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‘Blade Runner 2049’: How Cutting-Edge Techniques Re-Created Character From Original

When the Academy Award nominations came out, it was a tech and craft sweep for helmer Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049.”

The sequel to the sci-fi classic took five noms: cinematography, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. With such a high mark set by the first film, these crews sought out cutting-edge techniques for everything from layering sound to reviving the character Rachel.

Sound mixing nominees Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill worked together to create a mix that utilized new tools while holding on to essential, organic noises.

“We’re very protective of the actor’s intentions in their dialogue, and we make sure it’s not covered up with loud sounds or a music cue or anything else so that the director’s vision is told through that story and through the actors in that story,” says Bartlett. “You have tough situations where you have something like the sea wall, but we really kept in mind being able to hear the voices clearly. In Dolby Atmos you can put stuff in the ceiling, so we put the interrogator’s voice on top of Agent K, so that it’s very oppressive and claustrophobic. We use it as an emotional tool, and that’s the key.”

The VFX crew leaned into emotion, too, and made a point of keeping things gritty and minimal when they could so the film wouldn’t look just like one continuous CG shot.

“I think our restraint really helped us with the realism of the film,” says John Nelson, VFX nominee (“Gladiator”). “We decided to build as much of the set as we could around the actors. We shot Mexico City for Los Angeles because Roger [Deakins, DP] and Denis [Villeneuve] liked the stacked look of the buildings.”

Overall, there are 1,190 vfx shots in the movie and the film contains 1:48 of visual effects in its entire run time. Special moments made the task even weightier: A small crew at MPC in Montreal also spent about a year working on bringing Rachel back exactly as she appeared in 1982. It was an iconic moment with no room for error.

“We used footage from the original ‘Blade Runner,’ a body double for Sean Young, Sean Young herself and really used everything we could to take what we needed to make you believe she was there, just as she used to be,” says Nelson. “It was also complicated merging Joi [Agent K’s companion] with Mariette. In the end we also decided that it looked better not to have them completely synch up every time because those little moments where they separate give it a more real feeling. You think of this movie and the first one and you think technology, but in the end we tried to make the film feel analogue.”

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