From the famous “Hades” opening shot, 1982’s “Blade Runner” depicts one of the most immersive on-screen worlds ever constructed. Despite a tiny VFX budget, Ridley Scott’s celebrated sci-fi effort created some of the most enduring visual effects in cinematic history, nearly all of which still stand up today. But beyond the special effects, Scott and his production team managed to establish a sustained atmosphere that made its version of 2019 Los Angeles feel like a real, lived-in environment. Christopher Nolan once said of the film:
“That feeling that there was this whole world outside the frame of the scene. You really felt there were things going on outside of those rooms where you’ve seen the film take place […] Every film should have its own world, a logic and feel to it that expands beyond the exact image that the audience is seeing.”
A big part of the allure of the world in “Blade Runner” was the use of neon to help heighten its sci-fi, cyberpunk aesthetic, which in turn elevated the film beyond even the best neo-noir movies. “Blade Runner” had all the brooding, cynically fatalistic overtones of the genre but it also took the expressionistic element and pushed it to create an all-enveloping on-screen world unlike anything that had been seen before — a world lit only by synthetic light.
Tom Southwell produced illustration and graphics for the film, including designing the neon lights which appear behind Harrison Ford’s Deckard when he’s first introduced. In an interview, Southwell explained the difference using this form of light made:
“These neon colors did something magical to the set at night. Colored light blends in a strange way […] Filming neon is a bit like filming fire. The image is altered by its own luminescence.”