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September 2023

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

The original character model of the beloved alien from Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was recently auctioned off for $2.56 million.

A total of 13 bids were placed on the model, which included a DVD of the film classic and an exclusive NFT membership.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Courtesy of Julien's Auctions

Still considered an engineering masterpiece today, the mechatronic figure of E.T. has 85 movement points, including precise movements in the nose, eyes, mouth, neck, arms and fingers. There are 32 articulation points in the face alone, and 26 points are found in the arms and hands. Each of the movement points is connected to a flexible cable running from the underside of the torso, which is then connected to a proportional servo motor located just 60 feet away from the figure's body.

E.T.'s design was brought to life by 12 professional operators, dubbed the 12 Souls of E.T. by Spielberg, claims Julien's Auctions. Italian special-effects artist Carlo Rambaldi oversaw the figure's creation, resulting in a lifelike result. The designer won his third Academy Award for visual effects in 1983 for the animated figure that young children around the world befriended through their TV screens. "It is impossible to separate the artistic part from the mechanical part", Rambaldi said in an interview. "Movement is the soul of the mechanical being."

A particular area of movement was one of the most important aspects to get right. Spielberg, Rambaldi and his producers felt that E.T.'s eyes were especially essential to fully evoke the audience's emotions, according to the auctioneer. Kathleen Kennedy, then producing for the first time, chose to research real and glass eyes at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute for the project.

Beverly Hoffman was then brought in to create E.T.'s oversized eyes for Rambaldi. The figure's extendable neck was inspired by one of Rambaldi's paintings of women from his hometown in Ferrara, Italy, who were depicted with similarly long vertebrae, according to Julien's Auctions. The artist reportedly applied this detail to make E.T. more "empathetic" in the way he interacted with his on-screen peers.

ET, Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore on the set of "E.T." in April 1982. Photo by Mark Sennet/Getty Images

"We all consider him a kind of living organism, he is a real being, I think for me, in my experience, he is the eighth wonder of the film world," Spielberg said, according to the auctioneer.

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