Many a Sci-Fi epic can lay claim to stunning visuals, but there’s something uniquely gripping about The Fifth Element. The film was released in 1997, but the history of its design begins decades earlier. In 1952, french comic book artists Jean Giraud (aka Moebius, co-founder of Heavy Metal Magazine) and Jean-Claude Mezieres met at art school. The two not only became close friends, but triumphed in the world of French comics. Their work, often uncredited, has been instrumental in creating the “lived in” Sci-Fi aesthetic. The Fifth Element was their first big screen collaboration, largely due to the fact that writer/director Luc Besson had been a fan of both of theirs since childhood.
The process of creating the world of the film began in 1992. For years the creative team toiled away, with Mezieres and Giraud at the helm. During this time, many character concepts shifted dramatically. Amongst those that proved most difficult to nail down was Diva Plavalaguna, whose final look was ultimately created by Patrice Garcia, another member of the sizable design team.
The second most trying character design: the Mondoshawan race. Initial sketches of the slow, peace-loving aliens show them as intimidating humanoids. Amongst the elements to survive the process was a visual hierarchical system: the more spikes a Mondoshawan wears on its shoulders, the higher ranking it is. The ultimate costume design was wearable only by actors taller than 6’9″. The placement of the Mondoshawan’s head also eliminated the actor’s ability to see, so small TV monitors were mounted inside the suits.
Another character whose (admittedly fabulous) costumes went through a lot of changes was Ruby Rhod. Initially, the artist formerly “formerly known as Prince,” was slated for the role. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Chris Tucker as the flamboyant entertainer, but it’s still pretty easy to see how the costume and concepts were designed for Prince. The brilliant mind behind these outfits: Jean Paul Gaultier, the world famous designer responsible for Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour. The character whose costumes didn’t require a lengthy design process? Leeloo. Gaultier nailed her signature “orange rubber with gold pants” look right out of the gate.
What other designs inspire you? Let us know!