Production Designer Dennis Gassner created a “pattern language”, which Set Decorator Alessandra Querzola SDSA incorporated while providing specific and unique lighting elements and opportunities for Director of Photography Roger Deakins to capture film noir “paintings”...
Querzola imparts, “I love the light in this, sad and glowing. We found ourselves working backward on this set...we politely took out surface dressing, choosing carefully the single item, the “mute” object...”
“We bought a lot of old household goods, particularly 1970-ish, at local flea markets in Hungary. This kind of soviet-echoing design revealed to be perfect to blend into our world. The white device of unknown function, with the red bitcode graphic, is a great example.”
Bibi’s Bar… A bustling, open air marketplace where throngs of both humans and replicants can purchase everything from food & drink to merchandise to sex.
Gassner reveals... “Bibi’s gave us our first real concentration of color. Given the state of nature, it’s perpetual winter, so almost everything has a desaturated, gray quality to it, but Bibi’s is where we can lift people up with color as Roger does with light.”
Power station… Querzola recalls, “The power stations were totally of the moment. No design, no time! Last minute requests by Denis V sometimes happened. So Dennis G and I dove into the large quantity of electronics leftovers we had and created, assembled and gave life to 2 Power Stations in 24 hours! This was great fun. Denis loved them and from that time on they were on call every day...”
Doc Badger’s… “This was a very small set with a lot of details, a great job as usual by our team. Graphic artist Laura Dishington did stellar work, I was so happy to be able to count on the special flavor her graphics added to all of the sets. All of this “dated” technology was arranged in our workshop, we had the facility of pick up from all the electronic materials we were already gathering for the massive salvage sorting-house set.”
LAPD, Joshi’s office… LAPD Lieutenant Joshi is K’s no-nonsense boss, whose orders to the blade runner prove she will do whatever is necessary to maintain order. Yet, Villeneuve points out that she does have a compassionate side, which the intimacy of this shot reveals, heightened by the raindrops and lighting...
Querzola points out, “The heaters-turned-into-light fixtures...a great idea from our concept designer Sam Hudecki... All the furniture is original, designed made in our workshop, headed by Rodolfo Calascibetta third generation of the best carpenters in the Italian industry...”
“We built all cabinets, tables, most of the equipment. To make two of the white extending arms...you see one in the background here...we bought existing remote controlled arms and cladded with a designed shell. The scan machine in the foreground was designed and built in Hungary.”
“This is the denabase machine where all DNA data prior to the blackout are kept. The machine was made in sections, the main block from US went through several light tests, as the reflection in Ryan's eyes wanted to be shot real(!)”
“This is an excellent example of the interweaving of set extensions. Most of what you see, we created as a real set. The set extension starts beyond the metal scraps skyline. It was huge, and was for me, the most problematic set! We had to guarantee a radius section of the amphitheater and the area around the spinner to be safe for stunt actions & all the explosions.”
Scrapyard… “So...along with providing the real, carefully selected metal scraps, we brought from Italy 2 artic trucks of high-impact polystyrene in several shapes. However, they’re used for packaging—all blue!! We painted the whole lot rusty, laying out every single piece inside one of the stages, and then blended them in with the real materials on site. I cannot thank my crew enough for the brilliant and successful job done! This is the section of the hill in polystyrene.”
Mister Cotton’s salvage… Rising out of the mountains of detritus are mammoth-sized, overturned satellite dishes that have been converted into the headquarters of Mister Cotton’s salvage business, as well as the grim home of those unfortunate enough to have to live and work there, particularly abandoned children and orphans...
Another massive real set...240 metal tables were built from salvage...this is just a glimpse into a corner. For more, see below!
Villeneuve describes... “He’s walking in a garden of erotic statues in a dead city. I wanted the frontier between reality and dreams to be blurred by that time, to find a kind of lyrical feeling to the scene...”
Villeneuve continues... “...And here it is a beautiful science fiction moment for me where he will see a living creature. A bee. Something that he had never seen before in his life. Something he’s not exactly aware of what it is...”
No resemblance to the glittering, neon-lit pleasure capital it was. All its color and light have been reduced to a monochromatic orange/red haze, the result of a catastrophic blast 50 years earlier that left the once vibrant city in ruins and deserted...except for one...
Las Vegas ruins, casino… Querzola points out... “This was one of the few location sets in the movie, the former Majar TV Building, abandoned for 10 years. We restored and dressed 3 levels, wall-to-wall carpeting everywhere. We built the large twins counters in the lobby, custom-made sofas and armchairs. It was huge. We built the circular bar in the gambling room, all the stools there were bought online from Miami, no question they had to be the real ones!”
Las Vegas ruins, casino penthouse… Querzola imparts... “This is the classic main challenge in movies: the principal character home! I allowed myself a large time frame to prep and had a great window from construction to dress the set. We designed part of the technology displayed, integrating with re-concepted existing screens’ radars. We included an Olivetti Spazio table...the scale of the set wanted furniture in a scale which is not European, so sofas were brought from the US.”
“Exceptional lighting, extraordinary architecture A very quiet acting by Jared Leto. So the signs could only be rarefied: stainless steel edged side tables, samurai-recalling sculptures by an Hungarian artist, black armchairs nearly suspended...”
“This one of my favorite images. The Pierre Paulin ribbon armchair echoes the beautiful light-in-waves reflected walls. You don't even notice that it's a pretty iconic piece. The wonderful manicure machine was made by the number one Doug Harlocker...”
“Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER
permeated our culture and changed our perceptions
about the relationship between humanity and technology,
which, in turn, caused us to question what makes us human...”
--Producer Andrew Kosove
“My goal was to honor the film noir aesthetic of the first movie while giving the new film its own identity,” Director Denis Villeneuve purports re: BLADE RUNNER 2049, the stand-alone sequel tribute to Scott’s seminal dystopian science fiction epic. “On set, as we are shooting, very often there are very strong poetic moments that will not happen in front of a green screen...I strongly believe in real environments.”
Production Designer Dennis Gassner and Set Decorator Alessandra Querzola SDSA provided exactly that: deeply atmospheric fully realized, slightly futuristic noir sets that not only conveyed the solitude and loneliness at the heart of the film, but offered the director, cinematographer and actors distinctive worlds within a world.
Villeneuve expounds, “I love to work with real sets, with real objects. It was very important to me to build a world that is tangible around me and the actors so they are living in the setting we’ve created instead of just trying to imagine it.”
For the cast, stepping into the physical environment had the desired result. Gosling affirms, “It was incredible to have those sets because, as actors, you can really focus on the internal world of your character since the external world has been so fully realized.”
“It’s like you have this fantastic world around you, but you are always at a human level,” Villeneuve states. “BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a very intimate story told with a lot of scope.”
Gassner created what he refers to as “a pattern language” based on the redesign of the air car, the spinner, Blade Runner K’s vehicle of choice. Querzola implemented it throughout the film, providing design and décor details, including the technological features, from video monitors and scanners to myriad innovative devices, while collaborating intensely with art directors and other key production teams. This essential collaboration became an integral part of the set decoration. It was also innovative, Querzola and her team were constantly repurposing and redesigning.
She explains, “The design of the technology was one of the main goals from the start. We had to imagine a future in which technology would have resumed the path of the original BR and developed from that point, maintaining that POV yet enhancing the distance with our current digital world like a diverted off side path. Very real, very grounded. Not wildly futuristic but just a sidebar future, a future in which anyone could find himself.”
“All along the way, it was like a non-stop fine-tuning process, working with calipers in hand all the time! We designed a lot and purchased or rented many good design elements, but we stayed low and grounded, keeping it defined but subtle.”
The lighting Querzola and her team provided was critical for Director of Photography Roger Deakins [also nominated for an Academy Award], as he created the equivalent of photographic paintings for the screen, images flowing and holding...streams of light adding an other-worldliness, at times a muted glow...the harsh lighting of the police compound...or darkened pathways only punctuated with light.
“With Roger, it was a great exchange,” Querzola relates. “We designed and made specific light fixtures, but we were also very happy to use a run of gigantic power plant fluorescent lights found locally in Hungary, with the inherent soviet-flavor signature. It was about lighting, but it was also about enhancing colors and reflections of the set, or using translucent plastic to be lit…testing and fine-tuning the effect. For example, in the background of Bibi’s complex, you don’t really understand that there is a market lit through translucent plastic in the background—no need to! It’s just wonderful glowing light that is needed.”
Sets ranged from the almost barren minimalism of K’s apartment and Wallace’s compound, to the huge penthouse and defunct casino in the ruins of Las Vegas or the Dickensian massive computer salvage sweatshop...an orphanage, or rather dumping house of orphans and abandoned children...with seemingly endless tables and vats of parts, wires, keyboards, motherboards and metal plates being sorted by hundreds of small children.*
Villeneuve says his “favorite set of all time” was the derelict erotic sculpture garden barely discernible through the rusty fog, eerily silent silhouettes fading in and out of the background behind a grouping of active beehives that stood like teeming pawns in a chess game of the gods of long ago.
Utilizing contemporary graphics and advertising techniques pushed into the future, gigantic holographic billboards and 3-D images brought a colorful interactive surrealism to the dystopian grey city, while an old-fashioned pot cooking on a vintage stove in a worn farmhouse and a faded photograph hidden in an ancient piano showed the “human” side of an aged-out replicant.
Somehow, beauty was everywhere, even in the bleakest of settings and seemingly limitless despair. Soulfulness is visually defined, but the question of who truly has it, whether it is measurable, remains...
------------------- *Orphanage sweatshop...
For the immense dirt-floored, abandoned factory sweatshop in which children slaved over masses of technical salvage parts, Querzola notes, “At the risk of over-simplification, the word ‘brutal’ helped us out—no childish indulgency, raw makeshift tables all similar but quietly different, creating a visual composite, nothing drawing attention from the main: a huge space, a gigantic quantity, endlessness.”
Opposite of the massive sweatshop is K’s apt…
”We found ourselves working backward on this one: we politely took out surface dressing, choosing carefully the single item, the “mute” object. Within this process all the signatures remained true to the pattern language, for example, the cut corners of the table, a treatment that we applied on many pieces of furniture we built, including the built-in sofa. A quiet architectural gesture, the sofa acknowledges the lines of the unique space, is sinuously defined yet understated. The chair, from a German designer, was found in a basement in town (Budapest). Late ‘70s, it just fitted the space, a very unusual side piece.”
Regarding the big facade opposite K’s windows, Querzola smiles, “Loved dressing the 1/3 sized front buildings, all the interiors and working with Roger on colors translucent and plastic!”
We asked Querzola to tell us about the collaborative aspect of the film...
...with Director Denis Villeneuve... There was an extensive intense collaboration with our director and visionary, Denis. He had clear ideas, but he was also very curious about new proposals and happy to make good use of them. He was very focused all the time, yet he was very, very accessible and this was a great help. Visiting the sets, he was a walking scan machine!
...with Production Designer Dennis Gassner... I worked in two BOND movies with Dennis...an outpost for set dressing Panama on QUANTUM and Turkey/Shanghai on SKYFALL...enjoying his special approach and his guiding through the creative process. But of course this was a totally different adventure and an immense task, creating a new world. Dennis has an exceptional way of creating foundations, solid grounds where the big and rather disorderly array of possibility that is peculiar to set dressing gets rooted.
...with her international crew… I just love hunting for set pieces! But I have to admit that in big scale projects like BR2049 you have to dedicate a lot of time to meetings, proposals and all sort of exchanges with the many departments involved, and this is crucial for my department. The atmosphere throughout the making of this film was cooperation, collaboration, exchanges and focus/concentration all the time!
It was a lovely crew. I’ve had previous experiences with international crews...I work abroad very often...but this was particularly outstanding. I think that we all knew how challenging the project was, eyes wide open everyone! It was a bond and this bonding worked out very well.
My Hungarian colleagues are great to work with, and I also had the opportunity to bring over my Italian crew, including Rodolfo “Rudy” Calascibetta, a great head carpenter, heir of a family of Sicilian ebanists/cabinetmakers who came to Rome during the ‘dolce vita’ and worked with the best Italian directors of that time. He set up a big workshop of both metal and carpentry with local carpenters, blacksmiths and a brilliant prop maker...quite a few BBQ parties... The kitchen in K’s apartment is a great example of communal effort despite the language gap.
...With great joy I found myself making full use of my interest, love and knowledge of design. It’s where I started, it’s part of my education (high school of design before the Accademia in Venice), and it could only happen making BLADE RUNNER 2049...