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What happens in Vegas

In the third act of Blade Runner 2049 we arrive at a stark orange-y Las Vegas, now a wasteland where the replicant and Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) has sought out the old-school Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Much of the visual effects work in that sequence was handled by Framestore (overseen by visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover), who worked with overall supervisor John Nelson on creating the distinctive Vegas buildings and incorporating the orange-y feel that had been inspired by Sydney dust storms.

Nelson tells vfxblog – from a conversation at the VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy – more about how that sequence was brought to life, including early discussions about whether the Vegas strip could have been made with miniatures, and some of the challenges of working with that colour scheme.

Making Vegas

John Nelson: At one point we looked at doing some of Vegas in miniature, but the problem was that early on I knew that to do good miniature work, I have to be there on the shoot and I couldn’t. Because I was shooting principal. Once I came to that conclusion, ’cause shooting the miniature is just like shooting principal only on a smaller scale. It’s like, you have a set, you have rig the set, light it, shoot it, strike it, get a new set built, shoot it, strike it.

Once I realised that, I said, ‘Really, with the nature of the work and how detailed it needs to be…’ I actually had some stuff that was set to be miniatures and I just said, ‘I’m just moving it to CG because it’ll give us more freedom in post, to be able to say that’s not right, we need to add this.’ Whereas, I think for miniatures, you have to pretty much get what you want.

Unless I was there, and they did a good job for me not being there (for Weta Workshop’s LA scenes). But ultimately some of the Vegas stuff, like going up to the woman and going over the woman – the big statue – that was going to be real and then it was going to go into miniature in the background, and then I just finally said, ‘No, we’ll never get it right.’ What I did was I pulled that back, and we said okay, we’re going to repurpose that stuff in CG because I know I’ll have time to do it.

Going orange

It all starts, it actually begins with him walking in, which is a really hard shot. Where he goes, ‘What is that? It’s life,’ and she goes, ‘What is that?’ And he goes, ‘We’re about to find out.’ That was a really difficult shot because they’re outside of the orange cloud but they’re looking at the orange cloud. The orange cloud is actually based on sandstorms in Sydney.

The DOP Roger Deakins showed me the sandstorms in Sydney and said, ‘I want it to look like this.’ And the director Denis Villeneuve said, ‘Yeah that’s cool.’ I said, ‘Okay that’s cool,’ but every time I tried to put that cloud on top of, like you’re looking at it from a distance. It would look really artificial, it would look really like, that looks like an effect.

What we actually did to get around it is we toned it down and didn’t make it as orange from a distance and then editorially, Joe Walker really helped us with that. Instead of having the distance shots here cutting to the orange part, he put in between a cutback to Luv and Joshi. So it was like, let’s go in, cut back to Luv and then we’ll cut back to inside the cloud and that really helped because you couldn’t get that orange here. It would look fake. So the only way to do it was to tone it down in the distance and then come back into the orange cloud.

Framestore visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover will be presenting on his studio’s work for Blade Runner 2049 at SIGGRAPH Asia in Bangkok. vfxblog readers get a 10% discount on their registration. Head to http://bit.ly/sa17reg and use the code EP107010MS71.