The nameless aliens in the Independence Day franchise (commonly known “The Harvesters”) although superficially different in appearance to humans, are built to the general same design. They each have a head, a trunk, and leg and arm appendages. The head contains two eyes, apparently of the same basic design as the human eye.

Perhaps not that surprising considering that the laws of physics is the same everywhere in the universe and dictate that the bending of light necessary to form an image requires a translucent lens. But unlike humans, the aliens have in addition to manipulable parts on appendages (fingers, hands), the Harvesters also have tentacles.

They looked like a genetic cross between a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish, a hammer-head shark, and a human being. They are probably more creatively conceived than most Hollywood aliens. Originally designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who was the production designer for the 1996 movie. Tatopoulos was tasked by director Roland Emmerich to create an alien that was “both familiar and completely original”.

Independence Day (1996) Patrick Tatopoulos with alien concept art and model

The fact that they all wear “bio-mechanical” suits are based on a design that Tatopoulos pitched to Emmerich. These suits were 2.4 meters tall (8 feet), equipped with 25 tentacles, and purposely designed to show it could not sustain a person inside so not to appear like a “man in a suit”.

“I wanted them to follow the mythology of what people expect aliens to look like.”

“There’s a certain kind of popular image that everybody constantly draws and I wanted to stick to that. But on the other hand I thought, that’s terribly boring. The first image of the alien is not what you think they typically look like. You later discover, in a surprise, that they’re exactly how we think they should appear. We simply disguised them first and then slowly revealed their true appearance.”

– Roland Emmerich

Patrick Tatopoulos has initially developed two designs which they both he and Emmerich liked and it was Tatopoulos that came up with the idea of combining the two into one. Saying that “I wanted the aliens to look like locusts with a reminiscence of a human”. They were designed as living exoskeletons, like an oyster, with the pearl, or small alien, inside, in the spirit of the biomechanical designs of H.R. Giger.

Patrick Tatopoulos
Patrick Tatopoulos
Patrick Tatopoulos
Patrick Tatopoulos

The Harvester aliens are highly intelligent and technologically advanced hive-mind extraterrestrial beings. They travel on their huge ships, looking for other solar systems. When they find a rocky planet of considerable size, they harvest it’s resources for a century or so, perhaps to make repairs on their own ships or to build new ones, they then move on to the next solar system.

The Harvesters lack vocal cords or even mouths, they hence communicate using a sophisticated form of telepathy instead, which could be used to exert mind control to “possess” other beings, or at least partially; by attaching tentacles from their bio-suit to the victim’s necks and using their vocal cords to communicate their words with a non-telepathic species.

As in this choice of a scene, when an alien brought to Area 51 by Steven Hiller (Will Smith) used Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) as its mouthpiece to communicate and also shown to be capable of projecting their thoughts into another lifeform’s mind – Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in the form of visions – until killed by the President’s security detail.

I saw… his thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts, they’re moving from planet to planet, their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource, they move on. And we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.

– President Thomas Whitmore