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September 12, 2010 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Behind the opening scenes of Blade Runner. “Doug and his Entertainment Effects Group team created thousands of acid-etched brass miniatures lit from below with hundreds of bundles of fiber-optic lights, shot in forced-perspective through layers of smoke to create layers of light refraction, creating depth.” The first of a three-part series on the making of Blade Runner’s unforgettable opening sequence.
posted by spitefulcrow (79 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite

 
Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
posted by ovvl at 7:19 PM on September 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I may get pelted with decomposed objects for saying this... I liked both the look and the story of Blade Runner better than any of the recent CGI 3D money bombs in recent memory, including Avatar.
posted by edgeways at 7:26 PM on September 12, 2010 [70 favorites]


I needed to look up "forced-perspective" on Wikipedia, and was treated to this little factoid:

The final scene of the famous movie Casablanca takes place at an airport in the middle of a storm, although the entire scene was shot in a studio. This was accomplished by using a painted backdrop of an aircraft, which was "serviced" by dwarfs standing next to the backdrop.

Huh.
posted by griphus at 7:32 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's the opening scene in 720p HD, if you want to refresh your memory.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:36 PM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I may get pelted with decomposed objects for saying this...

Decomposing objects of truth, maybe.
posted by device55 at 7:38 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The amount of work involved in making that is staggering. I mean, I knew that, but to see it is, like, damn.
posted by everichon at 7:42 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I build a lot of plastic models and I think about this kind of stuff.

Like, my last model, a small-ish Ork dreadnought, took me about four months, start to finish. It was painstaking work. Seriously. I couldn't look at a model for about a month afterward. But anyway, there are seriously tons of times while working and sanding and painting and inking and etc, where I'm like, "Seriously, if I took the time to learn how to do it, I'm sure I could put together something digitally in a modeling program in way, way, less time, and on top of that, it would be an actual marketable skill instead of a hobby."

This video obvious evokes that same feeling for me.

But whatever, it's fun.
posted by kbanas at 7:52 PM on September 12, 2010


(If you go to the 'videos' page of this site, scroll down, there's a video promoting a documentary about the making of 2001 - also very good - no direct link tho)
posted by device55 at 7:53 PM on September 12, 2010


Completely fascinating (and I had no idea that Douglas Trumbull had worked on Zabriskie Point!).
posted by Auden at 7:59 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very cool but man, watching that interview in his study, I felt like I was on a boat. Tripod, man, tripod!
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 8:04 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The other videos are here, btw. The discussion of the viewing of the blimp through the Bradbury Building roof is fascinating.
posted by carter at 8:07 PM on September 12, 2010


Oh yeah, on preview - device had this too. I must have been in a time warp for 14 minutes ...
posted by carter at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2010


Wow, the level of creativity, problem solving and hard work that seems to have gone into each shot is just amazing. The roof of the Bradberry was actually a still time-lapsed camera shot blown up to a huge size with the window glass portions carefully cut out with x-acto knives?

The sad thing is that they can do all that with CGI now (and ten times more) but can't seem to make better movies.
posted by octothorpe at 8:17 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"which was "serviced" by dwarfs standing next to the backdrop."

I'm pretty sure I saw that on rotten.com like ten years ago.
posted by MikeMc at 8:18 PM on September 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


In Alien they used Children in space suits standing next to the Space Jockey to make it look bigger.
posted by octothorpe at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The city is named "Hades", but I vaguely recall it being known as "Ridley's Inferno".
posted by ovvl at 8:28 PM on September 12, 2010


I have always thought that there was something about the model based special effects of the late 70's / early 80's that CGI is still not able to replicate. Don't get me wrong - movies like Avatar are beautiful (and not much else) - but there is a lifelessness to alot of CGI, and sense of unreality that takes away any sense of engagement. I think that there are many would say that there is an inverse proportion between the amount of CGI in a movie and the quality of the film (was it Ebert? Kael?).

Anyways - the incredible models in the opening sequence of Blade Runner beautifully set the tone for the rest of the film.
posted by helmutdog at 8:33 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


edgeways, I won't be throwing anything at you. Minatures have always looked more real, most likely because they are. You don't have to worry about getting the program for the lighting to interact well and actually look like light. You don't have to worry about making things look appropriately dirty, because they are real, and real things get grimy (the real Star Wars movies versus the overly sparkly recent abominations). Or you can make them grimy. You don't have to worry about whether or not the people running look like they're running on anything (I'm looking at you, awful CG in Fellowship of the Ring during the flight in Moria scene, you completely took me out of an amazing movie moment). Blade Runner remains more realistic than probably 90% of CG movies out there. It was the product of painstaking work, and it shows.

As for model making, kbanas, I used to do the same thing, and I dreamed of working for ILM as a kid, helping make things like football field long model of the exhaust port for Jedi. It sucked, growing up, seeing more and more of the things I'd love to have done being done by computer instead.

That, and my painting skills? Not as good as I'd thought.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:35 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Alien they used Children in space suits standing next to the Space Jockey to make it look bigger.

Ridley Scott's DVD commentaries -- especially the early flicks -- are worth a year or two of film school. The guy had no end of ability to stretch meagre budgets (like this) and get a good result, and he is happy to talk about how he did it.

You will recall earlier in the scene you can see the helmet lights of the three space-suited characters crossing the terrain to the shipwreck. In fact, the lights are all that you're seeing: it is three Christmas lights (or fairy lights for UK readers) on the line that are being slowly pulled across the model by a technician. It sounds like something from Be Kind Rewind, but it works.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I must have been in a time warp for 14 minutes

Damn obelisks.

I have always thought that there was something about the model based special effects of the late 70's / early 80's that CGI is still not able to replicate. Don't get me wrong - movies like Avatar are beautiful (and not much else) - but there is a lifelessness to alot of CGI, and sense of unreality that takes away any sense of engagement.

I think this is true too - I wonder if CGI, as advanced as it has become, is still just a relatively primitive technology compared to good old analogue, chemical film.

The special effects in Blade Runner, the first (only) Star Wars films, and even Star Trek II - The Motion Picture Didn't Happen rely on decades or better of photographic knowledge. CGI is still really young in comparison.

Also, the computing power needed to accurately, visually, simulate photons bouncing off of carbon molecules suspended in humid air may just not be available on a practical time frame or budget yet.
posted by device55 at 8:45 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Photo-etching the pictures of refinery silhouettes is pure genius.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:46 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Helmutdog and others -- I completely agree. CGI always looks like projected images, not reality.

Its limitations are pretty clear when you look at slightly older CGI -- say, Star Trek from the 90's. It very quickly looks cumbersome and fake. Old model work still looks real, because it is.
posted by jrochest at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2010


Old model work still looks real, because it is.

Yup. And when the science of the opening Bladerunner shot (or other FX model shots) is revealed, it's less about attention to detail and painstakingly realistic modeling and much more about knowing how film works, what it will show, what it won't show.

Most of the cityscape model in the Bladerunner shot is actually just flat objects, not dimensional models. The smokey atmosphere, lighting and taking advantage of the technical limitations of film do more to make it "believably real" then any amount of model making ever could. Only the first few layers of the forced perspective model are dimensional, the rest is literally smoke and mirrors.

If you did the same shot with today's computer graphics in nearly all digital "film" like Avatar it wouldn't look anywhere near as "real". Every little fault or imperfection in the forced perspective model actually helps make it more realistic because in real life a vertical structure isn't exactly 90.0 degrees vertical. The ground in real life isn't a perfectly flat 0.0 degree horizon. Smoke doesn't actually dissipate to perfect homogeneity, and thanks to all this dynamic chaos even light itself doesn't behave in mathematically perfect rays.

I'm glad he addresses the issue with the optical composite shots in the opening, how the exploding flares aren't timed perfectly to the matching on-set lighting FX. The composited flares and explosions go up from the cracking towers and then the ambient light from the flares follows a few frames too late. That part always bugged me and I wondered what happened, because so much of the rest of the movie is spot on.
posted by loquacious at 9:07 PM on September 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


I have always thought that there was something about the model based special effects of the late 70's / early 80's that CGI is still not able to replicate.

One great example of that (for me, at least) is the comparison of these two very similar scenes from Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns. The earlier movie has Superman rescuing only a helicopter, Lois and two pilots but manages to be many times scarier and involving than the second movie's rescue of a space shuttle, a jumbo jet and an entire baseball stadium. The physical and model effects from the first movie look hard and real while everything in the newer movie looks a little unread and plastic-like.
posted by octothorpe at 9:11 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regardless of what looks better, making special effects was just so damned much cooler back in the day.
posted by nanojath at 9:18 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


>That helicopter rescue scene from Superman: The Movie is one of my favorite cinematic moments ever.

I love the cheesy ooompa oompa march music, the (actually good) acting on Margot Kidder's part, the bewildered press not knowing what the hell to say. Pitch Perfect.

Easy Miss, I've got you.
posted by device55 at 9:27 PM on September 12, 2010


I'm sure this is fascinating but you know what? I stopped the video about a minute in. This is something I'd rather not know. The illusion is the point, so why ruin it?

I've seen the model of the Tyrell pyramid at the Museum of the Moving Image, but this seems like it would forever ruin those shots for me. I hate it when filmmakers' commentary gives away all the flaws and tricks. I'm happier being fooled and not knowing that there's a shopping mall right outside the frame, or that this scene on Hoth was shot in a hotel parking lot in Denmark, or what have you. I want to believe in the world of Blade Runner, not look for how the forced perspective works.
posted by muckster at 9:28 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The other thing about the Superman: The Movie clip that octothorpe linked to, is the way Superman compensates for Lois' fall and the helicopter by allowing himself to slow the fall. Using cg they would take 10 months working out the proper wringle and compression equations spend tens of thousands of dollars to make it look as real as possible. Thus making it more fake.

My seven year old self noticed the filmakers took the time to realise maybe Supes dead stopping a fall would be bad.
posted by mrgroweler at 9:32 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Douglas Trumbull, it seems, worked on 2001 and Close Encounters, too. Neat post.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:50 PM on September 12, 2010


Every few years I watch Blade Runner and wonder if it will finally look dated, time bound and spent and it never does. It exists in its own perfect little dimension like a fake memory in a Replicant's mind.

It always makes me gape in awe - Deckard's first flight with Gaff in the flying cop car, the sequence with the owl and the lights dimming in the Tyrell pyramid, the bicyclists in the rain... I do believe I'm psyching myself into another viewing.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:50 PM on September 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I may get pelted with decomposed objects for saying this... I liked both the look and the story of Blade Runner better than any of the recent CGI 3D money bombs in recent memory, including Avatar.

On MetaFilter? I think you're safe.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:51 PM on September 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Since we are cinegeeking out and someone brought up STTNG (I think?) The ships were all model shots shot in 35mm, composited in multiple passes for lighting and stuff. The series was edited and postproduced in 480i, which is why it probably has that slightly wonky look and why we will probably never get a proper HD version.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:10 PM on September 12, 2010


Dang! I was gonna post this! Trumbull is amazing. I really need to watch the movie again. It's been at least a year and that's way too long.
posted by brundlefly at 10:36 PM on September 12, 2010


One of my friends is a graphics geek, and every time he gets a new 3D package he tries to recreate Los Angeles 2019—this started with Newtek's first demo video for Lightwave 3D, where Kiki Stockhammer plays the part of the Asian girl on the blimp-screen.

Also, for more CG vs. miniature fun, here's a CG version of The Shining's elevator modeled on and physically based as a half-scale miniature.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:41 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since we are cinegeeking out and someone brought up STTNG (I think?) The ships were all model shots shot in 35mm, composited in multiple passes for lighting and stuff. The series was edited and postproduced in 480i, which is why it probably has that slightly wonky look and why we will probably never get a proper HD version.

Oops; that was me. Although I was actually thinking of DS9, and (more obviously) Babylon 5...

The STTNG FX do still look clunky to me, though.
posted by jrochest at 11:02 PM on September 12, 2010


And the opening of Voyager is still stunningly gorgeous, although obviously CGI. So maybe I'm just talkin' through my hat.
posted by jrochest at 11:02 PM on September 12, 2010


device55, you bring up one of the best things about Reeves as Superman. You could believe him. When he said that, Lois relaxed, and we did too. Personally, I'm not a fan of the movies anymore, since, completely the opposite of Bladerunner, the fx just don't hold up.

On the other hand, they're still better than Returns. Although I still kind of liked it, I just kept waiting for Cyclops to get angry at Superman for trying to steal Lois back.

Of course, Superman would wipe the walls with Cyclops, but hey...
posted by Ghidorah at 11:17 PM on September 12, 2010


The illusion is the point, so why ruin it?

I'll allow for your viewpoint, but I find it heightens the fun to see how it's done, and especially heightens my appreciation when it's done well. That's everything from the writing to the acting and the special effects.

I love good commentaries that tell you stuff like Trumbull does here, and hate time-wasting commentaries that are full of fluff jokes people told on set and the like.

The earlier movie has Superman rescuing only a helicopter, Lois and two pilots but manages to be many times scarier and involving than the second movie's rescue of a space shuttle, a jumbo jet and an entire baseball stadium.

I hear you, but frankly, part of it is the writing. There's nothing quite more perfect than Kidder's "You've got me? Who's got you?!" to lampshade the characters' in-movie uncomprehension (and thus help us "believe a man can fly"). Then again, it's also the genre. Superheroes come from the comics, which were, you know, hand-drawn. I don't think that we expect hyperrealism in that type of story. On the other hand, the James Bond series found out with Goldeneye that its attempts to carefully ground 007 in hard reality were undermined by overuse of cheesy effects like windsurfing a glacial collapse (at least, core fans hated it).

Still, one thing I always hated about the old "real" SFX was a lousy matte. And S:TM has a lot of that.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 PM on September 12, 2010


I may get pelted with decomposed objects for saying this... I liked both the look and the story of Blade Runner better than any of the recent CGI 3D money bombs in recent memory, including Avatar.

Hee, I was going to argue, saying the story and look of Pan's Labyrinth and Inception could give Blade Runner a run for its money in a way. Then I remembered that the director's of both films insisted on doing a lot of the special effects in camera and avoided being lazy with CGI.

Though I hated District 9 with a white passion, the look of it, particularly the climatic battle scene, were eye popping good because of the gritty, dirty feel they had. That part of the film at least managed to pull me in, despite the rest of the silly plot.

Still, Blade Runner isn't aging well, IMO. We're nowhere near that look or technology. The retro futuristic clothing, while gorgeous in many ways, still seems cliche or bit overdone, constantly reminding me I'm watching a movie. Roy's final moments seem somewhat silly now, considering he could have been blogging so none of those memories would be lost. BR isn't bad of course, but the look of it seems firmly stuck in a particular time in movie making history, however gorgeous it may be.
posted by nomadicink at 12:20 AM on September 13, 2010


"Seriously, if I took the time to learn how to do it, I'm sure I could put together something digitally in a modeling program in way, way, less time, and on top of that, it would be an actual marketable skill instead of a hobby."

Kbanas: no, to do something really well in 3D still takes many hours of work, although depending on what your final visual will be, you can cheat some - like, if a spaceship is only being seen from one angle, you don't have to build the stuff that isn't in the shot. (Which of course also applies to practical work.)

Something complex that can be looked at from any angle and still look great pretty much still takes weeks of work by a really talented team of 3D modelers and lighters.

You're quite right that it's a marketable skill. However, you might find that being able to build practical models can be marketable as well, though admittedly it's probably harder to find jobs. AFAIK, ILM still has a model shop that builds physical models, for instance.

Trumbull is completely awesome, as are all the other people who did this stuff. Thanks for the link!
posted by zoogleplex at 12:34 AM on September 13, 2010


Roy's final moments seem somewhat silly now, considering he could have been blogging so none of those memories would be lost

The biggest mistake that nearly every predictor of the future before about 1993 or 1994 made was to not predict the utter ubiquity of communication in the future.

BR isn't bad of course, but the look of it seems firmly stuck in a particular time in movie making history, however gorgeous it may be.

This should come as no surprise, as cyberpunk is very much about the 1980's.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:06 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The opening of Blade Runner rates in my top two movie theater experiences.

Sitting in a repertory house in NYC on one of my teenage drives to the big city, the first bloom of the synthesized score and that broad landscape of light, punctuated by jets of flame, just destroyed me in the way that good art should obliterate our intrusive, critical selves. The lights, the cars, the eye looking over it all, the spectacle...well, it was exactly how New York looked to me, driving up there after a shift delivering pizzas to the racetrack, with the endless urban moonscape of the Turnpike embracing me and the giant catalytic cracking towers bursting golden in the sky just south of the city, just like the film.

Los Angeles in 2019 is a dystopia, but the spectacle of it is a drug.

From where I came from, New York was almost the same place, just as immense and unreal, and yet still there, a fictional world that's just a four hour drive away.

I'd rumble in, northbound, in my rattly Datsun station wagon, and I'd be breathless from the scale and intensity of urban overload, of all the flames over New Jersey and the poured-concrete entirety of the Turnpike, and the towers of the World Trade Center would loom out of the haze, just like the twin pyramid arcologies in the opening, and then I'd be in that theater, in the city, in the grungy, dense, chaos of the city, somewhere completely unlike my little log farmhouse in Scaggsville, watching that movie unfold, and it was magic.

I wonder, sometimes, if that film would be so vivid and intense for me if I'd seen it in a suburban multiplex closer to home, stepping in on a hot summer afternoon for a matinée and leaving when it's still light instead of stepping out at 2AM somewhere on the lower East side, where the only thing different from the movie was the distinct lack of neon umbrella handles and the rain Ridley Scott used as a mood-setting device. Would it have been the same?

My other NYC film epiphany was Liquid Sky, another insane piece of cinema with a soul-searing soundtrack that shook the old repertory house with that Fairlight-driven psychedelic carousel organ earthquake, blew your eyeballs out with lurid, filthy, surreal imagery, then dumped you out on the street so you could stagger over to the Pyramid and have a few drinks, served to your very obviously sixteen year-old self, surrounded by people who could have stepped straight out of the film.

It was just another of that Blade Runner moment for me, the shockwaves of reality vs. hyperreality that guaranteed that I'd be some kind of musician and some kind of artist if it killed me. They say that every fan of the The Velvet Underground was destined to start a band, and those two films were part of that impetus for me, even though little I've done really evokes the same atmosphere. It's just, in the aftermath, when your eyes are adjusting to the lights on the street outside the theater, you know you have to do something to stay connected to all that possibility, and to that first rush of feeling that comes when Act I, Scene I comes roaring into your senses.

I'm sorry for the twilight of that moment, though. No more repertory houses left, no more awesome spectacles on the cheap, no more indistinct division between what you saw and the moment you stepped out of the theater, but maybe it's just me. Maybe watching Blade Runner on a telephone is okay, too, but wouldn't have traded an instant of the abject terror of being stuck in a broken-down Datsun on the span of the George Washington Bridge for those late-night pools of radiance lost somewhere in the last century.
posted by sonascope at 4:01 AM on September 13, 2010 [15 favorites]


I love that Doug is interviewed in his socks.
posted by orme at 5:29 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


CGI isn't used because it is more real. It is used because it is less expensive.

Look at the shots of the guys building the model. Look how many guys are building the model. And they are presumably unionized. That's not a cheap model.
posted by DU at 5:37 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"You can't have art without resistance in the materials" - William Morris.

CGI can provide resistance, but it is so open-ended that it takes a really skilled practitioner to locate and creatively bump up against its limits. And then there is the marketability of the latest identifiable marker of the limits of the state-of-the-art, such as a gorgeous palette of alien skin tones, the physics of fabric bunching, luminosity or liquidity effects etc, which a lot of CGI gets caught up in. You end up with something like 17th-Century Dutch still life - refining the real through a gorgeous, but ultimately dead-end procession of tonal effects.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 6:09 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


sonascope just proved that all the best people love Liquid Sky.
posted by The Whelk at 6:39 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that William Morris quote.

One of the things I love about model work, and that I think is lacking in CGI, is the possibility of accidents, unexpected angles, and the sense of play in working with a model. There's undoubtedly lots of lush, beautiful, lyrical CGI out there, but I'm always a little put off by the fact that every single detail in every frame is intentional, whether by human intention or the intention of the machine intelligence running the numbers. You can roll a trackball around and change angles and so on, but you're never going to have an accidental spot of light where a floodlight bounces off the animator's eyeglass lens, or where a piece of the model slips off, but looks so much better that way that it's left off. Mlodel work is part construction, part exploration, but it seems like CGI really tips that balance, and to the detriment of the final frame, in my opinion.

Last year, I drove up to Philadelphia with a friend to see the Brothers Quay exhibition of their filming models, Dormitorium, and I was quite nervous about seeing those pieces, most particularly the sets from Street of Crocodiles, which is one of my favorite films, because I didn't want to affect the way I saw the film in the future. Still, it was close by, and it's the Brothers Quay, for pete's sake, so there I was, in a room with all these little models, and...

Well, it's kind of a cool thing, actually. They're much less detailed than I would have expected, and much simpler, made with lo-fi materials and with glued-on paper pieces printed in low resolutions, and the figures were simple and the spaces were simple and you couldn't help but love the films even more, knowing the glorious charlatan ingenuity that goes into something like this, and how lighting and angles and lenses and depth of field work to make a rich, intimate world from paper and balsa and bits of junk. I watched some of the films again, right afterwards, and was delighted that they'd developed even more depth for me, from a standpoint as a watcher and as a craftsman, myself.

Then, of course, my friend, who's only recently seen their work, and who really didn't know much about them, asked me "hey, you know, those guys in the show catalogue are right in that back room there," at which I scoffed and was immediately proven wrong. Turns out there's a little giggly bobby-soxer buried deep in my soul and so I was jumping up and down and having them sign my catalogue and saying "ohmygod I'm your BIGGEST FAN!" and, well, I have these great days, you know?

But there's really something in models, in sort of a real-life analogue at lower scales, that you just don't have in CGI. It's that resistance thing, and CGI is sculpting strands of math, like carving cotton candy. You get there, sometimes gorgeously, but it's a trip directly from A-to-B, without accidental side trips, breakdowns, or glorious things you found by chance on the side of the road. That'll change, no doubt, but give me a little toy world any day, and I'll play and play and play till I get it right.
posted by sonascope at 6:54 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


For those of you getting off on forced perspective, here's a great explanation that shows how it was used in LOTR to create the illusion of the difference in height between humans and hobbits (I swear I found this somewhere on metafilter).
posted by Drab_Parts at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The biggest mistake that nearly every predictor of the future before about 1993 or 1994 made was to not predict the utter ubiquity of communication in the future.

Yeah, but it's sexier to have an Imperial cruiser chasing after Princess Leia's ship in the opening of Star Wars, rather than shots of someone attempting to hack into the Empire's intranet, then putting the plans up on DropBox or YouSendIt for easy retrieval.
posted by nomadicink at 8:01 AM on September 13, 2010


The biggest mistake that nearly every predictor of the future before about 1993 or 1994 made was to not predict the utter ubiquity of communication in the future.

No, our biggest mistake is in believing that this ubiquitous communication could not be taken away from us.

even Star Trek II - The Motion Picture Didn't Happen

Amen! Lucky they decided to split it and put all the junk into the first one and the good stuff in the second!
posted by Sutekh at 8:44 AM on September 13, 2010


Seeing this reminds me of sitting in the theater in 1982 watching the opening scenes and realizing that my friends and I were in for a helluva ride... and now the hair on my arm is standing up just like back then. Awesome.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:13 AM on September 13, 2010


No, our biggest mistake is in believing that this ubiquitous communication could not be taken away from us.

Certainly it could, but that's not really the point- the closest thing to understanding communication in the twenty-first century that nearly anybody came up with in the twentieth (before the rise of the net, particularly) was Star Trek, and even that was limited.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:20 AM on September 13, 2010


sonascope, my college experience (but not my first; it came out while I was in high school) of watching Blade Runner was at a rep theater in Houston where it was a double feature with Liquid Sky.

The explanations of the models and effects were fantastic. I'm glad I saw them and I'm glad they're there as a resource for future filmmakers. It is possible to lose technical knowledge. Blade Runner can't be duplicated, but maybe somewhere down the road the techniques will be used for another excellent film.
posted by immlass at 9:32 AM on September 13, 2010


Roy's final moments seem somewhat silly now, considering he could have been blogging so none of those memories would be lost.

You could say the same thing about simply writing it down on a piece of paper. Blogging, or writing doesn't really capture the memory for anyone except the writer, and even that is it changing the memory. At best writing describes the memory and in each head that description evokes a different thought/response, as fantastic as that is it is a pale imitation at best of the experience.

I seriously doubt I will ever blog the most exciting things that have or will happen to me, because I value them too much. Sound weird? Yeah it might be. But then I've been pondering the long term effect of the internet lately and while it contains a lot of good stuff it by no means universally good. I think it devalues phenomenological experience in favor of thought and 2nd hand experience. It promotes rude behavior and discourages mastery of a single subject.

Somehow, even with the existence of the internet I can not see Roy calmly sitting down and blogging about his experience.
posted by edgeways at 10:43 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bladerunner: Still the only movie I've watched voluntarily more than twice. What a film. And yes, the atmospherics that jump-start the film are incredible.

I've often wondered, though...what about the sheep? Would it have been possible to make Bladerunner without excising all of PKDick's humor?
posted by kozad at 10:56 AM on September 13, 2010


Somehow, even with the existence of the internet I can not see Roy calmly sitting down and blogging about his experience.

Not even a Flickr stream?
posted by nomadicink at 11:03 AM on September 13, 2010


Somehow, even with the existence of the internet I can not see Roy calmly sitting down and blogging about his experience.

I could, but he'd change his name to Roy Boxxy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:08 AM on September 13, 2010


Somehow, even with the existence of the internet I can not see Roy calmly sitting down and blogging about his experience.

iveseenthingsyoupeoplewouldntbelieve.tumblr.com.
posted by The Bellman at 11:27 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


For anyone who hasn't watched all the little 10-30 minute "making of" featurettes that are on the Lord of The Rings platinum editions (the 4 discs per movie ones), they will make your head asplode. While they did use a lot of CGI, I was blown away by just how much was done with extremely detailed models, which is probably why a lot of the effects worked so well. The big outdoor longshots of Rivendell? Model. Isengard's tower? Model. The huge statues (Argonath) along the river by the cliffs? Models. Even the bit where the crows return to Isengard and swoop down into the mines under the tower, swooping down, then up and out into another tunnel and finally to where Saruman was down there directing the workers ... just a camera swooping in and out of a big model.

There's also a ton of use of forced perspective used for making the hobbits small. Other techniques for this included short people dressed up like the characters, giant mugs and props, and even two complete sets of Bag End in different scales, down to the last book on the bookshelf.

I also loved the discussion (on the Two Towers disc) about how Gollum was going to be all hand-animated cgi with just Andy Serkis' voice, but once they saw how physically he inhabited the role, they switched to a more natural motion capture cgi technique augmented later. That's probably why Gollum seemed so real. I knew Andy S. had done a great job, but I didn't realize that all the scenes of Gollum crawling around on all fours and hurling himself down streams on his face over sharp rocks were really the actor doing all that.

Also, yay Blade Runner. I too am a big fan of using models where possible, and I love that movie.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:43 AM on September 13, 2010


The Argonath are models?? 'Cause they look fake as hell.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:59 AM on September 13, 2010


Andy Serkis was goddamn amazing as Gollum, and I still can't believe he didn't get an Oscar for it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2010


The Argonath are models??

Yup, they are.
posted by hippybear at 12:35 PM on September 13, 2010


(damn, I thought that Google Image page had photos of the actual models. it doesn't. Bad me for posting without checking first.)
posted by hippybear at 12:40 PM on September 13, 2010


You could say the same thing about simply writing it down on a piece of paper. Blogging, or writing doesn't really capture the memory for anyone except the writer, and even that is it changing the memory.

Hmm, if nothing else, blogging and what not may relieve their mental stress over only having a 4 year life span. Keep the slaves happy by letting them Facebook and all that.
posted by nomadicink at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2010


Like, my last model, a small-ish Ork dreadnought, took me about four months, start to finish. It was painstaking work. Seriously. I couldn't look at a model for about a month afterward. But anyway, there are seriously tons of times while working and sanding and painting and inking and etc, where I'm like, "Seriously, if I took the time to learn how to do it, I'm sure I could put together something digitally in a modeling program in way, way, less time, and on top of that, it would be an actual marketable skill instead of a hobby."

kbanas you need to learn ZBrush.
posted by coust at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2010


Yeah, but it's sexier to have an Imperial cruiser chasing after Princess Leia's ship in the opening of Star Wars, rather than shots of someone attempting to hack into the Empire's intranet, then putting the plans up on DropBox or YouSendIt for easy retrieval.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."

Cuts through most arguments people have about Star Wars. That and it's fantasy. Even Harrison Ford says it's not about the tech, it's about the people
posted by P.o.B. at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2010


Cuts through most arguments people have about Star Wars.

Nah, not really. The advanced tech, let lack of internet is startling, particularly as we see how it's effected lives in our own world. Not a big deal, stories are supposed to be hyper realistic, but interesting to think about.
posted by nomadicink at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2010


Holy Crap. Douglas Trumbull is a genius.
posted by cavalier at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2010


Then I remembered that the director's of both films insisted on doing a lot of the special effects in camera and avoided being lazy with CGI.

I think this is actually the crux of the issue - CGI has made special effects into a commodity, so now you can have them almost as if from a shopping list. It's not something that requires passion and creativity on the part of filmmakers anymore, so the passionate, creative filmmakers have moved on to other things.
posted by robertc at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2010


Holy Crap. Douglas Trumbull is a genius.

He came up with Showscan. So, yes he is.
posted by hippybear at 3:54 PM on September 13, 2010


it's sexier to have an Imperial cruiser chasing after Princess Leia's ship in the opening of Star Wars, rather than shots of someone attempting to hack into the Empire's intranet, then putting the plans up on DropBox or YouSendIt for easy retrieval.

I think Delaney's Stars In My Pockets Like Grains Of Sand may be the only SF work I've really encountered from a long time ago to predict the internet. Well, okay, maybe Brunner's The Shockwave Rider and Stand On Zanzibar.
posted by hippybear at 3:57 PM on September 13, 2010


My favorite anecdote about the making of Blade Runner:

Ridley Scott is in the editing suite, musing about how he might like to add some generic 'shot from helicopter over moving landscape' footage for Dekker and Rachel's escape.

His editor mentions that his buddy worked on Kubrick's latest movie, which had lots of generic helicopter landscape footage. "Why don't you give him a call?"

Ridley calls Stanley on the telephone and politely asks if he can borrow some generic helicopter footage. Stanley says: "Sure, use what you like, just don't use exactly what I used in my final edit, I'll send it over."

A couple of days later a semi and forklift arrive and unload a massive skid full of film reels into the dock of the editing house where Ridley was working.

Kubrick shot over 700 hours of helicopter footage for The Shining.
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


The advanced tech, let lack of internet is startling, particularly as we see how it's effected lives in our own world.

Again, it's fantasy. When you start comparing these things to real life, you start losing the magic.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2010


A couple of days later a semi and forklift arrive and unload a massive skid full of film reels into the dock of the editing house where Ridley was working.

Kubrick is a madman:

700 hours of film stock digitized in a high quality professional digital format like uncompressed 4k it would be something like:

39.81 MB per frame.
477.76 MB per second.
1.72 TB per hour.

or about 1204 TB for 700 hours, but my math may be a little screwy because I'm relying on an online bitrate/format calculator. I am not a film technician.

That's a lot of disk space even today. In film - picking the easy small number - a standard 2000 foot reel of 35mm is 22 minutes long. So 700 hours is 42000 minutes or 1909.09 2000' foot reels. I have no idea what that weighs, but a 2000' foot reel is probably between 5-10 pounds.

Though I would guess that today they wouldn't even ship drives. You could pipe it over a fast network connection, or just call down pre-converted low res editing versions and then cut the digital from from SMPTE data remotely on the server and not have to move the full size files around.

But it would sure beat having to manually load and scan through almost 2000 reels of film.
posted by loquacious at 10:10 PM on September 13, 2010


Kubrick shot over 700 hours of helicopter footage for The Shining.

That would take over two months of 12 hour days. I do not believe that story.
posted by popechunk at 10:29 PM on September 13, 2010


That would take over two months of 12 hour days. I do not believe that story.

Admittedly I'm no Kubrick enthusiast, but that doesn't sound like THAT much of an exaggeration.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:49 PM on September 13, 2010


That would take over two months of 12 hour days. I do not believe that story.

It's ludicrous, isn't it? 700 hours for 3 minutes of footage. That's 29 days of footage. Seems implausible, but keep in mind that The Shining earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for the film with the most retakes of a single scene (with spoken dialogue) -- 127 takes.

In this interview, Kubrick revealed that he fired his first helicopter unit after viewing the team's footage, then hired Greg McGillivray to shoot new scenes. McGillivray spent weeks shooting footage; I'm guessing that Kubrick kept the first unit in the air for many days in search for inspiring scenery. Combined, the two teams may've captured enough footage to fill a palette.

Did you always plan to use the helicopter shots of the mountains as the main-title background?

Yes I did. But the location, in Glacier National Park, Montana, wasn't chosen until very near the end of principal shooting. It was important to establish an ominous mood during Jack's first drive up to the hotel -- the vast isolation and eerie splendour of high mountains, and the narrow, winding roads which would become impassable after heavy snow. In fact, the roads we filmed for the title sequence are closed throughout the winter and only negotiable by tracked vehicles. I sent a second-unit camera crew to Glacier National Park to shoot the title backgrounds but they reported that the place wasn't interesting. When we saw the test shots they sent back we were staggered. It was plain that the location was perfect but the crew had to be replaced. I hired Greg McGillivray, who is noted for his helicopter work, and he spent several weeks filming some of the most beautiful mountain helicopter shots I've seen.

posted by prinado at 1:53 AM on September 14, 2010


Kubrick is a madman

Was.
posted by nomadicink at 5:52 AM on September 14, 2010


Photo-etching the pictures of refinery silhouettes is pure genius.

During most of the 90's, I used to drive thru Rosemount, Minnesota on the way to my sister's house maybe twice a month (well, four times, if you count back and forth separately), often at night. I would go right past the Koch Refinery. At night, it was an eerily beautiful site, a creepy fairyland of winking lights and tall towers belching smoke and often flame. The air around it reeked of sulfur and god knows what other hellish chemicals. You would try to remember to close the car vents before you got there and then re-open them when you got past, not that it did much good.

It was so strange that such an evil place could look so beautiful. It always gave me a feeling that it was reminding me of something that I'd seen before, but couldn't put my finger on. After seeing the first few seconds of this video, I realized that, of course, what I was reminded of was the opening scenes of Blade Runner, that I'd seen almost 10 years before.

Some Flickr photos (not mine): My favorite; This one shows flames (orange balls) at the top of three of the smokestacks; another good one; This one taken in winter when the water vapor is most visible; orange sky in background.
posted by marsha56 at 11:40 PM on September 16, 2010


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