SCRIPT: Released in 1982, Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ had a huge influence on the sci-fi movie genre, quickly gaining cult status.
It introduced audiences to a dystopian future set in 2019, a world defined by corporate advertising, pollution, flying cars and androids called “replicants.”
35-years-later and director Dennis or “Denny” Villeneuve and Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner had to create a manifestation of that world, for the sequel, ‘Blade Runner 2049’.
“I asked Denny, “is there a particular word that you can describe the film, y’know, in kind of an essence?” says Gassner at his home in West Hollywood. “And he thought about it and he says “Brutality”. And I said “Fantastic. OK that’s great.” Because that gave me a whole set of visuals right there.”
Back in 1981, Dennis Gassner was working for Zoetrope Studios with Francis Ford Coppola and Dean Tavoularis – Gassner was the production designer’s assistant.
They’d just made ‘One From The Heart’, a movie for which they recreated Las Vegas on sound stages; and Ridley Scott wanted to buy the neon used.
“He walked in the art department and I said “My names Dennis Gassner.” He says “My names Ridley Scott.” And I says “So you want to see some neon?” And he says “Yeah, lets go to the warehouse.” And we went down to this warehouse and I opened up the door and there was two and a half miles of neon. And he almost passed out. And he goes “How much can I have?” And I said “All of it. We’re finished with it.” And on the way back to the art department I said “What are you going to do?” and he says “Well, I’m going to make this little film called ‘Blade Runner.’” And I said “That sounds pretty cool.” And that was the first time I met Ridley.”
‘Blade Runner’ was shot in 1981 and set in a dystopian future of 2019, an era when visual effects were delivered in-computer, says Steven Poster, one of the photography team on the original film.
“It’s a different world today. We’re doing these things, we’re creating these things digitally. So you can actually do more. Go more into that dystopian world. At the beginning of the original ‘Blade Runner’, when you’re flying into the city, you’re flying over an actual miniature. It’s a physical thing that the camera is travelling over.”
The sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ was shot in 2016 and set in 2049.
By now the environment has become harsher and all of the architecture, as well as the weather, needed to reflect that, including the creation of a massive sea wall in Los Angeles to counter the effects of global warming and now global freezing.
“Santa Monica is now under water. And so is Long Beach gone, so that is why the sea wall is being built.” says Gassner on set, pointing to a map of a futuristic L.A. coastline.
Much like the original film, the sequel is a “stage set” film.
And in deciding on a location for the shoot, Executive producer Ridley Scott suggested looking at Budapest, where he’d previously shot ‘The Martian’.
“What I’ve created here is what I call “the wall”.” says Gassner pointing to pictures of scenes in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ decorating his office wall. “It’s the visual story of the narrative of the film. And it really starts in the upper right hand corner here and runs the top two rows, all the way around.”
Gassner says the design process, or manifestation of this new future began with the “Spinner”, the fictional flying vehicles from the first film.
“This is the first thing that we designed, here.” says Gassner pointing to a model of the “Spinner” on his desk. “Which is an amazing homage to the original but with the context of “brutality”. And each element of this film always goes back and draws on that as an example. From just out of a pure design sense of the angles and shapes and the feeling.”
Gassner says that Budapest physically had a lot to offer, such as long dormant power stations which acted as a trigger for other ideas.
“This is the way that Ridley works. In the original film you put up one thing and he looks at it and they say “that kind of works, but that gave me an idea for something else.””
A good example of Scott’s creativity on set is the closing scene in ‘Blade Runner’ where Batty’s on the roof with the giant rotating fans.
“That was a last minute design by Ridley” says Poster. “He took some foam board and cut it into strips, and took a grip stand, and put holes in the middle of them, and kind of made them into a fan shape, and before we started shooting the grips would come out and spin it by hand. There was no fancy equipment done with that. And it created this brilliant effect from nothing. And that was Ridley’s brilliance. He could invent that stuff on the spot.”
When it was released in 1982, ‘Blade Runner’ was praised for its unique postmodern production design.
And while the sequel could have been entirely driven by digital effects, filmmakers wanted it to feel like a natural progression from the first film— so rather than relying on effects, they just use them where needed.
Gassner says it’s the “ability to create bigger scale that will set the new film apart from the original movie. That its a bigger world, and now your able to see more of it.”