The subject of “Blade Runner” never came up during any of cinematographer Roger Deakins discussions with director Denis Villeneuve about the sequel, “Blade Runner 2049.” Even though the two films glaringly share the same world, and there’s a mysterious connection between Ryan Gosling’s K and Harrison Ford’s Deckard (current and former L.A. blade runner detectives) when the story choose up 30 years later, the only thing that mattered to Deakins was grounding the lighting in reality. Which makes the best experience: he’s the master of naturalism, realism and “Blade Runner” became grounded in expressionism.
“It was more of a movie noir detective story, however, we simply went by our script,” said Roger Deakins. “We needed to get the settings directly after which storyboarded it all for the concepts of the world and the spaces.”
However, the one vital that Montreal local Villeneuve stressed was snow. “Right from the get-go, Denis said, ‘I want it cold, wet, and snowing. I need it to truly feel atrocious,’” added Roger Deakins. And that harshness due to severe climate change became conveyed during the production design through Dennis Gassner (who worked with Deakins on the Bond film, “Skyfall”) in the form of Brutalist structure, emphasizing blocks of concrete and sharp angles.
The Color Yellow
For the first time, Villeneuve wanted to use colour as a visual adventure. In this situation, he suggested playing with the yellow. The director never mentioned why to Deakins, however, given the presence of so much artifice and planetary destruction, it’s safe to assume that yellow represented nature and love. There are hints of yellow everywhere, from a flower that K choose up next to a tree to the interior headquarters of Zen-like inventor Wallace (Jared Leto).
“It became about attempting to find Wallace’s character and Denis and I spent a lot of time talking about the look of the interior,” Roger Deakins said. “We looked at a lot of references to the way architects use light in modern buildings, and particularly the way light falls on some of those big concrete structures.
“There was one specific cathedral that’s a big concrete block with skylights that lets light in a most interesting way. We thought about an artificial world wherein lighting moves like sunlight. I went with that and little patterns. Denis wanted the main space to be a big platform in the middle of a pond (based on an architectural design we’d seen). And the idea was to play with water with caustic patterns to rouse different emotions.”
For Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049” presented the most diverse set of environments to play with. but in spite of the sci-fi trappings, which sometimes veered into surrealism, it became essential for the cinematographer to ground the lighting in fact. Which means shooting nearly everything in camera (with both the digital Alexa and Alexa mini) on stages in Budapest and finding the real world geographical reference. As a result, cityscapes were generated from aerial footage of Las Vegas, Mexico City, the Mojave desert, Iceland, and Spain.
“The other early model was Beijing smog [at dusk] in which you get this completely gray haze, and every now and again you see a point of color coming through,” said Roger Deakins. That proved to be his eureka moment for capturing L.A. via the perpetual winter of snow and rain. And then while shooting a scene on a rooftop among K and his companion, Joi (Ana De Armas), Deakins added misters onstage to create a real fog.
A more colorful atmospheric impact was carried out later on while K gazes at an enormous holographic image of a nude, pink-figured Joi (who’s more than meets the eye). This was achieved with the aid of LED screen projection and digital manipulation of footage shot of the actress.
The Red Desert
Later, while the trail leads K to Deckard in Las Vegas, yellow turns to red dust in the desert wasteland. “The idea of the red dust initially came from a conversation where Denis thought we must have dust, and then another conversation where it was determined to be red, and I got a reference from a dust storm in Sydney some years ago,” said Roger Deakins. “We took those kinds of pictures and used them as a template for Las Vegas.”
However shooting in Budapest didn’t provide enough stage space to build the whole hotel structure in which Deckard lives, so they progressively pieced the complete journey together with different sets. And once you’ve got the theme of the light, it turns into a technical challenge making it all fit. This included matching the reddish hue coming from the windows of Deckard’s penthouse apartment after which decreasing the amount of red throughout the rest of the hotel.
For a showdown in a club providing holographic images of Elvis Presley and showgirls, Deakins created a darker, extra surreal vibe. They built a showroom and Deakins made it look larger via making it fall off into the black. It was first prevised with lighting and then choreographed for the most action potential.
As continually, for Deakins, the trick was trying to make it keep together as a unified piece, with the extra task of experimenting with a sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic. “For me, the first film didn’t relate to what we have been doing,” Deakins stated. “Obviously it’s in your head because it’s part of your culture, ‘Blade Runner,’ but I didn’t refer to it in any way like that. I can’t light like Jordan [Cronenweth] should light. It’s stylistically different. You’ve got to do your own thing and hope it works, really.”
In the case of “Blade Runner 2049,” it works like a visible summary declaration of the entirety Deakins represents stylistically with his storied naturalism. After 13 nominations, he may also eventually win the Oscar.