H. R. Giger, a Swiss painter, sculptor and set designer who mined his own nightmares in creating phantasmagorical works, including the title character — slimy, eyeless and oddly sexual — in the 1979 hit film “Alien,” died on Monday in Zurich. He was 74.
Sandra Mivelaz, administrator of the H. R. Giger Museum in Gruyères, Switzerland, said he died of injuries suffered in a fall.
Mr. Giger (pronounced GHEE-ger) was part of the team that won an Academy Award for visual effects in “Alien.” He personally designed the title character through all stages of its life, from egg to eight-foot-tall monster.
A thread running through Mr. Giger’s work was the uneasy meshing of machines and biology, in a highly idiosyncratic blend of science fiction and surrealism. From books to movies to record albums to magazine illustrations to a back-scratcher inspired by “Alien,” his designs challenged norms. He kept a notepad next to his bed so he could sketch the terrors that rocked his uneasy sleep — nightmarish forms that could as easily have lumbered from prehistory as arrived from Mars.
“Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span,” Timothy Leary, the psychedelic drug guru and a friend of Mr. Giger’s, once said. “It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”
Tattoo artists loved to copy his work, while detractors dismissed it as so much morbid kitsch. But the artist knew his audience.
“My paintings seem to make the strongest impression on people who are, well, who are crazy,” Mr. Giger said in a 1979 interview with Starlog magazine.
“Alien,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt, established Mr. Giger’s reputation. In the movie the crew of a commercial spaceship finds alien eggs, one of which grows and metamorphoses into a hideous terror, at once reptilian and insectoid, and causes all manner of gruesome mayhem. It reproduces by implanting an egg in a human and bursting out of the host’s chest.
Mr. Giger also created a derelict spacecraft for the film.
The “Alien” creations were refinements of the surreal images that appeared in Mr. Giger’s first book, “Necronomicon” (1977). Mr. Scott hired Mr. Giger after seeing the book.
“I’d never been so certain about anything in all my life,” he later said.
Mr. Giger published around 20 books in all, and his works were exhibited in Paris, Prague and New York. He also created designs for “Alien 3” (1992), “Prometheus” (2012) and other movies. Two bars he designed in Switzerland have been compared to marooned alien spaceships.
Mr. Giger created many album covers as well, including one for the singer Debbie Harry’s 1981 album, “Koo Koo,” which pictures needles piercing her head and neck. In 1991 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it among the top 100 album covers. His vision of a human skull encased in a machine on the cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1973 album, “Brain Salad Surgery,” is widely considered a classic.
In the mid-1980s, Mr. Giger created a poster titled “Penis Landscape” for inclusion in an album by the punk band Dead Kennedys. After a 14-year-old girl bought the album for her 11-year-old brother, their parents filed an obscenity suit. It ended in a mistrial.
Hans Ruedi Giger was born on Feb. 5, 1940, in the southeastern Swiss town of Chur. Fascinated with things dark and strange, he regularly visited an Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus in a local museum.
“The places I liked most were the dark ones,” Mr. Giger told the Swiss Public Broadcasting Corporation. “As soon as I could dress myself I wore black.”
His father urged Hans, who called himself a “horrible student,” to follow him into the pharmacy business. Instead he studied industrial design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich.
After working as an interior designer, he switched to art full time, starting with small ink drawings. He moved on to large airbrushed work on surrealistic themes inspired by Salvador Dalí, who became a friend.
Mr. Giger’s early exhibitions were controversial for their depictions of death and sex. Galleries had to wipe the spit of disgusted neighbors from their windows.
Mr. Giger’s relationship with the Swiss actress Li Tobler ended with her suicide in 1975. His subsequent marriage, to Mia Bonzanigo, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Carmen Scheifele-Giger.
Mr. Giger opened the Gruyères museum in 1998 in a 400-year-old building. It includes works by Dalí and other Surrealists and an adults-only room bathed in red light.
Some but not all of his movie work is on display. In 2005 Gruyères ordered him to remove a model of the “Alien” monster from outside the museum, saying it was not good for the town’s image.