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'Valerian' Behind-the-Scenes Look Kicks Off VFX Confab FMX

VFX pros from ILM, Rodeo FX and Weta at the Stuttgart, Germany, event describe the making of the creatures and environments from Luc Besson's upcoming sci-fi epic.

A two-hour behind-the-scenes look at the making of Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — featuring new artwork and clips from the film — kicked off the FMX visual effects and animation conference Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany.

Slated to open July 21, Besson’s “passion project” is based on the French sci-fi comic book series Valerian and Laureline from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres.

VFX supervisor Scott Stokdyk (an Oscar winner for 2004’s Spider-Man 2) reported that Valerian would feature a whopping 2,355 visual effects shots from VFX houses including Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic and Rodeo FX, all of which previewed parts of their work during the session. Stokdyk also gave a nod to Besson’s The Fifth Element, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and which he said inspired elements of Valerian, and vice versa.

Emphasis was placed on Valerian's extensive use of concept art, storyboarding and previs. Besson also created one video previs sequence with roughly 50 students from his L’Ecole du Cinema in Paris.

The film was mostly shot on bluescreen stages at Besson's La Cite du Cinema in Paris, with additional motion capture shot at Weta in Wellington, New Zealand. Besson also involved some of his students on set. Said Stokdyk: "It was nice to see him giving back to the local community here."

Noting that many environments and creatures were required to give Valerian the “scope and scale it needed,” Martin Hill of Weta Digital discussed the making of digital characters, including the Doghans. Their look — just a few feet in height with a stout-like nose and mouth — essentially started with a sculpture that was scanned into a computer and then given skin texture digitally, as well as hair using Weta’s Wig software. The Doghans are fully CG in the film, though performed on set by a trio of actors to get the timing and performance. (Clips showing the actors on set through the finished shots were shown.)

Next were the more human-like in size Boulans, which were created using performance capture. Facial capture was used for key Boulans, including Bubble, voiced by Rihanna.

Hill also showed some footage of a Bromosaur, a giant, bioluminescent creature that lives beneath the sea.

ILM’s Philippe Rebours revealed an expansive Big Market that's mostly CG with live-action elements filmed with partial sets on a bluescreen stage. This environment includes a CG canyon, which is supposed to be 500 floors down; use of a “library” of storefronts, based on Besson’s art work; and a collection of aliens of all shapes and sizes (some hero characters and others to populate the environment).

Rebours also detailed the making of a vicious Megaptor, a creature with a crab-like outer shell, for which ILM gave skin under the shell in order to create its movement; and Igor Siruss, which will be a CG character based on the performance of actor Laurent Ferraro and voiced by John Goodman.

Francois Dumoulin of Rodeo FX showed the making of a complex space-set scene that includes the Alpha metropolis. Elements of this sequence included Alpha, a Lexus Skyjet (designed with Lexus), the Intruder spacecraft and CG characters to populate the environment.

“The walls were covered with concept art,” he recalled of the first meeting about this sequence. “When Besson commits to an idea, he really does, in every aspect.”

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