Spielberg working with Henry Thomas from early in the filming process. The film was shot in chronological order, in order to help the actors become connected with E.T, and ultimately invoke real responses from the actors when E.T. departs at the end of the film.


The crew set up to capture the excitement of the bike chase at the end of the film.


The ILM model shop provided many effects for the film, including stop motion work for the iconic ‘Flying across the moon’ sequence. Below, the team from ILM prep to shoot E.T’s spaceship leaving earth during the emotional finale.


Finally we come to my not only favourite picture of the bunch, but also one of my favourite all time behind the scene stills. Here we see ILM Supervisor Dennis Muren prepping the stop motion puppet of E.T. for a sequence where E.T. looks over the neighbourhood early in the film. Along with a ridiculously young looking Muren, we see three effects techniques which have slowly gone the way of the dodo – stop motion, miniatures and forced perspective backdrops. These types of effects were so key to movie making during my childhood, and there something magical about finding out How’d They Do That.


Sorry to get sappy there folks! Hope you enjoyed our look back at the creation of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. If you have a film you’d like us to look back up, drop us a line on the comments!

Until next time – keep watching, and asking yourself How’d They Do That!