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Watching films...

Now that Warner Bros. has released a few trailers of upcoming sci-fi sequel to the 1982 fan favorite, we've got a good picture of what the film is going to look like and let's just stay it looks stunning. If you haven't seen the film's most recent trailer I suggest you watch it below.

Now that everyone's watched that, I'll return to my point. That film looks visually awesome. Not only does it run with the neo-noir city designs from the Ridley Scott classic but, this trailer also manages to fit every conceivable colour and shade of colour into just over two minutes of footage. Now, there are some definitely dominant colours i.e. blue and orange and green does seem to take somewhat of a backseat but I mean, who cares just look at it.


Granted, it's not just colour that makes the film look so incredible there are also some seriously brilliant visual effects in there but the colour is used only to intensify the picture and that's exactly what it does. In this film, the colour is needed to sell the effects, just look at the scenes in the city. That neo-noir style version of what we can only assume to be Los Angeles looks brilliantly vibrant and is chock full of vivd bright neon colours and cold tones. It causes the audience to instantly recognise it as a city and by only ever letting us see it in the dark, the lighting is so controlled and there can be a full array of colours flooding every shot.

Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in 'Blade Runner 2049'
Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in 'Blade Runner 2049'

Take the above shot of Gosling and de Armas in the car, notice that even though the effects surrounding them are either blurred or have been digitally reflected in the glass, the colours still manage to shine through. Also, see the contrast, inside the car all colours are dark, blacks and cold blues. In doing this, it makes the audience focus more on the characters faces as they stand out from the surrounding dark. As mentioned before, the colour's on the outside are very bright with white neon signs illuminating the surrounding smoke, however, by blurring the image, we are able to have bright colours again increasing contrast and adding interest to the shot without distracting to the focus. A similar thing goes for the reflected light like the red to the left and blue to the right. The reflection allows colour to seal into the image without removing from it and adding believability to the image.

Colour is important therefore for three main reasons:

  • It grounds the image in reality. Used correctly, even the films most outlandish effects can look and feel realistic as the colour can move and react correctly. It sells the effect and without colour the whole design could feel 'fake'.
  • Colour makes the film more engaging. By adding a variety of colours to each shot, it gives the audience something to look at, putting a bright white light in the back of a dark shot will contrast the image and a subtle implement makes the audience subconsciously more engaged in the image.
  • It allows the filmmaker to control what we look at. We like to think that we control everything we do, but when we watch a film, the filmmakers are constantly look for ways to control the audiences emotions and how they watch the film. Using colour in a specific way can force us to look at something just how the above shot forces us to focus on the faces.
By diffusing light, the effect seems more real – Atari logo in 'Blade Runner 2049'
By diffusing light, the effect seems more real – Atari logo in 'Blade Runner 2049'


In 1912, some 20 years before 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Gone With The Wind' filmmakers gained a new asset — colour. it wasn't however until many years later that the technique really became a trend and not, over 100 years later about 99% of all films released annually are in colour and about 30% of films nominated for Oscars are in colour also. That last fact may not be completely true. Anyway, colour has come along way in 100 years and the last century has given filmmakers enough time to experiment and try out exciting and different ways of using colour that aren't just, film it, done.

One of the more different uses of colour appeared in Steven Spielberg's 1993 'Schindler's List' in which Spielberg chose to use colour as a key storytelling element. Other examples of using colour creatively include 'Sin City', 'Vertigo' and the 'John Wick' films that use intense splashes of vivid colour to uniquely light a scene.

The reason I bring all of these films up is because I think that 'Blade Runner 2049' looks like it will take inspiration from all of them and in doing so, will create a new hybrid of how to use colour creatively in film.

Take any shot from the trailer and, ignoring (for a moment) the beautiful framing, just look how colour is used. In some scenes, there's a constant flow of one colour featuring no interruption other than different shades. Whilst other shots are a wash with vibrant colours that contrast each other heavily.

Ryan Gosling in 'Blade Runner 2049'
Ryan Gosling in 'Blade Runner 2049'

The above image shows a scene that features a strong orange tone. It causes the area to look warm and is a trick commonly used by filmmakers to show the temperature of the scene. Also, orange isn't a colour commonly seen in nature so the heavy saturated wash is causing a more futuristic look due simply to its departure of natural green colours. A dystopian feel is thus implied especially since it aligns with current thoughts of a desolate future with high surface temperatures due to global warming and climate change.

On the other end of the spectrum, the bellow image though not the most extreme in the film, has a more broad range of colours used than the above image that simply defines images with different shades of orange, I mean, even the greys are orange. Anywho, the bellow image is unusual in that even though it predominantly features blue tones it doesn't appear cold. This is because purple is between blue and red on the spectrum so we read it as a comfortable temperature instead of specifically being warm or not. But, the main difference here from the above image is that there is more than one colour being used with blue, pink and green all appearing there is a range of the spectrum covered instead of just one small quadrant. Also, not dissimilar than orange, purple is an uncommon colour and probably more so than that of orange. This is used here to imply artificiality and the irregular colouring helps further define the picture as taken from a sci-fi film.


Okay, so by it's very nature you should imagine that a colour film uses a wide variety of colours and stays awn from its predecessor black and white. However, what quickly became clear when watching the 'Blade Runner 2049' trailer above is that the director Denis Villeneuve isn't afraid of using blacks or whites if that's what the scene needs. Take his previous film, 2016s 'Arrival'. There's a whole bunch of films that, if filmed in black and white would look exactly the same.

Now, with 'Blade Runner 2049', Villeneuve is clearly following in the footsteps of legendary director Sir Ridley Scott who helped to define modern sci-fi films with 'Alien' and ''. He too used a vast amount of colours in 'Blade Runner' and this is just something that Villeneuve is trying to emulate (and let's just say it's working).

Now, just because I'm saying how theres black and white in the trailer that dose't mean together. Or, in some cases any black or white in the shot. What I mean is that the colours are almost interchangeable with either black or white and the same effect would be accomplished. Using a pallet with only two main colours means that the image is simple yet striking and these are the scenes I'm taking about. Specifically scenes with silhouettes. Take the below image for example a shot from the original 'Blade Runner'.

Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner'
Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner'

Though this image is in colour, it could quite easily be in black and white and the same goes for countless of other scenes in the first 'Blade Runner' and its sequel (the trailer at least). However, it's important that colour is used in these neo-noir films as, although not every scene requires to be smattered with reds and blues, there are some standout shots of the first and likely second films that only work because of colour i.e. any of the other previous shots I used above. Anyway, some shots would work in black and white, some wouldn't especially for the neon lit city of rainy (future) Los Angeles.

So, that concludes my study of colour from the Blade Runner films. Hopefully you learnt something, and if not just enjoyed reading it. I also hope you agree with me when I say how gorgeous of a film 'Blade Runner 2049' looks to be. And to end, let's do a poll.


Which Blade Runner film looks the best visually?

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