How the Blade Runner world was built…
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.”