'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets': What's the Deal With the Doghan Daigus?

A less-than-stellar opening weekend for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in the U.S. may put director Luc Besson‘s franchise plans in deep space storage. But if you’re a toy collector who makes a point of picking up the merchandise for every major sci-fi release, its struggles may leave a valuable piece of pop culture history in your archives to remember it by. While Valerian merchandise hasn’t been as ubiquitous as for, say, Star Wars, the good folks at Funko released a tie-in version of one of their Pop-ular Pop! vinyl figures modeled after the breakout alien stars who reside in the film’s titular city of a thousand planets: the Doghan Daigus.

This motley trio — who vaguely resemble older, de-feathered cousins of Marvel‘s space fowl, Howard the Duck — periodically appear throughout the film to offer important information to intergalactic agents Valerian and Laureline (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne)…for a price. “I love them because they are very cynical, very polite, and make deals all the time,” Besson tells Yahoo Movies. “They’re also useful because they speak over 500 languages, so you can use them whenever you need to.”

The creatures jumped out at Funko’s team right away. “The Pop toy is very good,” says Besson. “As you can imagine, when you do something from scratch that’s not very well known, no one wants to take the risk with toys. Usually, you have more merchandising if you do a second one — then everybody wants to do it. There’s a couple of people who read the script, saw the drawings, and said, ‘Oh my god, we really love it.‘”

Like the film’s glamourpod, Bubble, played by Rihanna, the Doghan Daigus appear in the volume of the Valerian and Laureline comic book series that provides the basis for Besson’s film: 1975’s Ambassador of the Shadows. In that graphic novel, they’re referred to as the “Shingouz,” but otherwise fulfill the function as opportunistic informants. (They’ve also got a serious taste for alcohol in the comics, a detail that Besson chose to leave out of the film.) And Besson made sure to preserve their distinctive appearance as well. “We took a long time to determine the length of their noses, because if it was too long, we wouldn’t know how to fit them in the frame,” Besson explains. “There was also a lot of modification in the length of their legs before we arrived at the final one.”

Once the aliens’ proportions were in place, Besson had his production team build full-sized models of the Doghan Daigus that could be placed on set to use as lighting references for the director of photography as well as the animation team that would bring the creatures to life. (The director says that those models are currently on a worldwide tour as part of a traveling exhibit showcasing Valerian‘s creatures and costumes.) Further reference was provided by the three motion-capture performers playing the Doghan Daigus during filming: Tonio Descanvelle, Laurent Ferraro, and Doug Rand, all three of whom have previously appeared in films that Besson has directed or produced. “We rehearsed with them for a long time, because they needed to get the rhythm of sharing the lines between the three of them,” Besson says. “Those guys spent almost six months on their knees, playing these characters. They made it very funny.”

While those three actors performed opposite DeHaan and Devlevingne on set, it’s not their voices we hear in the finished film. “My three guys were very good, but one was American, the other one was French, and the third one was Brazilian,” Besson says about why he couldn’t ultimately use their vocal performances. In the end, three L.A. actors, Grant Moninger, Robbie Rist, and Christopher Swindle came into the dubbing booth to record the aliens’ lines. And if their voices sound nasally, that’s a byproduct of how Besson imagined the Doghan Daigus would talk. “They put their fingers on their noses, and we tried different positions until we found a way that they would talk,” the director explains. “Each actor has a slightly different position, because I didn’t want them to sound the same exactly. It was hilarious to do that! We’d be laughing like crazy, because they looked so ridiculous: standing in a studio with a finger on your nose making sounds. We felt like we were eight years old. That’s part of the fun, right?”

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