How the world of Blade Runner 2049 was created | Production Design [No Spoilers]


Hello Cinephiles! Well, here it is– an R-rated 150 million
dollar sequel to one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. When I heard they were making a sequel, I
was like, ‘The only way that would work is if they got Denis Villeneuve, Roger Deakins,
Hampton Fancher, Harrison Ford, and Ryan Gosling.’ Well here we are. I think what’s most exciting about revisiting
the Blade Runner universe is the universe itself. What does Los Angeles look like 30 years after
the events of the original film? What do people wear? How has the culture changed? And most importantly, how did the crew make
this future seem real on film? This is the production design of Blade Runner
2049 on Making Film… Now, a sequel to Blade Runner was in development
as far back as 1999, as well as a prequel, but let’s skip ahead a bit. It was just before Ridley Scott was about
to begin production on Prometheus in 2011 that he had a three-hour dinner with Broderick
Johnson and Andrew Kosove, the heads of Alcon Entertainment, a production company that had
spent the previous year securing the rights to a Blade Runner sequel (Wired). Scott had reportedly said that he had been
waiting for a meeting on a Blade Runner sequel for “35 years” (Wired). Shortly after, Scott contacted Hampton Fancher—
the first screenwriter for the original film— and asked him if he would like to meet with
Scott in London to discuss ideas. Fancher had been writing a short story that
he would eventually turn into a treatment for a possible Blade Runner follow-up. The protagonist of the short story was very
similar to what would eventually become Officer K, played in the film by Ryan Gosling. The treatment was given to a writer named
Michael Green, who would later work on “American Gods, Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Murder on
the Orient Express” and he, Hampton Fancher, and Ridley Scott wrote the screenplay (Wired). When it became apparent that Scott would be
unavailable to direct the film, Johnson and Kosove went to Denis Villenueve, who had directed
some of the greatest films this decade including: Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and
later, the Best Picture Nominee Arrival. Kosove had worked as a producer on Villenueve’s
abduction thriller Prisoners and thought that he would be best suited to evoke the mood
that 2049 would require. Kosove said, “Blade Runner is always put
in the sci-fi genre, but we really think it’s more of a noir movie… and if you look at
Prisoners and Sicario, you know there isn’t a filmmaker today doing better noir than Denis”
(Wired). Villenueve passed on the job because he had
just finished Sicario and would be starting Arrival shortly after and he was hesitant
to jump into yet another film directly after Arrival. He also wasn’t sure about the idea all together
citing that trying to make a sequel to one of his favorite films would be [quote] “a
super-bad idea,” but he reconsidered after Kosove and Johnson offered to work with his
schedule. Villenueve stated in an interview, “I said
to myself, ‘If there’s a moment where I’m going to do a movie of this scale, it
needs to be something that matters to me” (Wired). He thought that the only way to make the movie
was to accept that it was just a gesture of love toward the original, but he knew that
it would always be compared to the one that came before it (GMA). Seeing as Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty
years after the original, what needed to evolve the most was the world that Blade Runner is
set in. In the original, we can already see an extreme
class separation, the dirt and grime of the city, the pollution, but what would happen
to Los Angeles thirty years from this? And how would this reflect on our current
world? The script was a good start, but it could
only go so far. They still had to come up with every little
detail of the world that would appear on the screen to make us believe the story. Roger Deakins: “I mean, I think the look
of a film is an organic process. It’s not something– you can’t read a
script and then something just comes into your head, I think.” Ridley Scott had said, “Science fiction
is a very special form of auditorium… It’s a theater, a box, within which anything
goes— but you’d better draw up the guide lines and the rule book before you begin. Otherwise, you end up with nonsense” (Wired). Villeneuve says that it was good working with
Ridley Scott because he was far away. Scott met with Villeneuve and told him his
inspirations for the first movie, the ideas behind it, but he stressed that it was Villeneuve’s
movie and that he would only be there if Villeneuve needed him (Comic Con Panel). Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins,
and two storyboard artists spent weeks closed off in a hotel room in Montreal dreaming up
the world of 2049 and how to display it. Villeneuve had said that it was in these meetings
that the style of Blade Runner 2049 was born. Villeneuve was fond of using a pencil for
concept art over a computer, because this way, he could simplify the process to a few
people in a room discussing and drawing ideas. Together, they created a bible of storyboards,
sketches, and aesthetic concepts that they would use to make the movie (GMA, AFI). They hired Dennis Gassner to do the production
design for the film. Gassner actually has an interesting connection
to the original Blade Runner. In 1981, he had worked on Francis Ford Coppola’s
film One From the Heart that created an opulent musical version of Las Vegas. The film used many many neon lights for the
production and, after production had wrapped, Gassner met with Ridley Scott who was looking
to use some neon lights for Blade Runner. Scott was blown away by the sheer amount of
lights that were available and this access is largely responsible for a realization of
the neon noir feel that would cement itself in the cyberpunk aesthetic (WSJ Dystopian
Future). Before starting on the production design,
Gassner asked Villeneuve if there was a single word he could use to describe the essence
of the film. Villeneuve replied, “Brutality” (WSJ Dystopian
Future). With that in mind, Gassner created a wall
that would be the visual story of the film’s narrative (WSJ Dystopian Future). They wanted to make sure that the production
design both reflected and expanded upon the original film while maintaining a natural
progression of its cinematic world. Villeneuve said, “We used elements from
the first movie with humility and tried to find a strength in them. But this movie has its own personality”
(LA Times). And aside from story, this was the biggest
challenge of the film. Art director Paul Inglis mentioned that they
tried to evoke something familiar for the audience and then slightly diverge into new
territory (Featurette). There are several allusions to other parts
of the world in the original Blade Runner despite never seeing them. “A new life awaits you in the off-world
colonies.” I’d imagine you’re like me and wondered
what the off-world colonies look like or what lies beyond the city. This is an opportunity to imagine what about
the world is different than what we’ve already seen. Denis Villeneuve: “It’s a huge challenge
because you don’t want to cut and paste otherwise, why? And at the same time, you have to respect
what was done, so you’ve got to find the right equilibrium.” And it wasn’t just the new blood expanding
this world, Villeneuve managed to bring back the legendary Syd Mead who did much of the
concept art for the original Bade Runner. There is a scene where K is walking toward
the city ruins draped in a yellow-orange dust that Syd Mead was responsible for. Villeneuve said, “For me, it was important
to have one moment where Syd Mead would express himself… I had the chance to meet the master and ask
him to give me the gift to create a specific place. And when I saw his drawings, I was so moved”
(LA Times). In an interview, Syd Mead said, “Working on
Blade Runner 2049 was a completely new inventive challenge, which I relished. I mean, having worked on the original with
Ridley Scott in pre-production and post-production, this new involvement was a professionally
thrilling way of ‘bracketing’ my Blade Runner design history. It was an entirely new project” (filmschoolrejects). Society in the Blade Runner universe doesn’t
seem to have gotten any better in the past 30 years. Ryan Gosling said, “The power of science fiction,
and what’s positive about it… is that you’re able to experience the worst-case
scenario without actually having to live it” (Wired). We get a certain catharsis in seeing this
bleak future, because it makes our world seem like it isn’t so bad and it helps us process
what upsets us about our own surroundings (Wired). The question is: are we getting closer? In 2049, many people live in box-like homes
that were inspired by Hong Kong’s real-life housing units called “coffin cubicles”
(LA Times). These pictures from National Geographic are
of real life living spaces in Hong Kong. Tech is ramping up and we already have some
of the futuristic devices we’ve seen in the original film. And with much talk of the direction of Artificial
Intelligence we can see the themes of these films having possible literal interpretations
as well. Pollution and climate issues depicted in the
film also seem to give a certain validation to the predictions based on the current trend
of climate issues today. We see a massive seawall to prevent rising
oceans from flooding LA– something that is being debated even now (Wired). The rain is a defining feature of the original
Blade Runner and one that has had a widespread impact on later films. Ridley Scott said, “At first I was amused
by the fact that Blade Runner was an influence… Then I got fed up with seeing pouring rain
onscreen” (Wired). The crew of 2049 couldn’t just take the
rain from the first film and apply it to the sequel for the sake of getting that “Blade
Runner look.” The progression of climate issues and pollution
over 30 years has had an effect on the weather and the film reflects that. We see an LA strangely covered in snow. This also has its roots in the personal experience
of Denis Villeneuve. The Canadian director said, “As much as
the first movie had an atmosphere of constant rain, in this one it would be colder… Basically, you could say that the first movie
was made by a man from London, England, and the second one was made by someone from Montreal,
Canada” (LA Times). Denis Villeneuve: “When you are- when I’m
working with someone else’s story, I always try to find an intimate way to get into the
story. I have to create an intimate link. And one of them, it’s going to sound trivial
for you, but it was huge for me aesthetically, it was the climate and the screenplay was
different than the first movie. It was more like there was the idea that there
will be snow. There will be- winter will be present. And I mean, as a Canadian, there’s one thing
I know about.” Villeneuve grew up in a small rural town in
Quebec, Canada where they would often get [quote] “six or seven months of snow”
(Wired). He felt that the weather was a good starting
point for the creation of Los Angeles in 2049 and it also very much reflected on his aesthetic
theme of brutality. He said, “The only violence I got in my
life was winter… and weather helped me figure out this movie a lot. I started from the premise that the ecosystem
has collapsed, and I started to build a new Los Angeles” (Wired). He also had a nuclear power plant
visible from his parents’ kitchen window growing up (Wired). According to Villeneuve, snow has a such a
strong impact on the light and atmosphere. Denis Villeneuve: “To approach Ridley’s
universe through the lens of something that is so familiar to me, it helped me to define
what I will keep from the first and what I will end and what create different to make
it my own.” Ridley Scott had shot much of The Martian
just outside Budapest at the Korda Studios and suggested the location to the 2049 crew. The nearly 100-day shoot started in Budapest
during the summer of 2016 where the production had control of ten sound stages (Wired). If you’ve seen my video on the original
Blade Runner, you might remember that much of it was shot on the same backlot causing
the crew to move things around and use clever angles to make it appear like more than one
location. Here, it seems that the 2049 crew had much
more room to create and Korda Studios is home to one of the world’s biggest sound stages
at 6,000 square meters and a height of 20 meters (kordastudio). The scale is pushed to such an insane degree
that, the original Blade Runner seems more like a familiar home-like place, whereas the
city in 2049 feels like you can easily get lost in just the sheer scope of it. Outside the large studio facilities, Budapest
itself had several interesting locations to shoot the world of 2049. There were many [quote] “long dormant power
stations” that were used in the film and the “Vintage Casino” K finds Deckard in
was actually shot in Budapest’s famous Stock Exchange Building (WSJ, welovebudapest). Villeneuve said, “It’s a world that is
quite bleak and dark and claustrophobic, but I tried to find an equilibrium with explosions
of color that would express some emotions and some themes… The color yellow is very important in the
movie and is linked with different aspects, story-wise.” (LA Times). If I had to guess just after seeing the movie
once, I would say that the color yellow represents K’s quest for truth. Yellow seems to show up whenever he makes
another break-through in the mystery of he is. Let me know in the comments what you think
yellow represents in the movie. Villeneuve wanted the look of the film to
feel like a natural progression from the original, which is why they used limited computer animation
(WSJ). Roger Deakins said, “So many science fiction
films all look the same, because the effects are done by rote… We were desperate to create our own world”
(Wired). In fact, some of the most stunning special
effects didn’t use computer animation at all. For example, we see a progression in the advertising
that littered the city in the original film in the form of a giant holographic woman that
seems to interact with K. On the effect, Villeneuve said, “We constructed the bridge on the
set, filled the stage with rain and fog, and we projected the actress on that gigantic
screen… So the impact of the light is all real — it’s
not something created by a computer”(LA Times). It’s things like this that caused him to
admit that 2049 was by far the most difficult shoot he has ever done (GMA). Looking out Deckard’s windows, the hazy
high-rises are actually [quote] “towering illustrated backdrops that wrap around the
stage” (Wired). Villeneuve said, “We were constructing an
apartment, and we constructed the buildings on the other side of the street. We constructed the city landscape with models. Fantastic light patterns that would imitate
the lights of buildings in the fog… I can count on one hand how often I saw a
green screen on set. Because the way we worked, we tried to enhance
the images with CGI, and trying to use as little as possible the green screens. They’re there, sometimes, but not a lot. It’s really what’s in the background, far
away, that is computer generated most of the time. There are shots with prominent CGI, but I
tried to avoid that as much as possible – even the aerial shots, I tried to have real elements,
real landscapes” (denofgeek). The sets were meant to be as real for the
actors as possible. When first approached, Ryan Gosling had asked
if the whole movie was going to be shot in front of a green screen. Green screen has its place if needed, but
when possible, it’s always better for everyone working on the movie if the set can be as
physically real as possible. As Villeneuve puts it, “you need to allow
the space for the actors to find new ideas on the set” (LA Times). Villeneuve said, “We had a lot of technological
challenges during this movie, but we also had the power of computers. I wanted this power — the technicality of
the movie — to be in the background, not in the foreground. In the foreground I wanted humanity. I wanted the actor in the center of my focus. I wanted to give them everything as much as
possible to inspire them. So we built all the sets first, constructed
all the vehicles, did all the rain and the snow and the fog with practical effects. All the streets, all the exteriors — we
constructed everything. There’s a scene where you see a Spinner
… inside a penthouse — that was real. It’s a nice blend of a very old passionate
approach and high-end technology. I feel that CGI is very strong when it’s
helping reality, helping real shots. But to start just from CGI is a challenge
and not something I wanted to do” (Time). Ryan Gosling: “You know, these sets were
fully functioning worlds. I think trick for me was just to not be impressed
by it on camera.” Gosling can fully interact with the space
because the space seems real and I imagine this must help the cinematography as well. New ideas can arise on set and you can roll
with it instead of being bound to something that happened during pre-production. Villeneuve had said that some of his favorite
moments in the film are from ideas that Gosling had during the shoot (Talks at Google). When it came to action, the aim was to keep
from being [quote] “too Marvel” in that it shouldn’t be flashy and fun, but as Villeneuve
puts it: “more simple, more brutal” (Wired). We can see this in the opening scene, which was actually written by Fancher for the original Blade Runner. Villeneuve approached the production design
more as a period movie than a science fiction movie. In the age in which we live, so much is happening,
as he says, “in the abstract” (Talks at Google). So much is happening within cyberspace and
outside of physical space, but you can’t really have a noir film in which the protagonist
just sits at a computer. Fancher devised a way to set the film further
in the future while still removing this aspect— before the events of the film, an electro-magnetic
pulse would destroy much of the digital and force the protagonist back out into the world
to meet people, find clues, and travel to new locations (Talks at Google). The charm of the original was in all of the
analogue grit. The wires, the weird sounds and clutter of
it all evokes that special feeling. “Hello?” Between Alien and Prometheus, this certain
charm was lost. You could explain it as being a blue-collar
vessel versus a sleek high-expense vessel. I must say, I’m loving all of these new
weapons and devices. We can see how the idea of brutality can be
applied to familiar pieces of the original Blade Runner. Just look at the update to the Spinner, which
was actually the first thing they designed (WSJ). Production designer Dennis Gassner said, “We
wanted the vehicles to have a more chiseled, angular, graphic strength… It’s a harsher world than the first film,
both environmentally and stylistically” (Wired). They made several versions of the Spinner
2.0— some were drivable and some were exclusively for flying effects (LA Times). It’s interesting that, in a world where
animals are extremely rare, a lot of the costumes use furs, feathers, and leather. The cultural reason is likely that, since
animals are rare, clothes would seem more high-end or expensive if they appeared to
be fur, feathers, or leather, whereas it is obvious that it would have to be artificial. Renée April designed the costumes for the
film. She said that she had started by sketching
a lot of crazy outfits for the people of the future, but Villeneuve had her pivot and stated
that the costumes had to be more simple (NY Times). April recognized how the brutality of the
world would have an impact on the outfits of its inhabitants saying, “It’s snowing,
freezing, pollution everywhere. There is no fashion. We had to be humble” (NY Times). She’s a big fan of the original and had
also mentioned to keep an eye out for a few nods to the original costumes— like a transparent
raincoat (NY Times). The new Blade Runner faux leather and faux
fur-lined coat that April designed was actually [quote] “made of cotton fabric laminated
before construction;” April said, “so the rain would not kill it.” She then used paint to add texture and weather
it (NY Times). We can see in this sketch how it shares similarities
to Deckard’s original Blade Runner coat. Mariette is most similar to Pris and evokes
an image of a wilted flower with her feathers and hat degraded by the weather. April said, “The oversized hat and coat
are just another reflection of that world, everybody hiding themselves… they wear big
masks, big collars to hide their faces. The sleeves are long and hide the hands. I don’t know, maybe it’s a reflection
on our world today” (NY Times). Continuing the Japanese influence is Joi—
seemingly influenced by manga and sometimes a geisha style. Joi has about 25 separate costumes in the
film (NY Times). Niander Wallace wears a Kimono and his fitting
was much easier than the 25 for Joi. Jared Leto did only one costume fitting for
the character and it was just a couple of days before shooting. April said, “I put it on him, I loved it,
and that was that” (NY Times). The idea behind Wallace was that he does not
go out, so April designed a pajama-like uniform that she imagined he’d have several of hanging
in his closet. She wanted the design to reflect the design
of his home, simple and empty (NY Times). Villeneuve initially wanted David Bowie for
the role before he died in early 2016. He had said that Bowie had an influence on
the original Blade Runner and wanted to [quote] “acknowledge that legacy” (Vice). Jared Leto wears contacts in the film, which
adds a very interesting take on the eye motif of the franchise. These contacts made Leto completely blind
on set, which he says helped his performance, but he never saw the actors he was performing
with (Tonight Show). Luv, Wallace’s right hand, was designed
to contrast the gray filth of the world. She wears [quote] “off-white suits with clean
lines” making her look angelic (NY Times). But, as April says, the gray makes its way
into her outfit over the course of the film— her wardrobe begins to fall apart as her composure
does. April designed the outfits from stretchy material
so that, when Luv fights, the outfits maintain their clean lines and again, the outfits are
very simple and modest— as April says, “no details, no frills” (NY Times). Thanks for watching! Leave a comment and let me know what you thought
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