Production Design in BLADE RUNNER (1982)

It’s the One Year Anniversary of Eldest & Only!

To celebrate, here’s a piece on one of my most favorite things ever:

BLADE RUNNER

Directed by Ridley Scott, 1982

BLADE RUNNER is film art pornography. It is. So. Beautiful.

I’m completely obsessed with this film, and its behind-the-scenes documentary, DANGEROUS DAYS (2007)

Model maker, with the EXT. TYRELL CORPORATION model piece

Director Ridley Scott started his career in the art department, as an art director in the UK. Generally speaking, this isn’t a typical background for a Hollywood, big-budget director. His art director background definitely helped him create BLADE RUNNER, which is hailed as one of the best films for production design.

“Ridley really knew how to appeal to the art department, he was very wise about it. What he would say, up in the art department : ‘If you build it, I’ll shoot it.’ And who could resist the temptation of that? Because we’ve all suffered, making films with gigantic sets, and beautiful sets,  and [all that is shown/shot are] talking heads. And that was disappointing. But because [Ridley] was an art director, he knew he could hook us with that bait. And he did it – if we built it, he shot it.” – Lawrence G. Paull, Production Designer

INT. TYRELL CORPORATION – INTERROGATION ROOM


“…it was said that when Ridley takes out a pencil [to draw], it would cost hundreds of dollars. When he used a pen, it would cost thousands of dollars.” – David Synder, Art Director

EXT. LOS ANGELES STREETS


Syd Mead, a futurist illustrator, did the initial concept illustration for the film. Per Ridley Scott’s direction, Mead drew inspiration from the sci-fic comic magazine HEAVY METAL and artist Moebius (who was offered a position by Scott, which Moebius declined and later regretted). Limited by time and budget, Scott steered Mead to retro-fit traditional buildings with futurist machinery and material. Adding pipes, neon, moulding and other exterior decor was something the BR production could do to the existing Warner Bros. backlot buildings, instead of building new facades and structures.


The Voight-Kampff test machine/prop:

Mead also designed many of the vehicles.

Syd Mead with the Police Spinner vehicle:

Syd Mead’s illustrations, an army-sized art department led by designer Lawrence Paull and art director David Snyder, Ridley Scott at the helm of the art department, and the Actors’ Strike of 5 months (providing 5 months of prep / set building) – all of these elements contributed to the immense, incredible production design of the film. BLADE RUNNER was the first of its kind – no other movie or show looked like it before. Trail-blazing is often a grueling task, and this film production was no exception. The crew faced nearly-insane obstacles and difficulties during the film shoot.

“This is the column day.” – Lawrence Paull, Production Designer

INT. TYRELL CORPORATION

Reverse; Deckard’s POV.

The short but sweet version of this story: It’s Day 1 of Principle Photography. For some reason, Ridley Scott hadn’t walked through the Tyrell Office set before this day. Scott turns to his PD and Art Director, and basically says:

“It looks great. But the columns are upside down. Could you flip them over?”


Scott later insisted that he had passed this note about the columns numerous times, prior to the Day 1 set walk-through/opening. Whatever happened, the art department suddenly had to flip over 10-20 huge, heavy columns that day, on top of a glossy, smooth floor. Thus delaying shooting for about 6 hours. On Day 1. And that was just the beginning:

(on the INT. BRYANT’S OFFICE set, which was staged inside LA’s Union Station:)

“I went over to the key grip, whom I’d worked with for five minutes at this point, and told him that we needed to make the set bigger. As we walked over to the grip truck, he was really angry with me,  [with] art department failing to do its job. Weeks later, working together, he apologized for being angry with me that first day. Because he didn’t realize that we would be making the sets bigger every day.” – David Snyder, Art Director.

INT. BRYANT’S OFFICE / INT. POLICE HQ CONCOURSE


“He knew what he wanted, but unfortunately, sometimes it was only like 24 frames before the clapper hit together. And you had that much time to make the changes.” – Lawrence Paull

Some sets were just logistically difficult to shoot in. For Hannibal Chew’s eye factory interior, the set was literally frozen and clogged with atmospheric fog – threatening the respiratory health of everyone on set.

INT. HANNIBAL CHEW’S EYE LAB / SHOP

Working on a film that takes place primarily at night, on wet and/or foggy sets, isn’t exactly comfortable for any crew member or actor. I think this film had at least 40 days in these conditions. Crew members began to wear gas masks to counter their exposure to the tons and tons of fog that had to be pumped onto the sets for photographic purposes. No wonder Harrison Ford was notoriously moody and unhappy during production.

But Rutger Hauer nailed it: “Was it grueling? Yes. But we were part of something special. I knew that from the beginning. So it was worth it.”

One of the things I love about this film is the utilization of Los Angeles locations. Some of the city’s best architectural sites got a beautiful, dystopian makeover.

2nd Street Tunnel in Downtown Los Angeles:

The Bradbury Building in Downtown Los Angeles was one of the main location sets. Often used in TV shows, many people on the BR team were hesitant to use the building, seeing it as overused by previous productions. Unfamiliar with Los Angeles at the time, Ridley Scott had fresh eyes on every LA location and could approach each one in his own, unique way.

INT. J.F. SEBASTIAN’S BUILDING

Interesting production note: the Bradbury was occupied by tenants at the time, and part of the location agreement was that the crew had to clean up the entire building every morning, after the night shoots. The interior had to be wet, dirty and full of garbage for filming. To make this task bearable, Paull and Snyder decided to use crushed cork for dirt. Easy to clean up, and it soaked up all of the water spray down. Daily, at-dawn clean-ups were easier with this little innovation.

EXT. J.F. SEBASTIAN’S BUILDING / BRADBURY BUILDING


INT. J.F. SEBASTIAN’S HOME

Incredible set decoration. Sebastian makes replicants for Tyrell, and he has a condition where he ages faster than everyone else. Doll and toy collection – a sick nod to his destructive profession, and grasping at a youth he can’t have.

The lobby of J.F. Sebastian’s home/apartment is amazing too -

The Ennis-Brown House built by Frank Lloyd Wright was the source for Deckard’s apartment. Syd Mead designed the set interior, and Lawrence Paull took casts of the Ennis-Brown bricks and built the set on stage.

INT. DECKARD’S APARTMENT


This juxtaposition of the neon/zero gravity dystopian Los Angeles streets and the Ennis-Brown bricks blows my mind. SO much texture and information to look at.

The amazing rooftop raining set.

Not getting the performance and scene coverage he needed for this end scene, Scott ran out of night-time, filming on a real location rooftop. Needing the darkness of night-time, the art department literally cut the rooftop set pieces off the location and transported them to a soundstage within the day, so they could complete filming. Crazy!

EXT. ROOFTOP

All the sets deserve some close observation/accolade:

INT. TYRELL CORPORATION – INTERROGATION ROOM

EXT. CITY STREET – NOODLE BAR

INT. TAFFEY’S BAR / ZHORA’S SNAKE DANCE

INT. BACKSTAGE

EXT. LOS ANGELES STREETS – Deckard chases Zhora

There is so much color in this film, even though it is overwhelmingly dark in frame and feeling.

One of my favorite scenes doesn’t involve the sets at all, but Rachel/Sean Young’s incredibly beautiful face. This scene exemplifies the talent of the DP, Jorden Cronenweth.

Just. More. Beautiful stills:

Source:

Blade Runner IMDB

Blade Runner Wikipedia

BladeZone: Official Blade Runner Fansite

Blade Runner On-Line Magazine

Film Stills Livejournal

Spaceshipatnight Photobucket – Screencaps

11 comments

  1. Art DepartMENTAL

    Fantastic post! If one were to round up the top production design in cinema since the very beginning, Blade Runner would most definitely be at the top. Your best post yet.

  2. Loren Clery

    I just want to say I am all new to blogging and certainly loved you’re web blog. Likely I’m likely to bookmark your website . You actually come with outstanding posts. Thanks a bunch for sharing with us your webpage.

  3. Pingback: Guest Feature: Self confessed geek and creative director of Drum, Matt Cole digs deep into how Blade Runner combines a multi-cultural past with a retro-fitted present (plus details on those iconic whiskey glasses) - Film and Furniture
  4. SYD MEAD

    Working with (Sir) Ridley Scott was enervating. Lawrence Paull and David Snyder are owed massive kudos for trudging through this production challenge with panache and expert persistence. I am massively complimented to have been part of this iconic film. It was my first job in film, from post production to theatrical release. It jump started my involvement in other films in celebratory grandeur.

  5. Rae

    M, that rooftop that they shot the “tears in the rain” sequence? It’s across the street from my/our old building. It’s the Rosslyn Hotel! I didn’t realize it until one sunset rooftop session, but look at the egg-and-dart corbels- they’re identical.

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