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The Original E.T. Model From Steven Spielberg’s 1982 Classic Sells for $2.6 Million at Auction

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

'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' original model sold at Julien's Auctions Courtesy of Julien's Auctions

Looks like E.T. will be phoning a new home. 

The original character model of the beloved alien, from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, recently hammered down for $2.56 million at auction. Offered in a Julien’s Auctions sale titled “Icons and Idols: Hollywood” from December 17 to 18, the iconic piece of memorabilia was estimated to garner between $2 million and $4 million. A total of 13 bids were placed for the lot, which included a DVD of the movie and a one-off NFT of the film model. 

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

A front-facing view of the animatronic figure from 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'
A front-facing view of the animatronic figure. Courtesy of Julien’s Auctions

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, ending in a life-like result. The designer went on to win his third Academy Award in visual effects in 1983 for the animatronic figure that young kids around the globe befriended through their TV screens. “It is impossible to divide or separate the artistic part from the mechanical part,” Rambaldi said in an interview. “Movement is the soul of the mechanical creature.”

And a certain area of motion was one of the most important to get right. Spielberg, Rambaldi and his producers felt E.T’s eyes were especially essential in fully engaging the audience’s emotions, the auctioneer says. Kathleen Kennedy, then producing for the first time, chose to examine real and glass eyes at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute for the project. Staffer Beverly Hoffman was then brought on to create E.T.’s oversized eyes for Rambaldi. The figure’s extendable neck, meanwhile, was inspired by one of the Rambaldi’s paintings of women from his hometown in Ferrara, Italy, who were depicted with similarly long vertebrae, Julien’s Auctions says. The artist reportedly applied this detail to make E.T. more “empathetic” in the way he interacted with his on-screen co-stars.

A still from Steven Spielberg's 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
A still from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Courtesy of Julien’s Auctions

“We all kind of regard him as a living breathing organism, he’s a real creature, I think for me, in my experience, he is the eighth wonder of the movie world,” Spielberg said, according to the auctioneer. 

The Icons and Idols: Hollywood auction, held in partnership with Turner Classic Movies, presented collectors with more than 1,300 Hollywood artifacts to choose from. Rambaldi’s original maquette model of E.T., shown to Spielberg during pre-production for full character visualization, ended up selling for $125,000. Other notable lots from the sale included Daniel Radcliffe’s Nimbus 2000 broom from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban; Chris Evan’s patriotic shield used in Captain America: The First Avenger; and the double-sided lightsaber used by Star Wars’s frightening crime lord Darth Maul. 

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