Greetings from California
E.T. is a totally Californian production. Most of the interiors, like Elliott's bedroom, were filmed at Culver Studios in Culver City. The exception is the sequence at Elliott's school, which was filmed nearby at Culver City High. (Go Centaurs!) All of the exterior shots were also filmed in California, many of them in the Northridge neighborhood of Los Angeles.
What about the forest? It's a combination of several locations, including Redwood National Park. If any of those trees look familiar, it might be because portions of Stars Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi were filmed there, too.
Shooting on location in California lends to the film's authenticity. If you want to capture life in early '80s suburban California, then early '80s suburban California is a pretty good shooting location, don't you think? The technical specs keep it real, too. E.T. was shot on 35 mm color film and features a Dolby sound mix. These were both the industry standard in the early '80s. By keeping it simple, E.T. captures a distinctive moment in time.
Dee Wallace Gets Centered
Also contributing to E.T.'s authenticity is the fact that the film was shot in chronological order. Most productions don't do that; instead, they jump around from scene to scene. But director Steven Spielberg thought that shooting in order would help the child actors maintain their emotional growth throughout the movie—especially at the end when E.T. hightails it for home.
Of course, this unconventional shooting style meant that Dee Wallace (a.k.a. Mom) had long stretches during production where she had nothing to do. So she used her time off to learn how to meditate. Nice work if you can get it. Om.
Dry Your Eyes, Drew
E.T. himself was portrayed by a combination of animatronic puppets and people in costumes. Standing three feet tall, E.T. had thirty-five facial expressions and was able to perform eighty-five different movements. His look was created by Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects artist, and modeled after one of Rambaldi's own paintings, "Women of Delta," which features some, uh, unique-looking ladies.
In order to make E.T. appear empathetic and wise, his eyes were modeled after those of Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, and Carl Sandburg. On set, Spielberg even requested that everyone treat E.T. like he was a real actor. In fact, he told Drew Barrymore (Gertie) that E.T. was an honest-to-goodness alien, so when he dies in the film, her tear-soaked reaction is very real. The poor kid thought her fellow thespian just kicked the bucket.
Making a little girl cry? Steven Spielberg, you're hardcore.