Luc Besson’s ‘Valerian’ Draws Visual Effects Heavyweights (EXCLUSIVE)

Cult comic pic will use "any technique available" for its many aliens

It’s unusual nowadays for the backers of a tentpole film to announce the vfx studio or studios well in advance. Security considerations alone can trump such an announcement.

But “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is zigging where most of the industry zags. EuropaCorp, which is backing Luc Besson’s cult comic book adaptation, has named the three top vfx studios that will collaborate to create the picture’s futuristic look.

Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic and Rodeo FX are all on board for “Valerian.” Sophie Leclerc, who worked with Besson on “Lucy,” is visual effects producer. Scott Stokdyk is the overall vfx supervisor on the film. Joe Letteri, senior vfx supervisor for Weta, will be vfx supe for the New Zealand-based vfx giant.

Philippe Rebours is ILM’s visual effects supervisor on the film. Rebours, a veteran of genre films in the U.S. and France, was ILM’s vfx supervisor on “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” François Dumoulin is vfx supervisor for Rodeo. Dumoulin was Rodeo’s vfx supervisor on “Lucy” and his vfx supervisor credits since include “Fantastic Four,” “Cinderella” and Ron Howard’s period whaling epic, “In the Heart of the Sea.”

The French “Valerian and Laureline” comic books (pictured), written by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, have a global following and have influenced many science fiction films since they were introduced in 1967. Besson discovered them when he was 10, says his producer and wife, Virginie Besson-Silla.

“The strength of the comicbooks is they were way ahead of their time,” says Besson-Silla, who is producing the film. “Mezieres and Christin had a futuristic vision and allowed so many things to happen in the story. Some of them are completely crazy, very modern.”

Weta’s Letteri said that after meeting with Besson and seeing the concept art for the picture, “I just loved the feeling of it and where he was going with it. We just wanted to get in there and do as much as we could.” Weta will be creating many of the alien creatures for the film. “Luc wants to shoot a lot of it live and get as much in camera as he can,” Letteri told Variety, “Where you can shoot it, great, especially if you can get interaction for your actors. You want the believability, and the grounding, and the realism as much as possible.” But there will be actors in performance-capture suits driving CG characters, and some aliens will be entirely keyframe-animated.

“There’s going to be no holding back on this one because everything Luc is trying to create has got such scope in every frame,” says Letteri. “We just have to use any technique available to us.”

ILM will be creating a single sequence for “Valerian,” a sequence everyone is keeping hush-hush for now, though Rebours calls it “really cool.” He says “When we were bidding, we received a lot of artwork that Luc and his team have been doing. Everyone here was really excited. It’s very challenging.”

Montreal-based Rodeo FX will create the enormous space station Alpha. “It’s almost a planet, made of multiple ships which have been connecting together over centuries, and tons of different civilizations have merged into one big station,” says Dumoulin. “It’s really not just one environment, it’s a combination of dozens of different environments piled on top of each other.”

Dumoulin says Rodeo has been doing previs on “Valerian” since December. “(Besson) knows exactly what he wants,” says Dumoulin. “When he gives you a turnover on a sequence, he already has a full picture and he’s not going to change his mind. It’s all there in his brain.”

Dane DeHaan has been cast as Valerian in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Cara Delevingne is Laureline. The pair are agents for the Spatio-Temporal Service, which protects the planets of the Terran Empire. Clive Owen is also on board for the film, which Besson is also writing.

The pic is scheduled to start production in December and its release is dated for July 2017.

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