A team of 175 artists at Framestore’s Montréal hub deliver nearly 300 VFX shots across nine sequences for director Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to the 1982 classic sci-fi feature directed by Ridley Scott.
VFX powerhouse Framestore was creatively involved in the production of the long-awaited Blade Runner 2049, crafting concept artwork used in pre-production, and delivering nearly 300 shots of VFX work in post.
A sequel to the Ridley Scott 1982 cult classic, the project was a dream collaboration with award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival). Tasked with the creation of large-scale CG environment builds and some challenging animation work, Framestore teamed up with VFX supervisor John Nelson to pay homage to the original picture, while creating an atmospheric film of the future.
An elegant continuation of a science fiction classic, Framestore’s VFX work was undertaken at its Montréal hub. Framestore’s VFX team of 175 people worked across nine sequences, which included the creation of several CG spinner cars, while the Art Department created concepts of key environments and assets used by all of the VFX studios.
K (played by Ryan Gosling) journeys to Trash Mesa, an area south of Los Angeles, in the flying spinner vehicle; resurrected and updated from the original film. Framestore modeled K’s spinner from reference of the full-scale prop and generated cloudy atmospheres layered with rainfall and the elongated shape of an off-World ship emerging from fog.
The production built a backlot set in Hungary with a wood scaffold construction, covered with dirt, varieties of trash and scrap metal and backed by greenscreen. Framestore generated K’s spinner car descending over the complex environment, made up of approximately 670 assets.
“One of the biggest challenges with Trash Mesa was the sheer amount of assets we had to manage along with per shot changes to the environment required to meet Denis’ vision,” says CG supervisor Adrien Saint-Girons.
Photographs and aerial footage of Bangladesh were used as reference to build a beach with shipwrecked tanker ships. Framestore’s VFX supervisor Richard Hoover was on the shoot before overseeing the postproduction, which saw builds of derelict ships in various degrees of dismantlement and giant flying garbage ships. “We built those from concept art as CG models, textured and animated with lights and effects simulations as the doors opened and trash fell out of the vehicles,” Hoover explains.
The sequence was lit consistently by the lighting team permitting the comp team to create a natural progression from stormy early morning to the brighter overcast plates of the crash site.
K’s quest takes him to a futuristic Las Vegas. Framestore’s Art Department produced an array of concepts based on the work of artist Syd Mead, turning Vegas into a deserted, post-apocalyptic version of the city.
“Roger dictated the look of the Vegas sequence by how he shot the plates on stage,” Hoover recounts. “He provided one photo reference for how the sun should appear through the sand storm atmosphere. With both Denis and Roger, we often discussed how far we should see into the distance. There was a very fine line between creating depth in the shots and only allowing the audience to get a hint of what was out there.”
With the concept material at hand, the Montréal-based VFX team was able to approach the complex modelling of the CG environment build early on. “We went with the approach of building from the ground up,” Saint-Girons relates. “We had three phases for each building in the environment: blocking, adding more overall detail, and a full beauty makeover if it was needed in a close-up.” Hundreds of assets were built to dress the set. A balance was struck between realizing Villeneuve’s desire to keep the space relatively simple and empty, whilst also adding a sense of history to the once-populated, busy hub of entertainment.
The sequences are completely bathed in a vivid, burnt orange color, which proved to be a major challenge. “The extremely orange and hazy environment is not something that people are used to seeing,” says Saint-Girons. “The plates of K walking in, in the deeper fog, literally had no information on the blue channel.”
The overall look of the environments were based on references of the Sydney sandstorm of 2009. Compositing supervisor Luigi Santoro pioneered the use of rendering the shots with lens distortion to complement the pin-sharp photography of Deakins. “We wanted to make people’s jaws drop,” he says.
Joi (Ana de Armas) is a hologram -- a fact often forgotten by the audience, as she showcases profound human qualities. In certain shots a shell effect is applied, meaning a digital version of Joi is used to render the back of her yellow raincoat, so that the audience can read her other side when she has her back to camera.
“Denis didn’t want her to come across as a hologram, but there are moments where it was important to remind us that she is, so you get a little bit of the shell effect come through,” recalls Saint Girons. In order to achieve this, the team had to track her body as close as possible and sculpt her CG jacket per shot to match the plate jacket.
At one point in the movie, she bugs. “When K’s spinner is struck by lightning Joi is affected,” explains Hoover. “When they crash, she’s afraid that K is dead. It was important to depict her attachment to K as her systems were failing. She tries to save K, but she can’t touch him or pull him from the wreckage. It was an emotional scene.” A voxelize effect was used, in which her geometry becomes a simplified version made up of pixelated voxels to create the “glitching” look.
“It was exciting and gratifying to work within the Montréal facility,” Saint-Girons says of the overall experience. “Denis Villeneuve is from Quebec, which made the team feel like this was more of local project. It was nice to be able to have direct contact with him and engage on a creative level. I think just the fact that people were working on a Blade Runner had everyone really excited right until the end!”