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Making memories with BUF

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When Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 came out, I remember thinking one of the coolest scenes was Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) designing replicant memories – you see her scrubbing through moments and making slight tweaks and adjustments. One part of that scene features a children’s birthday, which was achieved by shooting real kids on bluescreen with multiple cameras, and then using projection mapping to achieve the little ‘scrubbing’ movements. BUF handled the visual effects.

Last year I had a quick chat to overall visual effects supervisor John Nelson about that work. And now that BUF has released its VFX breakdown for Blade Runner 2049 (which contains a whole lot of their other awesome shots), I thought I’d share what John told me about the birthday scene.

John Nelson: The kids were sort of a science project. Conceptually, the idea for that is that Ana makes memories but what we were thinking there is that she controls space and time. What I was told is we’re bringing in the kids. The kids will do this action. Then Ana will be able to scrub back and forth and move them around in time. I had to figure out a way to do that.

We shot the kids on bluescreen. There would be an interactive light that Roger Deakins put in. Then I would measure with a tape measure from the centre of the table that the kids were around to the camera. Then I would walk around in a 180 degree arc, drawing a line on the floor of the stage. So I had this 180 degree semi-circle with Roger’s camera right in the middle of it. Then I set up two cameras to the left and two cameras to the right so I had five cameras looking at these kids. Then we brought in the kids and then we made them do all of their actions.

What we could do then is by using all five cameras, we could swivel them around, make them go in reverse, make them freeze, we could make all the actions of the kids independent from the actions of Roger’s camera. I mean, in the end, I think what we did is, Denis went for it to be very subtle. It’s very subtle. We really were in control of space and time. We could make them reverse. We could make them stop. We could make them go forward. Make the glitch do anything. But what he chose to do is very subtle stuff because that’s what he was trying to hone in on.

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