Cinephiles have been in awe of the early footage for “Blade Runner 2049,” Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the iconic Ridley Scott film. From the vivid colors to the precise lighting, much of the credit has been given to 13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins, who Villeneuve hired as the director of photography on the sequel.
But we haven’t seen anything yet.
“Honestly, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Villeneuve said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I don’t know how people will react to the movie overall, [but] I can say, as a filmmaker, he did one of his best works.”
“He’s done a lot of strong movies, but what he did in this movie, for me, it’s quite special,” Villeneuve said. “He added a new territory.”
Villeneuve described Deakins’ work like that of an “impressionist painter,” in that he had the “permission to do things” that didn’t require natural lighting. Because Deakins was working in the science-fiction genre, Villeneuve said he could try different techniques than in their previous films, “Sicario” and “Prisoners.”
“He’s more of a scientist sometimes and it’s so important for him to be precise with how the logic of light works in the shot,” Villeneuve said. “But in this movie, I will say, it was more playful […] because he had more space to experiment than usual, where you have to be bound to reality.”
Villeneuve said he “knew that Roger was dreaming to do sci-fi” and was thus eager to bring him onboard as quickly as possible. As it turns out, that meant Villeneuve and Deakins were hired on the same day.
“Basically, I said yes to ‘Blade Runner’ in the morning, and the very same evening I was having dinner with Roger. Having heard the news, he looked at me with a little smile and said, ‘So, you want to do that?’ And I just said, ‘Would you like to do that with me?’ And he shook my hand — it’s a very Deakins way, like silence [and a] big smile — and I knew from then that he was definitely on board.”
The director and D.P. then went to a hotel in Montreal and spent weeks mapping out the entire film with two storyboard artists. Villeneuve said “dreaming what the light would look like” with Deakins was his favorite moment of the process.
“We drew the whole movie together,” Villeneuve said. “It was a very important experience because we had been challenged to fit the movie in a certain budget. So [storyboarding] was a strong cinematic creative lab to find the vocabulary of the movie. It was where we found the ‘Blade Runner’ we wanted to make.”
The duo agreed to ground the film in a physical realm and work with as much practical effects as possible. To do so, they built as many sets as they could, and Villeneuve credited the decision for a lot of ideas coming to him and Deakins on set.
“On set as we are shooting, very often there are very strong poetic moments that will not happen in front of a green screen, where you are bound by technical [demands]. I strongly believe in real environments. I’m a bit old school about that.”
“That means if we were constructing an apartment, and there were windows in the apartment, you would see on the other side of the window,” Villeneuve said. “We will construct the other side of the streets to create the atmosphere in the streets. So Roger had top-down control of the light and the direction of the light. Basically, a lot of what’s happening in the movie is real.”
As of mid-July, the film is in post-production as Villeneuve and Deakins work side-by-side adding CGI set extensions.
“He’s still there, helping me with the effects,” Villeneuve said, noting that his strengths lie in realism, while Deakins knows just what to do when the futuristic setting demands innovation.
“I am in awe,” he said. “I’m so grateful because he’s so strong bringing a shot to life; to make it state of the art. It just becomes real. It’s really impressive for me just to watch him work. It’s a master class in VFX with Roger Deakins.”
“Blade Runner 2049” premieres in theaters October 6.