Among the thousand planets that make up Luc Besson’s mega-city are two particularly interesting ones created by our visual effects artists. The “first mission” sequences introduce the film’s two main characters, Valerian and Laureline.
One planet contains the universe’s biggest shopping bazaar – The Big Market consists of five million stores that line a cross-shaped canyon extending 500 floors deep. But, shoppers in the 28th century needn’t walk through 500 floors of stores to find what they want. Instead, they stand within a large arena on a desert planet, in a helmet and gloves, and shop virtually. They can touch things with a glove. When they buy something, they place the object into a “transmatter,” and the object travels to them through space. While shopping, the merchant sees them as holograms and the two can interact. ILM’s Bianca Draghici, who served as VFX art director on the film, designed the hologram effect.
Given the action that had to be depicted in the Market, it was constructed as a singular, massive asset that is seen from a distance, in medium detail, and in close ups. The asset had to hold up at virtually any resolution a given shot might call for. The work was incredibly complex but fortunately director Luc Besson, had spent weeks shooting a full previs of the entire sequence to guide the VFX team.
For crowds, the animators used ILM’s Vignette system to control characters animated with cycles of 1,000 frames or so. When the camera was close, animators would hand place characters they gave specific actions to. All told, the artists created approximately 90 characters – humans, bipeds, quadrupeds, flying creatures, insects, and even creatures that look like ocean life. The team also created the memorable character Igon Sigruss, the galaxy’s most feared pirate voiced by actor John Goodman.