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‘Blade Runner 2049’: Inside Denis Villeneuve’s Holographic Joi of Sex

The memorable three-way sex scene was achieved through a shrewd combination of photographic and CG techniques.

Blade Runner 2049

“Blade Runner 2049”

Warner Bros.

Unlike the stunning CG recreation of Sean Young’s Rachael replicant in “Blade Runner 2049,” the Joi hologram played by Ana de Armas was more of an advanced analog creation. In fact, the directive from Denis Villeneuve was to have Joi alternate between looking realistic and artificial, depending on the emotional context for Ryan Gosling’s K, who customized her as more of a loving companion than pleasure model.

They recorded actress de Armas on set with Gosling from multiple angles with  GoPros and HDRI lighting set up by Roger Deakins. Then Double Negative made a CG version and went through a lot of testing. However, finding the right look was difficult.

“Blade Runner 2049”

“Joi is a volume, a projection, and we looked at conventional holograms and didn’t really like them that much,” said John Nelson, the production visual effects supervisor. “We had to come up with something more subtle yet cooler than that. What we did was a 360-degree transparency,  We had that on her face for a while, but it got in the way of the performance, so we focused on the back transparency.”

The Back-Face Shell Look

Dubbed the back-face transparency, the look got approved by Villeneuve on the last day of shooting. Similar to a bottle, you could see through the front of Joi all the way through the back of her.

“It’s a transparency where you get to see her back shell before you see the background,” added Paul Lambert, Double Negative’s visual effects supervisor. “What that does is you only see the effect when she moves. You suddenly feel as if she’s a hollow volume. And it played perfectly into the idea that she was real and unreal.”

“Blade Runner 2049”

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

To achieve the the back-face transparency Double Negative sliced Joi’s CG model right down the middle and took away the front so you could only see the back shell. Then they put the front of the photographed image back onto the model to create the necessary volume.

For the rooftop scene, they created dry and wet transparency and added flickering. And for the giant pink hologram, they shot the actress wearing pink makeup with a three-story LED screen as the only light source. DNeg then created the CG model and manipulated it with very subtle transparency.

The Three-Way Sex Scene

During the memorable sex scene in which K and Joi “touch,” the hologram merges with replicant prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). For this, DNeg shot de Armas, Davis, and Gosling separately and then joined the women with their CG models and linked them to Gosling’s model when they interacted with his body. But lining up the two women was intricate.

“After [editor] Joe Walker had done his cut, we saw these magic moments when the eyes lined up, but I was adamant on every shot that we start out of sync but then end in sync, particularly their eyes,” Nelson said.

“Blade Runner 2049”

“It was something incredibly simple yet complex,” added Lambert. “We wanted to preserve Ana’s performance as much as possible except when they had to be in sync.”

That’s because something unusual happened as a result of the merging: ““I wanted them to join and become a third woman,” Villeneuve said. “When we did the test, I loved that this third face had an erotic presence. And what was interesting for me was that when they were off sync, the women had different emotional experiences.

“They were there for different reasons, and, at the end, both were linked by the idea of love. The prostitute gets touched in a lovely way and receives the emotion from K, and, for the first time, Joi gets the impression of being real.”

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