There’s a little of every artist in their work.
– Dr. Ana Stelline, Blade Runner 2049
As a designer, one of my favourite places to be inspired is through the big screen. I love to soak everything up, from title sequences, to colour choices, sounds and how shots are framed and tracked. It’s an incredible world of discovery where, with some films, it transcends simple enjoyment and moves into a larger world of awe and wonder.
This was how I felt when I went to see Blade Runner 2049 recently. The acting and the plot almost completely passed me by, because what I really felt inspired by as I was watching it was the incredible cinematography of Roger Deakins – a legend who has worked on some of my favourite films like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men – as well as the direction of Denis Villeneuve – who is fast becoming one of my Director To Watch after the blistering and impactful films Arrival and Sicario.
Before we even get into some shots from the film itself, let’s take a look at a version of the movie poster:
I love the colour choices here, evoking the bright, neon lights of the 1982 version whilst moving us forward into the future with their vitality and brightness. The typographical choices take us back to 1982 again, but the flat gradients instantly lift it from that past into today. From the poster alone, I was super excited to see how the world of Blade Runner was going to be conceptualised, and I was hopeful that based on this, the world would instantly be recognisable but modernised in the best possible way for today.
I wasn’t disappointed. Here are some of my favourite shots from Blade Runner:
The building that houses Jared Leto in all of his crazy glory is a marvel of geometry, light and shadow and expanse. Here, colour is absent, unless its the warm hues of sunlight contrasted against the blackness of shadow. Yet even though sunlight is here, the building forces it into angular shapes, constraining into into something hard and merciless.
Contrast this to the outside world of Blade Runner in future Los Angeles. This is where Times Square on acid comes to life. The neons are blues, pinks, oranges, purples. There is very very little green or anything natural present, reminding us how artificial this environment is. The hues are sexy, intimate, promising of sensual delights. This is a world where sex sells and every colour choice tempts you into that world more and more.
Often in these shots, we see Ryan Gosling’s character framed against this world, to remind us how he stands apart. In the case of the scene in the picture a couple above, the advert literally tries to tempt him in. That juxtaposition of dark vs colourful, of small vs large, all help to illustrate the dichotomy between the two.
But some of my favourite shots are when we visit the futuristic desolation of Las Vegas.
This world is hazy, broken yet still reminding us of what it used to be. These shots, where we see the forlorn statues of past-Vegas burnt orange by the radioactive fallout, are so beautiful and impactful in evoking how we humans in our pursuits of worldly pleasures have completely and utterly ruined everything about the natural world.
If you haven’t seen Blade Runner yet, I highly recommend a watch! (Watch the first one beforehand as well so you are fully clear on the plot). Then come back and tell me what you thought of it, and especially the cinematography!