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How the opening scenes of Blade Runner were made (video) (douglastrumbull.com)
115 points by coffee on Sept 13, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

I agree entirely with the various posts as to why Blade Runner has held up so well - the keen visual style, the incredible craftsmanship of Trumbull, and least of which - Ridley Scott's brilliant directing.

There is one other thing that I pointed out 10+ years ago in a film class that's often overlooked - the hair styles of the film (and also Alien 1).

Seriously, think about what a smart/bold design move it was to have everyone in such short hair - it's timeless. If you think I'm joking compare Alien 1 or Blade Runner to Aliens By James Cameron - a movie can be dated by mishandling such a small detail.

The other thing I love is how thorough Ridley Scott, Sid Mead, Dan O'Bannon and Trumbull's vision is in both Blade Runner and Alien (1); so dense and fully realized you get the sense that the doom shipped Nostromo departed Blade-Runner earth. Classic, incredible films.

I don't get it, not having an immediate mental picture of the haircuts in the various Alien movies ready to hand.

But is the fact that movies with short hair look less "dated" just due to the fact that we live in a time where long hair is out? In thirty years if long hair becomes popular again will our short-haired movies look horrendously dated and Luke Skywalker look up-to-the-minute?

There's less variation possible in short hair cuts. Thus it's harder to look dated.

If you want to go all the way, shave your characters heads.

Wonderful point. I always find myself gawking at the dated hairstyles of the actors when I watch the original Star Wars trilogy.

It amazes me how that scene today still looks realistic.

It reminds me of Alien 1's ship interior built with spare parts of vacuum cleaners I think, it just brought so much more details that you couldn't get from CGI for at least 20 years.

I miss these old scifi movies where the special effects were crafted by hand. They had a real feel, that I still don't get from 'so clean yet dirtied' CGI.

As someone pointed out over at MetaFilter, a big part of the realism of that scene is thanks to a solid understanding of how cameras, lighting, and film work and interact, rather than super-detailed modelling. Trumbull is a photographic effects wizard, but he also had 80 years of earlier work to build on. I'm not sure we're quite there yet when it comes to CGI.

I was toying with an idea recently to build a CNC cutter for styrofoam, and paint them by hand. For miniature based FX shots. I built a 3-axis CNC recently with a friend to carve wood and plastics (for a hobby), I don't think a wire cutter would be much more difficult, but wire lathes would provide a challenge.

Also, camera rigs for miniature work and lighting rigs for those are kind of an art that is on a verge of extinction. Which is king of a shame, because I still think miniature work looks better than CG in most cases. Because CG, in almost every shot I've seen, looks like a miniature world.

I try and watch BR at least once a year. Future L.A. is a place so detailed that it seems absolutely real.

Not only is it a brilliant movie, it holds up amazingly well given its age. It could probably be released today and nobody would know the difference.

It was (re-)released a few years ago, and some people I saw the movie with were totally convinced that the special effects had all been redone with absolutely cutting-edge CGI like the remastered Star Wars movies. They were quite floored when I told them that the only digital aspect of the re-release had to do with color balance and improving the audio track.

No it couldn't. There is no car chase, no explosions and only a couple of violent deaths.

Plus it has all this plot stuff that you have to 'like' concentrate on ...

Although it did invent the concept of anti-product placements. People would pay not to be placed in the remake!

No it couldn't. There is no car chase, no explosions and only a couple of violent deaths.

Plus it has all this plot stuff that you have to 'like' concentrate on ...

I'm sure if you went back to read the movie reviews from the year Blade Runner came out, you'd find them full of similar sentiments. "Blah blah, they don't make sophisticated movies any more, people only care about spectacle and car chases and explosions." No doubt people will be making similar complaints in another 30 years while completely ignoring the sophisticated movies being produced in their own time ("Man, nobody makes movies like Primer or District 9 any more, do they?)

(Yes, I know District 9 has explosions.)

You should also read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". While the overlap with the movie is quite small, the book is still fascinating.

The first time I saw it, it looked old.

Way too much sheet plastic, close quarters, massive constructs, lack of lighting, utilitarianism, and general weather. And the guns sound like they were made by people who wanted to shoot big bullets. It's not that the special effects are unbelievable, it's that they're not describing a design aesthetic as extrapolated from the present-day experience.

Two shorter Blade Runner clips can be found here.


The one about how they filmed the blimp was pretty amazing.

Something that keeps coming up over and over in his descriptions is how they kept trying to do this amazing work on a very tight budget. Which is astounding both because of the quality of the result, and how it seems like effects budget today is virtually unlimited.

(didn't we move to CGI to try and cut costs?)

Reduced cost per unit often leads to greater demand.

Pretty amazing website. He also built a scale model solution for the BP oil spill (while most people were just waxing philosophical about what to do):


Can't believe I didn't hear about this in the news.

Kind of reminds me of how they made the HBO "Starship" intro video from the 80s:


It's boggling to think about the amount of time and energy spent to make each of these 30 seconds of work. It's never going to be done this way again.

I remember watching that at the time and think it was a cool bit of movie wizardry. However, I don't think it's stood the test of time in the same way the Blade Runner effects have. The effects scenes in Blade Runner are nearly flawless. There is so much detail, some of it almost compulsively unnecessary. There's a scene where Decker is walking to his apartment, and you get a long view shot down the rows of buildings -- every time I see that I think "that's totally unnecessary, they could have just angled the camera such that you don't see the externals of the building, but oh man does it build a sense of setting". If you freeze one of those frames, it tells so much story about future L.A.

Well, Trumbull is just a cut above. Hands down.

I still want a computer setup like the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or a tape scanner like the one from Brainstorm (a very underrated movie btw)

BoingBoing interviewed Syd Mead, who designed the "look and feel" of the world of Blade Runner. http://tv.boingboing.net/syd-mead/ Note that page has a three-part interview in reverse chronological order. It's all interesting, but the third part is the one that deals with Blade Runner specifically.

Some Bladerunner DVD collections have the 3:53 hour long documentary "Dark Days", which is excellent and goes into Trumbull's work in great detail.

Blade Runner holds up well EXCEPT...phone booths? That really makes me pause when I've watched it in recent years, no one has a phone. The one thing Blade Runner got wrong, but understandable considering when it came out.

Also we don't have off-world colonies, flying cars and replicants. Judge it as a movie, not as a prediction.

If you really want to fanwank it as correctly representing some future level of technology, though, imagine that in the future radio-frequency communications have been found to cause cancer and have been banned.

Thanks, coffee.

So it would seem that creativity trumps the massive budgets and state of the art technology that are the hallmarks of just about all modern day SciFi flicks; hmmm ... wonder if that principle is somehow applicable to the startup scene?

I dunno. That setup looked pretty darn expensive. Did you see the number and size of all of the pieces involved? Custom etched and built models. Huge amounts of high-powered explosives. Not to mention the cost of the film. I don't mean to undercut your point of finding creative solutions, but I'm not sure this is a good example.

well if wikipedia is to be believed it had a 28 mill budget so 67 mill today. 67 doesn't sound like much compared to Avatar or Lord of the Rings but it's still a hell of a lot. And IIRC Harrison Ford was the only big name at the time, which saved them some money I'm sure.

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