Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects master and three-time Oscar winner known as the father of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” died Friday in southern Italy after a long illness. He was 86.
Rambaldi won visual effects Oscars for Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster, Ridley Scott’s film “Alien” in 1979, and John Guillermin’s “King Kong” in 1976.
“Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Geppetto,” said Spielberg, referring to the fictional character who created Pinocchio. ” All of us who marveled and wondered at his craft and artistry are deeply saddened by the news of his passing.”
Rambaldi worked on more than 30 films but was best known for his work on “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” for which he created three robots, two costumes worn by actors in the scenes when E.T. walked, and gloves for the hands.
Rambaldi, a wizard of a discipline known as mechatronics — which combines disciplines including mechanical, electronic and system design engineering — did not hide a disdain for computerized effects.
“Digital costs around eight times as much as mechatronics,” Rambaldi was quoted by the Rome daily La Repubblica as having once said. “E.T. cost a million dollars and we created it in three months. If we wanted to do the same thing with computers, it would take at least 200 people a minimum of five months.”
Rambaldi was born in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna in 1951. While he dreamed of becoming an artist, he was drawn into the world of cinema when he was asked to create a dragon for a low-budget science fiction movie in 1956.
He moved to Rome and found work in television before his first big success, the 1975 Italian horror film “Deep Red.” He drew the attention of Dino De Laurentiis, who brought him to Hollywood to work on “King Kong.”
Italian director Pupi Avati described Rambaldi as “a child who loved to play and make his toys. A child who dreams of making a theme park of all his characters,” the news agency ANSA reported. The pair worked together on a 1975 film.
“In those years, Rambaldi was the only craftsman capable of creating, as he did, a fig tree 12 meters high that he carried to the center of Ferrara with a huge truck, a fig tree that was to change color with the seasons, and also shed its leaves.”
Rambaldi had been living for about a decade in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, where he died.