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Recreating the Shot: a Lesson in Lighting Through 'Blade Runner'


You can learn a tremendous amount by simply watching great films — paying attention to the details, breaking down a scene, concentrating on how elements come together. But if you really want to start making movies, learning a specific cinematic craft, it’s not enough. You have to get hands on.  It was with this in mind that I found myself increasingly intrigued with the idea of taking a compelling shot from a movie and seeing what could be learned by attempting to recreate the lighting as a cinematography exercise. I reached out to the very talented DP Seth Iliff, and asked him if he’d be up for the challenge. Despite our lack of budget and limited time he jumped into it with gusto. I got to witness the process first hand — here’s what I learned:

 The Shot

As a fan of film noir’s heavily stylized approach to lighting, I knew I wanted us to do a shot from a film that was either classic film noir, or used the conventions of noir’s expressionistic lighting — Blade Runner fit the latter bill beautifully. Keeping in mind our time, space and equipment constraints for the exercise, I looked for a shot that was not only beautiful, but hopefully doable with what we had on hand. With that in mind, we quickly settled on the replicant interview scene with Rachael (played by Sean Young), and specifically, the close up shot of her as can be seen from :03-:07 in the following clip:

Reverse Engineering the Lighting

So we had our shot, now what? This is where Seth Iliff took over the show.  As a DP, Seth has been challenged to create beautiful imagery for a variety of projects — from commercials to independent films, from corporate videos to documentaries — check out a sampling of his work on his website.

A big part of his skill set is understanding what the client/director wants and achieving it with the tools and budget at hand.  When I arrived at the shoot, Seth was already  busy setting up while directing a crew of two.  Light stands were at ready, equipment was in various states of prep, and Seth had even constructed a prop to imitate the chair back, not to mention our “Rachael” stand-in was patiently waiting in full costume, hair and make-up.  As he moved around the set/living room I asked him to walk me through the process–

E.M.: So, let’s start from the top.  We found the shot we wanted to recreate, where do you start?

Printed out screenshots from scene

Printed out screenshots from scene

Seth: First plan of attack was grabbing the Blu-ray, checking out the scene, taking screenshots from the whole scene in addition to just the single shot we are trying to recreate. Right off the bat, the challenge is to create the illusion of a big space in a small space, because the set they were working on was quite large. Then I start the process of reverse engineering the lighting by looking at our actress Sean Young in the scene.

E.M.: Which light element stands out to you?
Seth: Our strongest, our brightest exposure in the scene, is the rim light that comes across the camera-left side of her face. The direction of it, we determined, was relatively eye level and a little bit low, and it was coming from kind of a quarter back, a quarter to the side of her back.

E.M.: Now, how exactly did you make that call?

Rim light — Arri 650 watt light with 250 diffusion, positioned behind our actress, camera-left

Rim light — Arri 650 watt light with 250 diffusion, positioned behind our actress, camera-left

Seth: You know, as you work with light you kind of begin to understand how light strikes a face, roughly where the light is going to come from. […] You can reverse engineer the position [of the lights] by just kind of looking at subtle cues on the face — how far it reaches under the chin, does it reach under the chin at all?

The second thing you need to take into account is the quality of the light. So what we noticed with the strongest light in the scene is that it has a diffusion to it — it is diffuse because it does start to wrap around the face — it also doesn’t create harsh shadows within the part of the face in which it is actually striking.

So we determined that it is relatively diffuse — once we get our actress in here we will double-check it against the still, make sure that it’s roughly the same quality of light.

E.M.: Ok, what’s next?
Seth: Other units that are playing in the scene are the slight gradient in the background, a kind of horizontal patch of light which we have recreated with some Kinos and some pretty heavy diffusion, 250 I believe.

Our fill light is from a quarter off of the camera-left side of her face towards the front. It’s very low luminance and the quality of the light is extremely soft.  Really the only way to create that soft quality is by creating a book light.

Book light created by bouncing light off cream-colored board and back through diffusion

Book light created by bouncing light off cream-colored board and back through diffusion

E.M: How did you create the book light, and how did you decide where to put it?
Seth: We created a book light by shooting into a creamy colored bounce board and back through some 250 diffusion. We determined the position of that light, [by observing that] just as it strikes her face, you get a little bit of a triangle on the shadow side of her face — you get a little triangle under the eye and that helps you determine which direction that light is coming from.

E.M.: Now, I see you have a light up above her, what’s that going to provide?

Seth: We have a little bit of rim light coming down on her shadow-side shoulder, we decided to create a little kicker from above to help outline her shoulder. The costume is black, the chair is roughly black, so what the cinematographer is doing there is making sure that the audience can separate her figure from the background chair. All this being noir, you are working with blacks and dark greys and very, very dark tones. So it’s important for the DP to make sure that everything is separated, even though everything falls off into black.

E.M: Now for the china ball — what are you going for with that?

Overhead kicker

Overhead kicker

Seth: The last light element of the scene is the eye light. What Ridley Scott was doing there was creating an in-camera trick to cue the audience that she is a replicant, and we’ve recreated that by using a very low wattage china ball.

This is probably the hardest part of what we are doing because they were probably working with a really large source, a little bit farther back in the background so they could essentially achieve a big glowing mass without casting any light onto her face. We’re challenged in re-creating that because we have a much smaller object to work with in terms of her eye light and we have to place it relatively close to fill her eye with the actual object, so it may cause some light. That’s gonna be the hardest part of recreating the scene.

The Gear

I figure this is as good a moment as any other to pause and go over the equipment used during the shoot.  Seth shot on a Panasonic GH3.  He used a longer lens (85mm) to replicate the depth of field in the original image (although the precise lens length was difficult to determine with certainty from the stills).  Aperture was kept at a T-stop of 2, as this is close to the sweet spot for the Rokinon lens being used, and shutter speed was 1/50.  For more details as to the gear and settings, check out the list below:


  • Panasonic GH3 (1080p; All-Intra codec; custom “Vivid” setting)




  • Arri Softbank Kit (2 650′s, 300, 750)
  • 2 Kinoflo Diva Units


  • Zoom H4n


Once our remarkably Sean Young-like actress sat down, Seth made final adjustments to the lighting and atmosphere — cigarette smoke was blown, lights were dimmed or moved closer as needed, a stray hair or two were fixed in place — and the image was shot.

So how did it come out?  See for yourself!

Here’s an instructive video Seth provided showing how each light element adds to the image (the color has been desaturated to emphasize the lighting):

Here’s the video pre- and post- color correction:

And the final image, post color correction:

What Did I Learn?

A powerful image, a subtle image, a compelling image — skillful lighting accomplishes all of that and more.  It’s always a thrill for me to watch the process of shaping and molding the image on set, and this was no exception. I haven’t had as much hands on lighting experience as I would like, so any chance I get to do it myself, or, as in this case, watch someone far more skilled and experienced do it, it’s a treat!

I must say we came up with a beautiful image in its own right, and one that compares favorably to the original.  While the most important aspect of the shoot was the lighting process, I was incredibly pleased with the final result.

In terms of what I learned, I got a better grasp on how one can determine the position of a light based on shadows being cast on the face, as well as identifying the quality of a given light source based on how the light “wraps” itself around an object.  You have to really study the light, and understand how the light affects your subject along with your perception of the subject — that’s definitely something that comes with practice, as I found myself continually surprised by how slight adjustments morphed the vibe of the image.

China ball placed in front and above "Rachael" (overhead kicker and horizontal light can be seen in background)

China ball placed in front and above “Rachael” (overhead kicker and horizontal light can be seen in background)

Beyond the physical aspect of the light, seeing how a strategically placed light can help objects pop out more (i.e the overhead kicker) was equally enlightening. It was great to be able to look at the original image, and “see” how each light element is paralleled in our reproduction and how it helps build up the final image.  For me, the reverse-engineering process was a great way to understand how lighting comes together and how I can use those underlying principles to create my own original images.

Now, was it an exact reproduction?  No. Beyond more obvious limitations such as shooting on video vs film, working within a confined space vs a large one, there were technical details that if were to re-do the shoot we could probably resolve.  Could we have gotten closer?  Seth sent along some thoughts about what could have been done differently afterwards.  Key issues he identified:

Warmth of image

The reference material we used during the shoot — the printed out screenshots — ended up being a lot warmer than the original footage.  Seth pointed out:

I should’ve just had the Blu-Ray pulled up on the best monitor I could find for reference. I got too far away from the source material. This resulted in an image that was far too warm.  And because I was working with color temp that’s baked in (Panasonic GH3) it proved difficult to get the image back to what it should’ve been.

If we’d caught this on-set, it would have been a relatively easy fix to adjust the white balance to something closer to the original footage.

Key light

Seth explained that the key light in the original was probably not quite as diffuse as ours, and it was also probably much stronger “It’s nuclear when she blows out smoke in the scene. My guess would be that it’s a 4k that’s sitting a good ways away from the actress.”

Lens length

The lens used [for the original] was longer than I initially thought. I was using an 85mm on a m4/3 sensor, and I needed something even longer. I suspect they were using over an 100mm lens (Super35mm film), but I can’t say for sure.


I regretted [...] not tracking down a fogger in time for the shoot. I really needed that atmosphere to sit there during the entire shot. You can tell with the cigarette smoke that the scene has a balance of blue light and warm skin tones, but when the smoke isn’t present, the blue tones are gone.


This was an incredibly informative and rewarding exercise.  It goes to show that lighting principles are lighting principles, and that whether you have a crew of dozens and a Hollywood budget behind you, or a skeleton crew, Arri Softbank kit and a Panasonic GH3, you can create beautiful imagery if you understand lighting.

Again, huge thanks to Seth Iliff who was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, in addition to the good folks at Aren’t We Clever who provided help and equipment, along with our lovely Sean Young stand-in, Rebecca Abraham, who also did her own hair and make-up!

Do you have a shot you’d want to try to recreate?  Have you ever tried a similar exercise?  Do you have any questions about the set up we used?  Feel free to ask and share below!


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 106 COMMENTS

  • It’s incredible that 30 years ago, with old technology and no color correction, the scene was so much better than this!
    But it’s a nice experiment. The actress is very similar with Rachel…

    • Agreed!! That’s what 35mm film, cinema glass and millions of dollars for production get you. And to be fair, none of those elements are “old” technology. 35mm film from the early 80s still resolves/scans at around 8k lines of resolution. Alexa, what?!? And the lenses he put in front of that celluloid? Forget about it. Quarter million dollar glass at least. I only mean to highlight that people today misunderstand what current technology gets us. It’s not “better” per se… it’s really just smaller, lighter, and a little less expensive. All other aspects of film production are almost exactly the same, and HAVE TO remain the same to have a high production value “look”. Spend lots of money wisely, and you get a very beautiful look.
      Thanks for the read fg!

      • What are you talking about? This is not a multi-million dollar shot. I feel that you can more closely simulate this shot than what is shown in this example (although it still looks great).

        You don’t need a ton of money to create compelling light and composition. There are many ways to achieve a look.

        Money can get you proven talent and amazing sets, but you certainly don’t need millions of dollars to achieve this one shot.

        • J- agreed again! I wasn’t defending myself regarding the exercise, just highlighting the fact that “old” technology isn’t really relevant to why Blade Runner looks so spectacular. The camera and lenses are still only a small part of big film production (which requires money to bring all the elements together on screen). Hope that explanation is more clear.

        • Agreed, this has nothing to do with budget. The lighting in the recreation is too even, too low-ratio, compared to the original shot. All that fill is unnecessary.

          • Agreed. The original shot had very little fill compared to this. There’s also a bit too much desaturation happening in post. All of the red in her lips is lost.

            The pre-graded version looks very red, which to me says the shot wasn’t properly white-balanced. If I were to try this, I would go with a profile other than vivid (Does the GH3 have “nostalgia”?), and make sure I used a card to white-balance. That would at least give you a good starting point for achieving a matching look.

            All that said, it’s still a great look at how someone might re-create a shot like this, and I’d love to see more posts on NFS where DPs walk you through their process.

        • Agreed. take the panavision camera and crew aside, a 35mm stils camera with a few lights could get you the same effect. Even Jordan Cronenwearth, the DP for Blade Runner, was known to make some of his own gear from scratch and devised what’s considered the first softbox in the film industry nicknamed the “crony crone” by his crew that was basically made by foamcore and some gell.

        • Agreed. take the panavision camera and crew aside, a 35mm stils camera with a few lights could get you the same effect. Even Jordan Cronenwearth, the DP for Blade Runner, was known to make some of his own gear from scratch and devised what’s considered the first softbox in the film industry nicknamed the “crony crone” by his crew.

      • > 35mm film from the early 80s still resolves/scans at around 8k lines of resolution

        Hahahaha, what? 35mm with the best glass barely resolves 4K, you must be thinking about full frame vistavision or tripping balls.

        • Natt- Go to any post house (like Fotokem) in Hollywood and tell them that. See what they say.

        • Okay, after some inquires from professionals must say that regarding the 8K comment… it’s inaccurate. An 8K digital scan of 35mm film would adequately capture all the information on the negative. However, film resolution (not digital) is a a conversation that involves grain structure and density, slower stocks having better and more respectively. The image is also largely affected by the optics, with older optics more significantly lowering the optimum ability of resolution. Film “resolves” at somewhere in between 4-6K, depending on the age and speed of the stock.

      • Seth, you should have given the chick a bong (for the smoke effect only!).

        Oh, and to me, the original (on YouTube) looks warmer.

        • Haha! A bong might’ve done the trick! I think you may be right about that regarding the warmth of the image. I really just needed the Blu-Ray playing on a calibrated monitor to match it… or Cronenweth standing next to me. :)

      • He He. Great Seth! This is what happen to try emulate “Blade Runner” :-)
        Sorry, I don’t think think to raise this fuss… But I love your humity in all the posts. You’ll make your way far!
        No one noted that the Scott’s version is “Teal and Orange”? :-)

      • I think you used too many lights and in the wrong place.

        It’s the bounce off the table that lights her in the scene, which is why the original looks like a single source. The positioning of your kicker is half way there. It’d have to be way more powerful and further.As to the light on her face, it’s a bouncecard placed off camera left and lower than her eyeline. You could try with a 4×4 or smaller with some silver bounce in this position and then add a notch of extra fill by placing a white sheet on the floor between camera and the actress.It also looks like the light has a bit of warmth added with CTS.

        The grade is wrong, though. Colour temperature was wrong when you shot, and there’s a nasty loss of colour information. Otherwise, it’s the look of Kodak film. Full and saturated skintones with a greenish hue in the shadows.

        It also looks like there is some filtration in the original. Maybe a notch of classic soft, or even glimmer glass would be a fun bet.

    • What do you mean by “…no color correction… ” There was “color correction” before the age of digital (sighs and shakes head).

  • needs more xenon

  • You should push the eye level and bring the china ball away from her or just bounce the booklight a little bit. The image needs more contrast (to fit the original).
    But this is still very good !

  • Glenn Dicus on 07.23.13 @ 10:51AM

    It looks like a single light, using two bounces, one on the left side of the camera and another double bouncing on the right side of the camera. There is a smalle kick on her right side, probably an MR16 or equivalent.

    The Blue tone on the smoke could be a gel which is used for the light that hits the bounce board. A magic mistake.

    The bounce board is probably what is giving you that irregular shaped eye light as well.

    That’s how I would have done it. ; )

    • I realized this after it was all done, unfortunately. Even if I would’ve tried that, however, I wouldn’t have had the physical space to do it. The dimensions of my house are very narrow and I had to fight to even get the key in roughly the right angle. It was one of the great learning points of this exercise.

  • If my mind doesn’t play tricks upon me this shot was discussed in the american cinematographer a few years ago. If I’m not mistaken this shot was composed with a single light source and some bounce and of course”smoke was used”. In the interview the cinematorgrapher (Cronenweth) was so fond of this setup because of its simplicity, just a single source and some bounce.

    • Daniel Mimura on 08.10.13 @ 11:56PM

      Yes! So,some else remembers this! Back in the ’90′s when I was in film school I tracked down that issue and Cronenweth talked about that shot specifically.

      I can’t remember the details, but I remember him talking about how it’s necessary to backlight smoke (& rain), and that they were pretty pleased with the way the scene turned out with the extreme backlight because the smoke just lit up when she exhaled.

      I’m forgetting now, but I seem to remember the article talking about the 45° angle on the glass for the replicant eyes.

  • You can tell in the original that they used a diffusion filter, something like the black mist. Tons of DPs to this day still use filters. The way that light glows on her face is pointing me in that direction. I’m pretty sure they lit her with one light. After being on set as a grip, I’ve gotten used to seeing what an HMI looks like. Either that, or they used a single 2500k tungsten with half or full blue, just to the side of her face. If you notice, there isn’t a rim, or any light on the right of screen other than what is being cast on her face. They boxed that light in on her right cheek. The background is using the same color. Sometimes on these shoots, the less they use, the better. Think about it, if you could use one to two lights per shot, you’re saving money on film, and can break down and move faster to the next shot. They probably shot that whole scene in half a day or faster.

    • They used a lot of ‘beehive smoke’ in this scene (and in many interiors in Bladerunner) to get that diffuse light. Don’t know what filters (if any) were used in front of the lens.

  • I could go with the single light theory if it wasn’t for the edge hi-light on the chair, camera right and the smidge of light on Rachael’s right shoulder seen in her first appearance in this clip.

    And don’t forget… Deckard is a replicant, too.

  • Its a single light. Long lens.
    Nice attempt on the recreate though, and good techniques used.

  • So I guess watching the feature length documentary “Dangerous Days” where they talk about how they created this scene, the effect in her eyes, and pretty much anything else a die-hard fan of Blade Runner would want to know would kill the fun of this guessing game.

    • Yes, I was told about Dangerous Days, but chose to attempt to figure it all out for myself. It was a challenge!

  • Great job seth, exercises like this, breaking down shots will push your skills forward. Don’t listen to the negative Nelly’s. Cheers for documenting!

    • Thanks Liron!! It was fun to do. Good thing I don’t worry about matching someone else’s genius when I light my own sets! Reverse engineering takes WAY to much time to be efficient. Honestly, that’s why I love cinematography: stepping onto a set and finding a way of creating beauty given the constraints of the space and budget.

    • Agreed – more people should put the work into this kind of exercise.

  • McCauley's Ghost on 07.23.13 @ 1:50PM

    I feel it should be noted that in the original she is smoking an unfiltered cigarette, with have a looser draw, which is what produces those big, dense plumes of smoke; I noticed the cigarette is filtered in the recreation.

    • That’s actually very good info! Rebecca, the talent, wasn’t even a smoker so she had some trouble with (even) the filtered cig.

  • Don’t mean to be unpleasant, but based on the end results here, I’m not sure that even had to be posted on the blog

  • strong backlight, low fill. Reflector discs for the eyes.

  • Great attempt to recreate the exact same lighting for that shot. The actress has a great look to her. However, I don’t think you nailed the lighting. But a great experiment none-the-less! Would love to see another attempt, perhaps with another scene and using the same actress.

    • I think I could talk her into doing another sometime! I didn’t nail the lighting at all, I agree, but I have to say it’s not easy. I was a little frustrated with the result being that I’m my own harshest critic. Thankfully, I’m very willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

    • The opening “Godfather” shot (I believe in America …) with Gordon Willis’ overhead lighting. Can this actress do a balding 60 year old Italian male?

  • Jerome (also..but not the other jerome) on 07.23.13 @ 3:36PM

    atmosphere! how are you going to try and re-create anything from Blade Runner without atmosphere? Get a smoke machine dude. Also what color temp were you shooting your test with? The ungraded footage looks incredibly warm. Like you were using tungsten light but had the camera set to 5600k or higher. This shot is pretty cool in the original (at least to my eye). I’d guess shot with HMIs and xenons which are daylight balanced. I don’t understand why you didn’t ctb all the lights and then shoot at the appropriate color temp?

    • Jerome (also..but not the other jerome) on 07.23.13 @ 3:50PM

      never mind. I guess I must have missed that part of the article somehow. Sorry about that!

  • Had you shot this on a camera with a more robust codec or raw, you could probably grade this pretty close to the BR original.

  • Great work guys.
    Despite every word written before mine, I think you do a great work trying to ricreate that shot!
    I work in the industry as first AC and filmmaker and every day I find something new to learn, and the same does the people which I work with (and they are at least 20 years on the field). Even watching a simple test like yours.

    But I’m very concerned about some post I wrote before, because I think they would create some misunderstanding:

    1- 30 years ago the movies were color corrected as we do now. The processes changed, but the idea remain the same: the negative is/was ugly as the raw from a digital camera. You can see it by taking some picture with your old film camera and only ask to develop and not to print (sorry if the word is incorrect, I’m not english), than you can scan the negative and what you will see will be something near a raw image.

    2- I’m not sure that in the 80′s they scan film for the edit, nor for the projection. Blade runner was shot in 1982 and avid was released around 90′s, so is quite impossible that they scanned the film… and I don’t think they did in 8K…
    Plus: s35mm digital equivalent is 4K, not 8K… otherwise I can’t understand why to stop shoting films and start shoting digital.


  • While I wouldn’t say the result was a terribly good match, the resulting image is pleasing and I appreciate the cinematographer’s willingness to submit his work in a forum such as this, where everyone is an anonymous expert :) I have recently been thinking about doing something like this very exercise as a personal learning experiment. Now I think I just might do it!

  • Nice attempt but contrast ratios are way off. You also missed the rim light on the back of the chair in the top right hand corner of frame.

  • john jeffries on 07.23.13 @ 7:29PM

    They used neon lights for a lot of blade runner, you should mess with that :)

  • A very interesting exercise to say the least. Tough to re-create any shot exactly but it’s fun breaking down an image and analyzing the light sources/qualities.

  • A very interesting blog-post and a great film-experiment. It doesn’t matter if it’s the perfect recreation as we now have an interesting discourse in the comments section which is much better than a perfect tutorial with a perfect recreation. I learned a lot from your reverse-engeneering thoughts on the shot and I would be happy if more online tutorials would use this approach (instead of illustrating 3-point lighting for an interview again and again ;)). Really cool! Thumbs up! Will you repeat it with other scenes? I could imagine this a format for a series or even an online-learning platform.

  • This is actually a great post. Yes, it was a failed attempt. But there is so much to be learned from it. If the end result was a perfect replication, (no pun intended) it wouldn’t be as effective a learning tool.

  • Nice work!

  • I really REALLY enjoyed this article, I would like the site to try more of these in the future. The reason for me liking this so much is the practicality of it, its on-set real world practice compared to some more theory and philosophical articles on this site, not saying those were bad but to actually try a shoot and reflect on it including the mistakes or the advantages. Example: the compressed h.264, it would have been interesting if it was RAW might have helped in post since the photo reference was alot warmer then the actual source which could be tweaked better in post if it was RAW. Or even if it had an anamorphic filter. The fact that you tried and came away a far better film maker and able to reflect on the positives and negatives in a real world shoot is very rewarding.

    Do more, really enjoyed it. Another great scene would be one from The Master, with the interview between Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman (the whole film was gorgeous). But then again the acting also really sells it though, along with shooting it on 65mm film haha.

  • My cinematography professor would have us do shot recreation like this and I think that it is an extremely effective tool for people who are trying to step their game up from just a guy with lights and a camera to a skilled dp. You have to be able to see the light and know how consistantly meticulous you need to be with your lighting.

  • Really great article, very informative, and while the actress is very good, you probably could have gotten Sean Young to be in it for nothing…

  • Looks good, but doesn’t quite give the effect of the original. The Original does look more like authentic late afternoon sun coming into a dark room. In the recreation, the light coming from the left doesn’t look ‘hot’ enough, or like the daylight it is supposed to be imitating (although I’m guessing Ridley didn’t use real daylight in the original).

    As someone else has said, it probably didn’t need as much fill light on the right.

  • Anyone trying to followup on recreating key scenes might look at the feedback as a great tool for preparing the effort – rather then getting feedback afterwards announce the project with the target footage and collect observations in advance – lots of insite to aid the process – I think that effort looks good, Id love to see more of the same

  • its interesting how the replicated scene doesnt look at all like the original. Its all way to soft and clean. the scene does live through its hard shadows and rims, without any fills. it reminds me more on pfilsters work of the early 2000 than on the rough noir style of blade runner.

    thx though for the tutorial on how to achieve the look you made! its worth to watch it!

  • Christopher Boone on 07.25.13 @ 6:59PM

    Hey E.M. and Seth,

    Love the post and the discussion in the comments, but how about sharing the name of your actress who kindly sat in for your lighting experiment (and even did her own hair and make-up) instead of just referring to her as the actress or “Rachael” stand-in? A little credit would be nice, no?

    • E.M. Taboada on 07.26.13 @ 10:13AM

      We actually have a couple of folks who warrant a shout out by name — Zach and Becca at Aren’t We Clever, Joe who helped with set-ups, and, of course, Rebecca, whose name appears to have disappeared between drafts even though her spot in the article remained (that happens a lot when I play around too much with a sentence)! Thanks for the catch Chris, the article’s been updated!

  • Richard Jeffery on 07.25.13 @ 6:59PM

    Great excersise .. I recon that the ‘nuclear bloom’ on the exhaled smoke could be achived with a 50w Dido, barn doored down and spotted up to catch just the smoke .. unseen until the smoke hits it.
    Hey Seth .. everyones an expert in hindsight .. but they wern’t there on the day. Well done!

  • Thanks for posting! Yeah, these exercises are extremely valuable. I love Blade Runner and all the work that went into it. Anyway, nice post.

    Here is my humble attempt at trying to capture some of the Blade Runner mood. This short piece is set to the Blade Runner dialogue track. I shot it in Osaka, Japan:

  • Where have we seen this actress? SHe looked Very familiar.( No ,don’t mean Sean Young).
    Wasn’t there also some stronger light ,forward of her face through which she blew the Smoke. It looked pretty strong in the original.

  • Just a note; the “glowing eye” effect is not a reflection from a practical illuminary, it is the illumination of the retina surface and was produced by using a lightflex unit (or simple beam splitter unit) mounted on the camera, with a light at right angles to the image path, dimmed down to minimal output.

    The lightflex was a front mounted unit with a beam splitter angled in the optical path at 45 degrees, exactly on the image taking axis, with a variable light source that was used to “flash” an exposure over the incoming scene and thereby lower the overall gamma of a film scene.

    If you’ll note, Sean Young’s eyes are locked in place in the one shot that has the effect. Retinal flash is totally depenent upon exactly catching the retina at 90 degrees, so it acts as a mirror (i.e., “red eye” with flash photography). The color red is natural; the color of the blood vessels in the retina.

    You can produce this effect by building a flat-black, square box large with a hole large enough to admit the taking lens on one side (toward camera), a hole at 180 degrees large enough for field of view (directly across from lens) and an aperture at right angles from this axis for the light source , most often to the left (traditional position).

    Place a an optical beam splitter of about 80 percent transmission/ 20 percent reflectance in the box at a 45 degree angle (the lower left and upper right corners being perfectly suited to position the beam splitter) and shine a light on a dimmer into the illumination aperture. You can try simple clear glass, but it will take a large amount of light…

    With some care to avoid internal reflections in the box (flat black, remember?) you can adjust the strength of the light source to get a retinal flash as long as the actor looks at a very specific point toward the camera that catches the surface of the retina.

    Come to think of it, this was the era of front screen projection with scotch bright and rear plate elements projected live onto the set, so the eye flash was probably noticed by Ridley Scott and, although it was seen as a technical error when using front screen projection, I’ll bet he saw it and was able to creatively incorporate it into the film as a thematic device.

    • Thanks Frank! :) There is the subsequent scene in Harrison Ford’s apartment right after Sean Young had just saved his life that features this “glowing eye” effect in Ms. Young’s eyes – but it appears to be holding even with eye movement on her part. Would the set-up you describe above allow for some eye movement and still maintain the “glowing eye” effect?

      • @Jay. Yes, it varies with individuals, but straight on and at a 90 degree to straight on seem to work the best with only a small ability to move the eye. It also depends on the focal length of the taking lens and other factors as well. Try to find articles on front screen projection in SMPTE and ASC manuals/magazines from the 1980′s and you can find technical explanations of what works best.

        • I guess it came from Kubrick’s experiments for that same shot of an animal in 2001 which also used front projection in the scene…

  • What this recreation fails to do is recreate the “eye shine” / “feral highlights” (the golden light reflecting back from the irises – similar to “redeye”) that were present in Sean Young’s eyes. THAT’s what’s most eye-catching in this (and subsequent) scenes featuring Ms. Young.

    I don’t know what I wouldn’t give to be able to reproduce this “eye shine” / “feral highlights”!!!

    • You can simply place a plate of optically clear glass between you and the person you are shooting at a 45% angle between the camera lens and your subjec, and shine the light where it bounces off the glass and directly into the eyes of the actor (use all prudent caution here, no really bright lights or lasers), moving around until you catch the rential flash. The light and the lens has to be on the same optical axis. A diffused light source that can be dimmed would probably be the best. Since the retina is curved, and as long as the pupil of the eye is open enough, you should see the glow. Its tricky to balance the light intensity and angle witout causing your actor’s iris to close down, so try it in a dark room with a relatively dim light for the rential flash source. Good luck.

  • cindy meyer on 07.31.13 @ 3:00PM

    This is fascinating and very well done…look forward to more work by Seth Iliff

  • Thomas Del Ruth ASC on 10.7.13 @ 12:34PM

    I was Jordan’s Operator and 1st Assistant for years until I mover to DP in 79….Jordy used only One light to do everything except the Red Eye FX….The Backlight came from a Mole Richardson Arc burning yellow Cole mounted on a Pony Stand for a 3200 K Color Temp to match the Kodak 5254 Color Balance. You will notice a slight nose shadow on the Right side of Sean’s face that came from the stray light coming form the backlight, that was bouncing off a 4X8 Bead Board at the left side of camera…..The shadow side was filled with bounce light coming from the Arc as well, this time it was striking a 4×4 Bead Board that was scrimed down using 4X4 Matthews Doubles to suggest a hint of tone….The Eye Light was a Mole Inkey placed 90 Degrees to the right of camera projected through a 50% partial Mirror on lens Axis…..There was no Digital work used on the film…It simply had not been invented. All the effects that you see were done in Camera or Optical Printer…Those were the days ( up to 2000) that Dp’s really had to know what they were doing, as opposed to today were any fool can get a look, he cant fail, he’s guided by committee around the Monitor and again in post….

    • RidingtheDragon on 08.11.14 @ 3:01AM

      A new technology that simplifies a task doesn’t necessarily mean it producers ignorant DPs. What would be the point of using a half translucent / mirror now (placed in front of the lens at a 45 degree angle) with a beam when it could likely be done effectively with CGI now? I would be surprised if Ridley uses the same technique in Blade Runner 2 if it can be done effectively in post. For the time period, the set-up was both clever and time consuming. If the new generation of DPs understand the theory and elements used on X shoot… it doesn’t matter if it’s the 80′s or 00′s. In the end, it’s about achieving a particular visual aesthetic that serves the story. Even Jeff uses a simpler set-up now. A lot of Kinos, top light, and soft boxes.

    • Yes, I knew it was Kodak! It has a very characteristic tone separation. Do you remember the filtration? It screams of black frost the more I look at it.

  • Great Article. So much that we used it today during a low-budget lighting tutorial I ran. We recreated this Blade Runner Scene, the diner scene from Se7en, and the hotel lobby shot from Minority Report. The Blade Runner interrogation scene was by far the most challenging. The biggest issue we had was enough ambient on her face, without reducing the effect of the blown-out left side. Second most challenging, and ultimately a fail, was to create the large orange eye-light. Didn’t have the mirror option, and we tried several lights, including a china ball light, but in order to get it big enough, it had to be moved in close, ruining the shot with too much light. We settled for a smaller eye light.

    Thanks for such an invigorating article!

    For those interested, here are some stills from our results today:

  • even in similar lighting, digital fails to come even close to the cinematic depth of the original film stock that was used!

  • There’s one crucial thing missing – the lighting in Sean Young’s eyes (pupils) gives the Blade Runner shot a slightly other worldly feel, and is essential to the whole mood of the shot.
    Besides, I don’t feel you quite achieved the atmosphere of the original – I respectfully feel that your lighting set up was far too flat and a bit bland – sorry about that.

  • RidingtheDragon on 08.11.14 @ 2:41AM

    It’s a good attempt. But, Cronenweth enjoyed blowing out highlights.

    High Res Version:

    Smaller version:

  • RidingtheDragon on 08.11.14 @ 2:46AM

    Also, upping that back light more will make the smoke pop more.

  • Too much fill and they didn’t replicate the eye glow, which was done in camera by shooting through a two way mirror and shinning light directly into the eyes of the replicants.. Pshh amateurs.

  • Mike van der Lee on 08.11.14 @ 3:26AM

    Always amazing to see, where ever you look, so many blown up egos, expressing themselves with blatant, CAPS & !!!! comments, instead of constructive and up-building.

    Seth, thanks for not doing that, it shows you are going places. Thanks so much for sharing your analysis, breakdown and approach, also with after thoughts about what you could have done different.

    Always said to see that the biggest part of creative team work is first separating out the don’t-know-it-alls-but-appearing-to from the don’t-know-it-alls-but-open-to-exchange-knowledge-together – which loses so much energy….

  • Jed Darlington-Roberts on 08.11.14 @ 4:23AM

    I think you got a little scared in the grade, too high a dynamic range, in the original shot, her right side is completely over exposed and shines, whilst on her left, its pretty much black, people don’t add contrast in as much these days which disappoints me

  • Needs negative fill. But pretty well done overall.

  • Good attempt. He could have simply used a China Ball or Soft Box for the front. But, he definitely needed to overexpose/blow-out the Kicker and Background light. Overexposing hard light was classic Cronenweth. The basement scene in Peggy Sue, Cronenweth simply used one 10k light and bounce.

  • Feel like this test was a failure right? and it’s rather a really simple.
    The person also referes to the back light as the key light… ??? what???
    The person made it way more complicated than it needed to and missed the point of the shot and the lighting.

    the main challenge was the eye light and they completely failed at that.
    what i would have been curious about would be that it looks like what happens when light is reflected directly back to the lens (red eye effect essentially) yet she’s not looking directly into the lens – it almost looks like an effects shot… that would have been interesting to experiement with…

    also the composition – in the original the upper right has light blue.
    this is crucial in creating a rhythm of light dark light dark light…. balancing the weight of the frame.

  • Henry Adebonojo on 08.13.14 @ 2:11PM

    It’s always an interesting exercise to attempt a recreation of a particular shot within a scene. I have had to do it a couple of times and it’s no easy task. In this case I think it is useful to look at the wide shot starting at 0.22 of the Blade Runner clip to see how the close up is achieved. The light in the close up is all motivated by what can be seen in the wide shot. For those who conclude that the primary light on Rachel is a bounce light I am inclined to agree. The motivation for that would be the bounce coming of Deckard’s shirt. Furthermore the wide shot to camera is virtually devoid of fill light, so it would make sense that very little if any fill was used on the camera right side in the close up. The spread of the left side kicker comes much further out towards the camera than in the recreation and in addition to lighting up the smoke, bounces light back into her face when her hand is moving through it. Lastly I am inclined to believe that the glow in her eye was achieved by some kind of low wattage projection unit, something that approximates the Voight Kampff unit used in the scene. It is not bright in her eyes – more of a glow, but very visible in the frames in which it appears. The focus/spread of that unit is probably so narrow that it is only visible in the eyes. Just a few of my thoughts about the exercise. Very nice try Seth.