Multi pass and motion control: re-visiting the VFX of ‘The Fifth Element’

Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

‘You know, Mark, I don’t want to do these ‘fancy panning around and seeing the whole world shots’. I’d much rather set a camera looking down a street, having a cab rush towards me, and cut as it passes by, and then cut to a reverse of it passing by, and construct my film that way.’ – The Fifth Element visual effects supervisor Mark Stetson relates what director Luc Besson said to him about staging the film’s New York City shots.

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is now 20 years old, a fitting anniversary on the eve of the release of the director’s much-anticipated Valerian. Of course, Besson’s new movie is being made possible with major advancements in digital effects and animation. Back in 1997, the visual effects for The Fifth Element were realized with a masterful combination of motion control miniatures, CG, digital compositing and effects simulations by Digital Domain.

Perhaps most memorable are views of a future New York, complete with flying cars and a mass of new and old skyscrapers. The film was one of Digital Domain’s huge miniature shows released that year – the others being Dante’s Peak and Titanic – while also heralding the fast-moving world of CGI in the movies. vfxblog re-visits the work, both miniature and digital, with The Fifth Element’s visual effects supervisor Mark Stetson. Continue reading “Multi pass and motion control: re-visiting the VFX of ‘The Fifth Element’”