A film school professor once told me that making a feature film was by far the most difficult creative pursuit of them all, and that a bit of genius was required of anyone bold enough to embark on such a mission.

But “genius” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when talking about French auteur Luc Besson. “Visionary,” “juggernaut” and “rebel” far better suit the man who gave us The Fifth Element and The Professional. “Genius,” we suppose, would do in a pinch.

For his latest cinematic endeavor—the $200-million sci-fi saga Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—Besson dug deep into his bag of tricks to adapt the monumental French comic about the special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) and their quest to save the universe from a mysterious dark force.

In a new featurette, the director explains just how formative the comics were for him growing up in France, and just how long of a process it’s been for him to finally adapt this seminal space opera for the big screen. Besson credits James Cameron’s Avatar for ushering in the technology that was crucial to bringing this far-out world to life.

While The Fifth Element only had 188 special effects shots, Valerian uses a staggering 2734 shots, many of which were used to create the countless alien races that populate the film’s vast universe. One alien who didn’t need the help of a VFX team was the stripper Bubble, played by Rihanna.

With both Rihanna and Delevigne on the marquee, Besson should have no problem making a profit from what’s being billed as the most expensive indie ever made. But just in case you need anymore convincing, let the director take you through the extensive production below.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets comes out on July 21.