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The new sci-fi horror film Sputnik had to reinvent the slimy space alien

Director Egor Abramenko explains how he landed on the design

The alien from Sputnik concept art Image: Main Road Post
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Sputnik marks the feature debut of commercial director and visual stylist Egor Abramenko. But even with The Passenger, a proof-of-concept short produced in anticipation of Sputnik, plus hours of time spent composing visual-effects-tinged shots, devising the sci-fi horror film was a daunting task for Abramenko. This wouldn’t be the first time in movie history a cosmonaut had a close encounter of the third kind and wound up as the host of a slobbering alien being. How do you design a creature that stands up to the last 50 years of science fiction?

“We knew from the start that we lived in a world where the Xenomorph and Predator already exist,” Abramenko tells Polygon over email. “We realized that instead of pointless attempts to beat these iconic creatures we needed to come up with something completely different. We needed to create a creature that could support the story needs, and would help to build a plot around the characters’ arcs. Obscurity became a crucial factor for bringing our alien to life — the less the audience knows about him, the more terrifying he looks.”

While less may be more, Abramenko didn’t mind teasing some of the concept designs for his alien. If you’re spoilerphobic, wait for the movie to arrive later this month. If not, keep reading and beware of sharp teeth.

Written by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, Sputnik winds back the clock to 1983, the height of the Cold War, to find a Soviet spacecraft crashing back down to Earth after a failed mission. The only survivor of Orbit 4 is the commander, who has no memory of what happened. So it’s up to psychologist Tatyana Klimova to figure out what’s going on. Hint: what’s going on involves an alien parasite that may eat everyone on the Russian base.

the sputnik alien looks like a frog
concept drawings of the sputnik alien
the sputnik alien holds a doll
concept art from sputnik that looks like a gremlin Images: Main Road Post

Though he had built a creature for The Passenger, Sputnik required a full redesign. No longer was this the sentimental story of a man and his alien pet. The new alien “had to be a war machine,” Abramenko says, “a terrifying creature that could take on an armed squad of soldiers.”

As the concept art demonstrates, there was a serious consideration of actual biological life when imagining Abramenko’s interplanetary killer. And there was lots of debate over where to even begin when scouring the animal kingdom. “I recall a meeting where someone suddenly said, ‘Snakes. Everybody’s terrified of snakes. Imagine a snake living inside a human’s body.’ After that, this image became sort of our blueprint for further development.”

Abramenko says that the story development, shooting, and even the recording of the score informed the final design, and that Main Road Post VFX supervisor Andrey Maximov made tweaks in post-production to fulfill the Abramenko’s wildest dreams. What we see in these images isn’t exactly what you’ll get in Sputnik, so expect a few surprises.

Sputnik hits limited theaters and VOD on Aug. 14.

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