The Chanel eye-makeup-erator


After David offers Leeloo some clothes, he also offers her a device for applying eye makeup. Leeloo only has the most rudamentary grasp of English at this point, so to demonstrate its use he holds it up to his eyes.

This is a clear enough signal for Leeloo, who puts the device up to her eyes like a large pair of sunglasses. She can feel the momentary button near her left fingertip and presses it. In response a white ring around a Chanel logo illuminates for a second. Leeloo feels an unfamiliar sensation and pulls her face away, and we see that the device has applied complete eye makeup for her.

TheFifthElement-eyemakeup-007 TheFifthElement-eyemakeup-008


The industrial design of the device is brilliant. It’s sized to be slightly larger than the eye area and it has the right shape for someone to know where to place it. The activation button sits exactly where the user needs it, and with enough of a button-like affordance that even without looking she can find it and press it. The device is just heavy enough to encourage supporting it with palms, which provides a firm base to resist too much movement on activation (and thereby risking eyeshadow right on the eye). The shiny black plastic reads like a cosmetic object, and professional enough that you can presume it’s safe to use near delicate eye parts. The white ring is a simple cue for those nearby that it’s in progress and not to interrupt the user.

A minor improvement would be to improve that simple light on/off to a progress ring that swept around. This would gave a sense of how much time it will take and how much time is left, even if it’s only a second.

The main question of the device is of course how does Leeloo specify the details of the makeup. A quick Google image search shows that the number of parameters is…um…vast.

Of course, if the device had some kind of low-level artificial intelligence, that agentive algorithm could handle a lot of the complexity for her, deciding on the best match for her schedule, fashion trends, current outfit, and her preferred position in the fashion-aggression spectrum. (Would there be a device that went up to 11 for drag queens?) But, when the agentive algorithm got it wrong, and Leeloo wanted to override those settings, she’s back to needing to tell the device how she’d like to override its suggestions. How does she do that?

Which raises the question of those three buttons across the bridge of the device.

Those three buttons

Of course three momentary buttons aren’t enough to control all the variables in eye makeup. Even if these are dials that control three variables, three variables aren’t enough. (Even if they were dials, why would they look identical to the momentary buttons? Things that behave differently should look different.)

Even if these buttons are not controls for variables but rather presets for sets of variables (Such as: “Work,” “Formal wear,” or “Defeating ultimate evil”), they’re not signaling their state well. Looking at that screen grab, can you tell which one is currently selected? I can’t. It should be apparent at a glance, so no one accidentally applies “clubbing” makeup when they mean “funeral.” So there should be some indication of what’s currently selected. Note that a lit button is not enough. Some descriptive text is needed. Such text would ideally be on both the “inside” and the “outside” so no matter how it was lying on a dresser, its state could be read.

Anyway, since those buttons aren’t sufficient for setting up the eye makeup, let’s hope that it’s networked to some other device with a richer interface, like a voice interface or Cornelius’ WIMP computer, where she can have a rich interaction for setting up those buttons.

With all that in mind, here’s another comp to illustrate these ideas. Admittedly, Chanel’s brand police wouldn’t be comfortable with an LED font, but it would clearly communicate that the text represents a variable and not a product name.


Special shouts out to You Yeti! who corrected our tweet that the two Fingernail-o-matics were not the only cosmetic interfaces in the survey. I love writing for a sharp, eagle-eyed audience.


Nucleolab Kill Switch


General Munro isn’t sure what’s going to come out of the other end of Mactilburgh’s process. He’s never seen a Mondoshawan and doesn’t know if they can be trusted. Fortunately for his sense of panic, there’s a built in kill switch on the control panel facing the nucleolab chamber. To activate the switch, he slips his multipass into a slot. While this card is in the slot, a small red LED lights, and the Big Red Button is active.


The interface is simple to read, which is nice. The button conveys a bit of its importance through its size and color. The order of operations is well laid out for a Western user: left to right, in the order of reading.


Three improvements

There are lots of questions about the security strategy, though. Single-factor authentication is too easy to thwart. Couldn’t someone just take his multipass and use it? How does the system know it’s really Munro? Better would be multifactor authentication, requiring both this token and either a knowledge token like a password, or an inheritance factor. Maybe it could require Munro to place his other hand on a handprint reader before the button activates.

Another problem is that the signal that this button is active is too tiny: that little red LED that’s associated with the slot rather than the button. If this is an undoable action, you’d hope that the input would convey the sense of risk. Maybe have the button glow, or surround it with a glowing red ring (think the Krell warning system)?

If it really is a kill switch, i.e. would kill the subject, a nice safeguard against accidental activation would be a press-and-hold button, requiring Munro to hold it down for a few seconds while a warning klaxon sounds. This would give Munro the opportunity to change his mind or move his hand if he’d placed it accidentally. If it triggers something nonlethal, like an incapacitating sticky foam, then no such delay is necessary.


The stage managers’ main raison d’être is to course-correct if and when victims begin to deviate from the path required of the ritual.

This begins with the Prep team, long before the victims enter the stage. For example, Jules’ hair dye and Marty’s laced pot. These corrections become more necessary and intense once the victims go on stage.

Making sure there are sexy times

The ritual requires that a sexy young couple have sexy times on stage before they suffer and die. “The mood” can be ruined by many things, but control has mechanisms to cope with most of them. We see three in the movie.


The temperature can’t be too hot or too cold, but this isn’t something that can be set and forgot. What counts as the right temperature is a subjective call for the people involved and their circumstances, such as being drunk, or amount and type of clothes worn. Fortunately, the video-audio panopticon lets the stage managers know when a victim speaks about this directly, and do something about it. The moment Jules complains, for instance, Sitterson is able to reach over to a touch-screen display and tap the temperature a few degrees warmer.

Sitterson heats things up.

The gauge is an interesting study. It implies a range possible between 48 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit, each of which is uncomfortable enough to encourage different behaviors in the victims, without the temperature itself being life-threatening.

Moreover, we see that it’s a “blind” control. Before Sitterson taps it, he is only shown the current temperature as a blue rectangle that fills up four bars and that it is exactly 64 degrees. But if he knew he wanted it to be 76 degrees, what, other than experience or training, tells him where he should touch to get to that desired new temperature? Though the gauge provides immediate feedback, it still places a burden on his long-term memory. And for novice users, such unlabeled controls require a trial-and-error method that isn’t ideal. Even the slim area of white coloring at the top, which helpfully indicates temperatures warmer than cooler, appears too late to be useful.

Better would be to have the color alongside or under the gauge with smaller numbers indicated along its length such that Sitterson could identify and target the right temperature on the first try.


The next thing that can risk the mood is a lack of a victim’s amorous feelings. Should someone not be “feeling it,” Control can pipe sex pheromones to areas on stage. We see Hadley doing this by operating a throttle lever on the electronic-era control panel. After Hadley raises this lever, we see small plumes of mist erupt from the mossy forest floor that Jules and Curt are walking across.

Hadley introduces pheromones to the forest air.

This control, too, is questionable. Let’s first presume it’s not a direct control, like a light switch, but more of a set-point control, like a thermostat. Similar to the temperature gauge above, this control misses some vital information for Hadley to know where to set the lever to have the desired amount of pheromone in the air, like a parts-per-million labeling along the side. Perhaps this readout occurs on a 7-segment readout nearby or a digital reading on some other screen, but we don’t see it.

There is also no indication about how Hadley has specified the location for the pheromone release. It’s unlikely that he’s releasing this everywhere on stage, lest this become a different sort of ritual altogether. There must be some way for him to indicate where, but we don’t see it in use. Perhaps it is one of the lit square buttons to his right.

An interesting question is why the temperature gauge and pheromone controls, which are similar set-point systems, use not just different mechanisms, but mechanisms from different eras. Certainly such differentiation would help the stage managers’ avoid mistaking one for the other, and inadvertently turn a cold room into an orgy, so perhaps it is a deliberate attempt to avoid this kind of mistake.


The final variable that stands in the way of Jules’ receptiveness (the authors here must acknowledge their own discomfort in having to write about this mechanistic rape in our standard detached and observational tone) is the level of light. After she complains that it is too dark, Hadley turns a simple potentiometer and the “moonlight” on a soft bed of moss behind them grows brighter.

Control responds to Jules’ objection to the darkness.

This, too, is a different control than the others; though it controls what is essentially a floating-point variable. But since it is more of a direct control than the other two, its design as a hard-stop dial makes sense, and keeps it nicely differentiated from the others.

Marty’s Subliminal Messages

Over the course of the movie, several times we hear subliminal messages spoken to directly control Marty. We never see the inputs used by Control, but they do, at least on one occasion, actually influence him, and is one of the ways the victims are nudged into place.

Marty breaks the fourth wall

In addition to Dana & Curt’s almost not getting it on, another control-room panic moment comes when Marty accidentally breaks a lamp and finds one of the tiny spy cameras embedded throughout the cabin. Knowing that this level of awareness or suspicion could seriously jeopardize the scenario, Hadley bolts to a microphone where he says, “Chem department, I need 500 ccs of Thorazine pumped into room 3!”

Marty finds a spy camera

Hadley speaks a command to the Chem department

Careful observers will note while watching the scene that a menu appears on a screen behind him as he’s stating this. The menu lists the following four drugs.

  • Cortisol (a stress hormone)
  • Pheromones (a category of hormonal social signals, most likely sex pheromones)
  • Thorazine (interestingly, an antipsychotic known to cause drowsiness and agitation)
  • Rhohyptase (aka Rhohypnol, the date rape drug)

Given that content, the timing of the menu is curious. It appears, overlaid on the victim monitoring screen, the moment that Hadley says “500.” (Before he can even specify “Thorazine.”) How does it appear so quickly? Either there’s a team in the Chem department also monitoring the scene, and who had already been building a best-guess menu for what Hadley might want in the situation and they just happened to push it to Hadley’s screen at that moment; Or there’s an algorithmic voice- and goal-awareness system that can respond quickly to the phrase “500 ccs” and provide the top four most likely options. That last one is unlikely, since…

  • We don’t see evidence of it anywhere else in the movie
  • Hadley addresses the Chem department explicitly
  • We’d expect him to have his eyes on the display, ready to make a selection on its touch surface, if this was something that happened routinely

But, if we were designing the system today with integrated voice recognition capabilities, it’s what we’d do.

Curt suggests they stick together

After the attack begins on the cabin itself, Curt wisely tells the others, “Look, we’ve got to lock this place down…We’ll go room by room, barricade every window and every door. We’ve got to play it safe. No matter what happens, we have to stay together.” Turns out this is a little too wise for Hadley’s tastes. Sitterson presses two yellow, back-lit buttons on his control panel to open vents in the hallway, that emit a mist. As Curt passes by the vents and inhales, he pauses, turns to the others and says, “This isn’t right…This isn’t right, we should split up. We can cover more ground that way.”

Sitterson knocks some sense out of Curt.

This two-button control seems to indicate drug (single dose) and location, which is sensible. But if you are asking users to select from different variables, it’s a better idea to differentiate them by clustering and color, to avoid mistakes and enable faster targeting.

Locking the doors

Once the victims are in their rooms, Hadley acknowledges it’s time to, “Lock ‘em in.” Sitterson flips a safety cover and presses a back-lit rocker switch, which emits a short beep and bolts the doors to all the victims’ rooms at the same time.

Sitterson bolts the victims’ doors.

Marty in particular notices the loud “clunk” as the bolts slide into place. He tests the door and is confounded when he finds it is, in fact, locked tight. Control’s earlier concern about tipping their hand seems to matter less and less, since this is a pretty obvious manipulation.

The edge of the world

Bolted doors pale in comparison to the moment when Curt, Dana, and Holden violently encounter the limits of the stage. After the demolition team seals the tunnel to prevent escape that way, Curt tries to jump the ravine to the other side so he can fetch help. Unfortunately for him, the ravine is actually an electrified display screen, showing a trompe-l’œil illusion of the far side. By trying to jump the ravine, Curt unwittingly commits suicide by slamming into it.

Curt slams into the edges of the “world” of the cabin.

The effect of the screen is spectacular, full of arcs zipping along hexagonal lines and sparks flying everywhere. Dana and Holden rush to the edge of the cliff to watch him tumble down its vast, concave surface. It seems that if you’ve come this far, Control isn’t as concerned about tipping its hand as it is finishing the job.