PRODUCTION DESIGNING WITH THE PROS
Film and animated feature designers reveal the secrets behind building the landscapes of Blade Runner 2049,
Dive into the making of Blade Runner 2049, The Lego Ninjago Movie and Valerian as we discover the work behind their incredible world designs
The location was swathed in orange light and had remnants of current Vegas as well as new, futuristic, structures By focusing on the orange tint and giving everything a worn and wasted feel, Framestore was able to make sure viewers knew they were in a very different world
The worlds you see in your favourite live action and animated features are the end results of hours, days and months of work by CG and visual effects artists. But those worlds also had to start somewhere, and that’s typically with concept artists, art directors and production designers.
It’s with these artists that many early decisions get made about building the aesthetics of a world. With feedback from other filmmakers, they implement a vision for how visual themes in certain landscapes are made clear and can be differentiated from other locations, and what characteristics might make up a city, a planet or even just a room.
3D World asked several artists about how they helped build worlds in some recent feature films and animated movies. Framestore head of art department Martin Macrae details the designs behind the scorched-earth Las Vegas in
Blade Runner 2049; Animal Logic production designer Kim Taylor and art director Felicity Coonan explore the worlds of The Lego
Ninjago Movie; and concept artist Ben Mauro discusses his vision for alien-esque locations in Valerian.
What happens in Vegas
A big feature film such as Blade
Runner 2049 will typically have its own art department responsible for conceiving key designs, and in this case it was led by production designer Dennis Gassner. But visual effects studios are also sometimes asked to contribute early designs via their own art departments, and these contributions continue all the way through production and post.
Indeed, Framestore, which delivered final visual effects
for several sequences in Blade
Runner 2049, also contributed key concepts, including for the deserted ‘future’ Las Vegas section of the film in which K (Ryan Gosling) searches for Deckard (Harrison Ford) in what appears to be a city wasteland. Framestore head of art department Martin Macrae says the overall design brief for Vegas was to show how the city had grown over the years, from what we know today to a vast central hub for entertainment, attracting many from around the world and even from Off-world colonies. “The main strip was still the centre for all the attractions,” notes Macrae, “but the architecture had to change and look familiar to the way the world was in the original Blade
Runner. When we see it in this film, Vegas had been left deserted for many years, so you had to visually see the effects of nature starting to take it back, and at the same time still see the history of where it had come from.”
The work of Syd Mead, credited as ‘visual futurist’ on the original film, was heavily influential to Framestore, which received the artist’s original designs and a 3D model of future Las Vegas made by Gassner’s team. “We used some of that model as a base to work from,” details Macrae, “then we extensively designed the whole city around this, designing everything from huge buildings all the way down to street-level details, shop fronts, trains, vehicles and lamps.”
To make it clear that this setting was Las Vegas, but a Vegas after years of no inhabitants, Framestore preserved existing buildings while also adding new ones. “Everything had to have a sense of purpose and history as if you were extending and adding to the real Vegas,” says Macrae. “This was a very important process to go through in order to make it feel more believable.”
Macrae adds: “Erosion was a key word used a lot to describe how the city had to look. The city had been hit by desert winds for many years, in a way sand-blasted, so there were to be no shiny surfaces anywhere. All glass and metal had been dulled down by the harsh environment. All this combined with pollution in the air all added to a very striking colour palette as you see in the film. It was quite unusual not to make things shiny – usually buildings get highlights picked up from the sun, but there was no visible sun! It was meant to be a pretty depressing, desolate, bleak environment.”
Animated features essentially need to be designed from the ground-up, or in the case of the CG Lego movies, brick by brick by Animal Logic. The most recent of these is The Lego Ninjago Movie, where production designers Kim Taylor and Simon Whiteley and art director Felicity Coonan imagined a Pan-asian city located on an island, as well as a deep jungle inspired by backyard plants.
Martin Macrae, Framestore head of art department, who oversaw the studio’s designs for Blade Runner 2049
Kim Taylor from Animal Logic, The Lego Ninjago Movie production designer
Felicity Coonan from Animal Logic, The Lego Ninjago Movie art director
Ben Mauro, Valerian senior concept designer and art director
Bottom: Framestore’s art department delivered several concept paintings for the deserted Las Vegas landscape
Below (left): The buildings were designed based on an original 3D model from the film’s overall production design team, and tended to be devoid of too many windows; instead there were different types of shutters and plating that covered facades
Below (right): a final shot of Vegas from the film, as viewed by K as he scouts the city