Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is filled with futuristic spacecrafts that transport travelers through the universe. But there is one vehicle that stands out from the crowd – an agile single-seat pursuit craft; an evolution of a modern day fighter jet. Here, we hear from the designers of the SKYJET about how the vehicle of the future was made
When Luc Besson set about writing and directing the sci-fi adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, he wasn’t just making a movie. Valerian is set 700 years in the future. Its galaxies are filled with exciting elements previously unimagined on film: more than 3,000 types of alien, new kinds of bedazzling weaponry, and even futuristic architecture. Besson was doing much more than directing a movie – he was creating a whole new world.
He also had to consider how his characters would travel through it. Besson’s movie is based on a series of comics, Valérian and Laureline, by French comic writer Pierre Christin and illustrator Jean-Claude Méziéres. Its titular characters are spatio-temporal agents, in the parlance of Méziéres and Christin, who travel the universe through space and time. Much of that travel takes place in the Intruder, a colossal “astroship” of typically robust sci-fi proportions. But in one particularly thrilling scene Valerian is seen jumping into a single-seat pursuit craft called the SKYJET, an exhilarating vehicle capable of nimble flight in close quarters. To bring it to life, Besson relied on a collaboration between the Valerian creative team and a forward-thinking unit at a brand that has a credible history of designing for the future. A brand that invented the luxury SUV segment and pioneered hybrid technology: LEXUS.
So what, exactly, was the team asked to create? “The way I understood it,” says Ben Mauro, Concept Designer on the movie, “was that the SKYJET was a specialized military-type vehicle built to be used by highly trained agents Valerian and Laureline on their missions and adventures all over the galaxy.” It was Mauro who developed early sketches – “something simple and iconic,” he says, which was Besson’s request – and he had to consider every tiny detail, from the way the spacecraft looked to the atmospheres through which it would travel and the kinds of material it would be made from. “I imagined it would be made from some sort of military-grade alloy,” says Mauro, which would be “capable of withstanding any blasts and attacks from various alien technologies and weapons that Valerian and Laureline might encounter on their missions.”
EXPLORE THE SKYJET’S DESIGN
Mauro’s inspiration came not only from Mezieres’ comic-book drawings but also from elements in nature - animals with iconic shapes. He looked at “animals like dolphins, orca, and sharks to create a very fast and aerodynamic-looking design,” he says. He also studied man-made objects: “Fighter jets, luxury single-seater submersibles, and other aquatic or flying vehicles, to make sure the scale and level of detail was suitable for the SKYJET in the world we were trying to create in the film.”
Once the Valerian creative team had designed the SKYJET, they collaborated with Lexus and Laurent Bouzige, Lexus Designer based at ED2, Lexus’ specialist design facility in Nice, France.
Bouzige liked to think of the SKYJET as a hybrid between a “space bike” and a fighter jet. And, like Mauro, he too took inspiration from animals such as dolphins and sharks. Look closely at the SKYJET’s wings and it’s easy to see the influence, in shape and design, of the dorsal fin.
But Bouzige also found styling inspiration in the existing Lexus line-up, and he and Mauro incorporated current design elements where he deemed appropriate, a task he found particularly enjoyable. See the SKYJET’s grille, for example, which echoes the brand’s trademark design and is similar to that of the LF-SA Concept car, a vehicle first shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015. Or the SKYJET’s headlights, which, Bouzige says, “were inspired by the bold-looking three-projector LED lamp design featured on the Lexus LC 500”. Or even the SKYJET’s fuel-cell capsule, inspired by the Lexus LF-FC concept fuel cell technology.
“These are very distinctive and artistic Lexus design elements,” says Bouzige. “We wanted to be sure to incorporate this design language into the SKYJET.”
The making of the SKYJET was a collaborative process. “Throughout we consulted with Ben and Luc to get feedback on what we were thinking in terms of certain design elements,” says Bouzige. “And the final product you see is the one that we all concluded was the most dynamic design – particularly regarding the Lexus-like design embellishments.
Both Mauro and Bouzige greatly enjoyed working on the SKYJET, but for the latter designer the process was not without challenges. The most difficult aspect was a simple one. “The really complex part of helping to imagine the SKYJET was the fact that it is a vehicle that travels through the air,” says Bouzige. “We’re used to designing earthbound vehicles that have wheels and are affected by gravity here on earth, and it was a challenge to work on the design of a vehicle that had no wheels!”
Still, the final result was deemed an unprecedented success by all parties, particularly those at Lexus International, which sees in the vehicle an extension of its forward-thinking approach. “The SKYJET carries the Lexus logo,” says Bouzige, “because it very much supports the company’s commitment to advancing vehicle design.” And although the SKYJET is “a vehicle of imagination,” as Bouzige describes it, it also inspires a potential future for the brand.
MAKING THE SKYJET
So, can we actually expect to see Lexus flying craft in the future? “I would love it,” says Bouzige. “In fact, I dream about it. I would love to design a Lexus corporate jet, or a general-aviation airplane – perhaps even some sort of single-person autonomous drone. This would be a dream come true.”
For now, it is Besson’s dream that has come true. The SKYJET is now soaring across screens, transporting with it Valerian and a variety of futuristic Lexus design cues. Bouzige will have to wait until his wishes can be granted. But he might not have to wait for too long.