Aliens: Rebuilding the photograph of Ripley's daughter

Mike Rush

Well-Known Member
One of the extra scenes in the Special Edition of Aliens had Ripley being shown a photograph of her late daughter.


Some time ago I was lucky enough to be given a scan of this actual prop, along with some first-hand information on sizes etc. The scan was very high resolution, but that didn't stop it being a bit fuzzy and grainy. The most noticeable thing about the image is that it is composed of big, blocky pixels (presumably to demonstrate that it's a computer print-out).

I decided that I would rebuild the prop from the ground up, as it were. Along the way I would endeavour to improve it as much as I could. I always find it more satisfying to make a prop 'as it should be' rather than slavishly 'screen-accurate'.

The first thing to do was to remove the text from the photograph. This was done by erasing the text and then filling in the missing areas to match their surroundings. Obviously most of these areas would be covered up when I replaced the text later, but I did it carefully nonetheless.

The next thing to do might be surprising: reduce the resolution. Most people would think that a high-resolution scan is best, but as mentioned above this gave a 'warts-and-all' copy of the original, with lots of flaws and grain everywhere. Yet logically, each of the 'big pixels' in the image only needs to be one pixel!

There followed a period of eye-strain while I counted the number of rows and columns in the image. Once I had arrived at a figure, I scaled down my work. Believe it or not, this is the final size of the image.


This little patch, when scaled back up to the correct size, would be composed of large pixels. Here's a little demonstration. On the left you see the original scan, with all its noise. On the right, my new image scaled back up. Notice that each block is one pure, solid colour. That's because each block is just one pixel!


The process wasn't as simple as I'm making it sound. Having established how many pixels there should be, I had a certain amount of work to do straightening out the image since it was not a perfect rectangle. I also had to play with offsetting the image in order to 'force' the pixels to finish up where I wanted them to. There are certain areas, particularly the mouth and eyes, where some of the pixels are quite distinctive and had I used the original origin they would have been lost. Eventually I worked out the best values for everything and the image part was done.

Next came the text. I found fonts that matched and redrew everything over the original scan. Here you can see some of the original above my vector version:


I also took the opportunity to tidy things up slightly and include a 'tell' or two.

Finally I overlaid the vector text over the simplified image:


And that was about it! There were a couple of other little things to do, such as redrawing the 'C J Burke' signature and checking the dimensions. But I now had a bright, sharp, clear version of the prop. Rather than just do an inkjet print at home, I had it printed professionally onto photographic paper, and was very pleased with the results.


To my mind it's about as good as it could be. I thought some of you might find the process interesting. :)
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