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Another interesting photographic problem on Blade Runner was shooting the interiors of a flying police car a "Spinner" in order to create the illusion of movement. The Spinner was capable of moving in any direction and traveling at very high speeds. Cronenweth explains his approach: "In order to create a sense of the vehicle traveling at night, we used several techniques. We built two sets of programmable strip lights, each about 8' long and each containing 12 Photofloods wired individually and dyed different colors. We placed them on the exterior of each side of the Spinner cockpit. The bulbs were then flashed at assorted intervals in conjunction with each other and individually. Additional movement was created with set lights activated by keyboard, so the lights were literally 'played.' Moving the camera on both axes by using double gear heads, and using wind, water and smoke enhanced the illusion. To create additional movement for day scenes, we'd use clear globes in the strip lights and a moving arc mounted on a Chapman crane to simulate a change in the Spinner's position relative to the sun."
Although most of the picture was shot on a stage, some notable Los Angeles landmarks were used as locations. The exterior of Deckard's apartment was Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown house, designed in 1924 using a Mayan block motif. The Bradbury Building, designed by George Wyman in 1893, was used for the violent final showdown between Deckard and replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), as well as for a scene in which Sebastian (William Sanderson) takes Pris to his apartment. The downtown Pan Am building was used for a scene in which Deckard and Gaff (Edward James Olmos) search a hotel room for clues.
However, one of the film's most striking "exteriors" was actually shot at the studio. "The rooftop sequence at the end of the picture was planned to be photographed on real rooftops in downtown Los Angeles," says Cronenweth. "It turned out to be impractical to do it there, however, because of the scope of the shots and the difficulty of achieving some of the effects. We decided to film the sequence on the Warner Bros. backlot. This required building a couple of moveable rooftop units approximately 30' high. In order to show extreme height, we worked very closely with photographic effects supervisiors Doug Trumbull, Richard Yuricich [ASC], and David Dryer in order to make certain key matte shots, using our rooftop sets as the foreground. Of course, whenever we did a matte shot, we'd use a 65mm camera.
"We had to do a lot of 65mm photography from very high parallels which couldn't move at all. This meant reinforcing the normal parallels with additional steel and weight. [Key grip] Carey Griffith made reservoirs in the bottom of the parallels and filled them with several hundred gallons of water. That, in conjunction with reinforced steel going up the sides of each parallel and the use of solid bracing, made a high, rigid camera platform. We spent over two weeks on top of the roofs, turning them from time to time to obtain new backgrounds. We also worked with rain, smoke, lightning and moving shafts of light in this sequence. However, none of these effects could be used when making matte shots because they disappear in the matte area while remaining in the live-action area. One would then be confronted with matching the matte area effects to the live action rain, smoke, etc. The procedure, therefore, when doing matte shots is to put these effects into the composite on an overall basis later."
AC thanks Blade Runner production executive Katie Haber for providing photographs for this article.
© 1999 ASC