neon de­mon

How the Blade Runner world was built…

Total Film - - Cover Feature -

Vet­eran pro­duc­tion de­signer Den­nis Gass­ner had all the right ex­pe­ri­ence when De­nis Vil­leneuve was look­ing for the cre­ator of the new Blade Runner world. The man be­hind epic Bond sets (Quan­tum Of So­lace, Sky­fall and SPEC­TRE), for­mer ar­chi­tect Gass­ner was well versed in big-scale, su­per-se­cret projects – but he’d also con­trib­uted to the dis­tinct look of the orig­i­nal film.

“Back in ’81 I was work­ing at Zoetrope Stu­dios when I got a call from Fran­cis Cop­pola,” Gass­ner re­calls in his laid­back drawl. “He said, ‘There’s this guy who wants to buy some neon. Can you show him around?’ I met the guy. ‘My name’s Ri­d­ley Scott,’ he said. We went and looked at this ware­house. I opened the door, there’s two and a half miles of neon there. He said, ‘How much can I have?’ I said, ‘All of it. What are you do­ing?” He says, ‘Well, this lit­tle film called Blade Runner…’”

Years later, Gass­ner got the call from Vil­leneuve and, de­spite hav­ing just got off the gru­elling shoot of SPEC­TRE, leapt at the chance to get in­volved. “You’re col­lab­o­rat­ing, you’re riff­ing on ideas, you’re say­ing, ‘What are we do­ing? Are we con­tin­u­ing? Is it all new?’ There are al­ways mil­lions of ques­tions you have to an­swer, so that’s what we’ve done.”

De­scrib­ing the film’s aes­thetic as “a con­tin­u­a­tion, but with a more ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment”, Gass­ner wanted the look to re­flect the harsh en­vi­ron­ment of LA in 2049. “The ar­chi­tec­ture had to have a strength. And scale. So the size, and the size of scale, is some­thing that you’ll see – which we cre­ated most of phys­i­cally. If you look at the orig­i­nal film, you have the Tyrell build­ing. That was a big struc­ture. Now, ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to get big­ger. We want to pro­tect our­selves – as the story goes, what­ever the na­ture of the pop­u­la­tion is, needs to be pro­tected.”

The aim, he says, was al­ways to build phys­i­cal sets that evoked an emo­tional re­sponse from the ac­tors and sub­se­quently the au­di­ence. “When De­nis Vil­leneuve walks onto a set, and says, ‘Wow!’, I walk away. Then when he brings the ac­tors onto the set and they say, ‘Wow,’ all of a sud­den things change. What­ever they were read­ing in the script, now it’s changed be­cause all of a sud­den you’re in the re­al­ity. Your mind is say­ing ‘this is the most beau­ti­ful thing I’ve ever seen’ or ‘the most hor­rific’ or ‘the most weird’ or what­ever. Those are great emo­tions, and those are the things we’re all look­ing for in try­ing to tell the story.”

The at­ten­tion to de­tail wasn’t only on the larger end of the scale. Gass­ner en­sured ev­ery set was cre­ated in 360°, even un­seen el­e­ments (inside draw­ers and cup­boards) were dressed ac­cord­ingly. “With Ryan and Har­ri­son, they’re both stu­dents of film. When they come onto a set, they feel the set – rather than they come into it and there’s a chair in the mid­dle of a green­screen en­vi­ron­ment and they have no idea what’s go­ing on. That’s the way the orig­i­nal film was made, in real en­vi­ron­ments. We worked very, very hard at that.”

Though phys­i­cal sets were ex­tended fur­ther with the help of what he calls ‘the com­puter pen­cil’, much of what au­di­ences will see on screen is real. And Gass­ner prom­ises that fans will find plenty of Easter eggs. He can’t talk specifics, but says many of the de­tails show a “re­spect” for the orig­i­nal. “It’s like with the Bond films,” he smiles. “It’s ex­cit­ing. You know, it’s a priv­i­lege to get to do some­thing like this. And hope­fully it’ll turn out sweet.”

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