Lighting "Blade Runner 2049"

Gaffer Bill O’Leary describes the lighting approach on "Blade Runner 2049," which was supplied with a full camera, grip, and lighting package by ARRI Rental.

Oct. 9, 2017

Director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic brings back Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, teaming him with Ryan Gosling as a replicant named K, and Jared Leto as the villainous Niander Wallace. Cinematographer Roger Deakins CBE, ASC, BSC worked with ALEXA XT Studio cameras, Master Prime lenses and ARRI lights to craft the film’s stunning visuals. Deakins’ gaffer, Bill O’Leary, spoke to ARRI Rental about how some of the complex lighting setups were achieved during the shoot in Hungary.

How would you describe the overall look of the film? 

I would say that the look is quite naturalistic, in the sense that our approach was to use motivated light sources. It took some imagination on the part of Roger Deakins to take a leap into the future and decide what some of those sources would be. Concept art and the script also provided a lot of the references. 

Can you describe the scale of the production and the prep time required? 

I had nine weeks of prep time for a shooting schedule of around 90 days. We often had up to six stages working at Origo Studios and three at Korda Studios, in various stages of rigging, shooting and de-rigging. In total we had a lighting crew of around 20. They were without doubt the best crew I’ve worked with, apart from my regular New York crew, who I’ve been with for decades. Having such a top-notch rigging crew and top-notch programmers meant that dimming control was not at all difficult, despite the huge lighting package.

The interior scenes look very soft and warm, with atmospheric colors. How was this achieved?

Roger achieved most of the look in-camera. For the lighting, we used soft sources and lots of gels on the lampheads to create the different color atmospheres. We went through almost 1,400 rolls of gel by the time we had finished shooting!

The library set was lit entirely with ARRI SkyPanels. Could you describe the setup? 

This was a large set with a coffered ceiling containing milk glass panels. We had a construction box in each separate opening to act as a snoot and hung an ARRI S60-C in each box. There were 100 SkyPanels in total. This allowed us to achieve an effect of each row turning on as the characters crossed the set. I also found the SkyPanels easy to integrate into a more standard tungsten setup.

How did you construct the moveable ring of tungsten lights used to simulate the sun and its shadows in Niander Wallace’s room?

We used 256 ARRI 300-watt Fresnels in two concentric circles. The doors were removed so that each lamphead was literally touching the next. When a slow chase was programmed, it appeared as a soft source of about eight lamps circling the subject. This required quite an elaborate dimmer installation.

Did you have a favorite lighting setup? 

Without a doubt my favorite lighting setup was the Replicant Hallway. This was also the most challenging—just blending three moving lights, and the cutting necessary to stop overlap and keep the walls clean, was a brain twister. The lamps were moved by hand along curtain tracks from a purpose-built catwalk construction. The rigging and the execution of the lighting effect itself left no room for error.

How did you find the experience of working with ARRI Rental on this shoot?

I needed special support every other week, it seemed like, and ARRI Rental dug up everything we asked for each time, and on time. My thanks go out to everyone at ARRI Rental Munich and ARRI Rental Budapest. Well done!