While the name Jean Giraud may not be well known outside of the comics world, it is not an overstatement to say that it would be impossible to imagine what modern science fiction would look like without him.
Better known by the pseudonym “Moebius,” Giraud helped found the magazine Métal Hurlant (published in the United States as Heavy Metal) and worked with the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. After the two collaborated on the landmark comic book The Incal, Jodorowsky asked Giraud to be a storyboard and concept artist on his 1975 adaptation of the science fiction epic Dune. While that film never made it off the page, it introduced Giraud to Hollywood.
Intrigued by his imagination and design sense, producers were soon inviting him to work on more American films. As a result, many of the classic science fiction movies of the 1970s and '80s were designed or directly influenced by Giraud, who spent decades helping craft the look of beloved science fiction epics.
Here are four iconic films that Giraud helped design, or directly influenced—from a galaxy far, far away to the digital frontier of the Grid:
Giraud didn’t directly contribute to Star Wars: A New Hope, but his fingerprints are all over it. From the Imperial Star Destroyers bristling with metallic panels, pipes, and other jutting shapes, to the sparse, desert sands of Tatooine littered with the bones of giant creatures and enormous, rumbling machines, George Lucas borrowed much of Star Wars’ visual language from Giraud’s comics work, Tim Maughan writes for Tor.com. The worlds that Giraud designed often felt lived-in and gritty, as opposed to the shiny, chrome aesthetic of sci-fi flicks from earlier decades. Giraud later collaborated with Lucas on The Empire Strikes Back, recycling a robot that appeared in the background of one of his earlier comics for the many-limbed Imperial Probe Droid.
Ridley Scott’s titular monster might have been designed by the artist H.R. Giger, but the spacecraft the movie takes place on was Giraud’s brainchild. The USCSS Nostromo and the space suits worn by Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and her doomed crewmates were originally designed by Giraud, who worked as a concept artist on the film. Giraud also contributed storyboards, helping visualize important scenes like the crew’s discovery of a downed alien spacecraft, Cyriaque Lamar writes for io9.
While Giraud was unable to work with Scott on his follow-up to Alien, the futuristic Los Angeles that Harrison Ford’s android-hunting Rick Deckard slouches through is dominated by his influence. From the claustrophobic, cluttered streets packed with people and noodle stands, to the enormous, empty pyramids where the super-rich live high above the squalor, Scott clearly kept Moebius in mind even after the artist turned down the offer to come work with him again. Later, Giraud wrote that while he was sorry he wasn’t able to work on Blade Runner, it was one of his favorite films and he was happy to see that they drew on his style for the movie’s look, Maughan writes.
Giraud was hired as the set and costume designer for Disney’s 1982 cyberspace/fantasy film TRON, and it fell to him to figure out how to depict a world populated by computer programs. He went wild – from the glowing costumes to the movie’s iconic light cycles, the streamlined neon designs and circuitry-inspired aesthetics were like nothing else seen before on the silver screen. It was also one of the first in a string of films whose directors hired Giraud as one of the leading concept artists, allowing him to shepherd the look of sci-fi movies along, Maughan writes.
These films are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Giraud. He later went on to contribute concept art to films like Space Jam and The Fifth Element, all the while producing reams of beautiful comics as Moebius. Though Giraud died in 2012 after a long battle with cancer, the mark he made on science fiction’s visual language will last forever.