Magazine article Screen International

How Rachael Was Brought Back to Life in 'Blade Runner 2049'

Magazine article Screen International

How Rachael Was Brought Back to Life in 'Blade Runner 2049'

Article excerpt

The VFX team on how they stayed true to the original film, while also giving the sequel its own unique identity.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) has proved a template for three decades of futuristic science-fiction design, from Minority Report (2002) to Ghost In The Shell (2017). Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve’s instruction to visual-effects supervisor John Nelson was to make the sequel “tonally the same, but visually different”.

“We wanted it to feel like it’s a used world, an analogue world, and for the effects to appear as if they were photographed,” Nelson explains. “Denis was quite clear he didn’t want the flames that appear in the opening sequence of the original, but instead the look of a heavy industrial complex, brutalistic architecture and snow.”

While principal photography had been completed at Origo Film Studios and Korda Studios in Hungary due to UK studios being at capacity, the bulk of the film’s 1,200 VFX shots were created by facilities in Montreal and Vancouver to take advantage of local tax credits. Nelson hired eight vendors including Double Negative (DNeg), Framestore, MPC, Atomic Fiction, BUF, Weta Workshop and Rodeo FX, plus an in-house team.

The conceptual breakthrough came when constructing the future Los Angeles. “Denis gave me a picture of a favela in Mexico City as his vision for a continuous sprawl that extended from LA to San Francisco,” explains Nelson. “I searched Google Earth for flyovers of Mexico City that would match our storyboard and, from weather patterns, judged when the city would be most cloudy because we wanted to capture it with soft light. Using those co-ordinates, [aero-cameraman] Dylan Goss shot overheads of the city from one helicopter trailing another helicopter.”

From those plates, DNeg’s VFX team darkened the prints, removed all the cars and trees, and added 3D atmosphere such as mist, fog and rain.

“We eliminated most mid-sized buildings so you have normal and giant-sized buildings, and dropped the street level down to make a canyon,” explains Nelson. “We steered clear of creating traffic jams in the skies or populating the city with thousands of signs.”

Along with production designer Dennis Gassner, Nelson researched Soviet-era architecture for the look Villeneuve wanted. “A common trait of the buildings we found was that they tended to be thinner at the bottom and overhanging at the top, as if society is looming over you,” he says. “We put that into our design and created it in multiple scales.”

Recreating Rachael

A CG recreation of the Rachael replicant played by Sean Young in the original film was perhaps the most challenging individual sequence, as the character was required to have an emotionally stirring reunion with Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. …

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