How Esri helped Blade Runner 2049 take home an Oscar


Director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 may not have set the box office ablaze, but the film is nothing short of a visual feast. Be it the uncanny attention to detail or the incredible care with which it colligates buildings and locations in a dystopian world, the movie’s spectacular VFX ensured that the sequel to 1982’s contemporary classic Blade Runner will take home the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects at the 90th Academy Awards.

But did you know that it was a geospatial application by Esri that gave Blade Runner 2049 its mesmerizing visuals? Framestore, a visual arts studio based in Canada, recreated the city of Las Vegas, Nevada using Esri’s CityEngine 3D modeling software.

By using CityEngine for only a month, the designers at Framestore were able to generate a 6.759km long and 4km-wide production set with more than 1,400 buildings. According to Esri Canada, the visual artists used this model as the base and retained some of the most recognizable structures of Las Vegas in the dystopian world. So, you can see Caesar’s Palace and the MGM Grand sign when K (Ryan Gosling) goes to meet Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

In an interview with TechRepublic, Richard Hoover, VFX supervisor at Framestore, details, “It was an incredibly complicated landscape, with an enormous amount of geometry and items, human scale items that we built to reinforce the scale. The Syd Mead buildings that we added were enormous scale so we needed something that people could relate to, because there’s nobody in the city, everybody’s gone. There were very [few] automobiles or anything to identify how big things are, so that was the biggest design struggle with selling the scene and making it look real.”

The team used aerial and oblique photos of the present-day Las Vegas main strip to give the futuristic version of the city realistic textures. CityEngine converted 2D data into 3D data and enabled the designers to play around with various elements and create spectacular visuals.

Interestingly, CityEngine is the same software which was used by the team of Zootopia –last year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature Film. How geoawesome is that!?

Ishveena is a geospatial enthusiast and a veteran of creating and managing compelling digital content for organizations and individuals. When she is not making magic at her desk, you are likely to find her exploring nature, eating her way through life, or binge-watching funny animal videos.