Blade Runner: The City

leading from  
Blade Runner 

a) Ridleyville
The unnamed city nicknamed Ridleyville by the production crew, presented is an example of overkill, but Ridley always got the impression of New York back in they made the film in the 80s as being overkill.

If one went into New York on a bad day and looked around, it would feel as if the place was going to grid to a halt any moment, which it nearly did all the time all too often.

All that was required was a garbage strike, a subway strike or an electrical blowout and then there would be absolute chaos.

So Ridley and the others took that idea and projected it forty years into the future and came up with a megalopolis. It would be the kind of city that could be where New York and Chicago would be joint together with a hundred million people living there.

Ridley wanted to call it San Angeles which would have suggested that the eight-hundred mile-long western seaboard had been transformed into a single population centre with giant cities and monolithic buildings at either end, and there would be this strange kind of awful suburb in the middle.

Someone said to Ridley in response to the idea "I don't get it."

Ridley replied "You know, San Francisco and Los Angeles."

He was very frustrated by how other people would only think about what's under their noses until it came and kicked them in the back side.

But the city was moved to the East Coast because it rained so much.


b) Hades
A vast industrial complex surrounded the city that was an incredible sort of New Jersery industrial wasteland gone beserk, called Hades, but the production crew named it Ridley's Inferno. A place with thousands of light sources, The Tyrell Pyramids , and spouting flames burning off toxic gases from towering smokestacks.


 
c) Traffic
Ridley wanted to have a lot of air traffic within the City.  

He had envisaged traffic jams in the air, which he never really got because it would have been too expensive. 

But originally, they were to have  two really marvelous opening sequences where the viewer would witness the most immense traffic jams at highway level. 

The character Deckard gets out of his car, because he's stuck, the police have called him to come in and he can't. 

He taps on a digital device inside a car - a kind of lock-in device - and the car moves off on its own. 

Then, Deckard carefully nips his way through the traffic, which is still moving slowly, like one mile an hour in a torrential rain, and he goes over the edge of the highway to what is in fact a huge, concrete mushroom. 

The mushroom reveals itself to be a landing platform. 

He sits up there having coffee out of a machine on the wall with other business men. 

They're all waiting to be picked up  by air traffic from the lip of the platform. 

When his turn comes, the Spinner arrives, and that was the introduction of that machine. 

But it was also an expensive sequence.

Blade Runner traffic storyboard
 
d) The Rain
Because this was a movie in the 1980s and they were filming it in a studio backlot, they had to go to great lengths to disguise it and most backlots that one see in films were not really that good. The use of rain on the textures that they created finely puts a layer on it, which Ridley found pushed it over the edge into reality, and as it were glued everything together on the screen. 

In the world of ideas, Ridley went with the idea that the idea of having monolithic buildings which on average were the height of the Empire State Building or more, they created their own weather storms at a high level, with their own precipitations.

Syd Mead's city scape
 
e) Towers growing in height
The architecture was based on an idea that 40 years from now, most of today's buildings will still exist in a modified form, and the streets will have become like the underground sewers of Paris or the left over space as you built higher and higher.

Syd Mead made a sketch of the typical new city where there was the World Trade Towers sized building which is now old and would have been about 1200 feet high and then upped that it to 2000ft and because this was 2020, upped it another thousand feet so that the new buildings are going up past 3000 feet high.

It would connect with the 1980s trend of enclosing space. Once inside the future skyscraper, the building would represent a variety of spaces from parks and zoos to business centres. Around the beginning of the 1980s, they were just building artificial cliffs in cities that Syd Mead considered dull structures.

Syd Mead's city scape
f) Low Crime Vs An Elevated Society 
Then one begins to create the second level between-building accesses for what were considered normal citizens and these decent people wouldn't live below 60 stories above the ground, let alone venture below the 40th level of these megastructures.

It would be an entire elevated network of connections, with freeways and  people carriers looming high above the original street level.

In essence, you would have  a second society built upon the remains of a past one. The street level would really be low in every sense of the word.

Syd Mead's city scape
g) Construction of buildings
The street level becomes nothing more than an service access corridor to the mega-strutures built on giant pylons.  

Each pylon occupies half a block and extend up 60 stories to the structure's underside, it would support the side and perhaps take up a half to a whole city block leaving the old building structures inside. 

The single pylon might extend for several city blocks on the side of the building. 


Syd Mead's city scape

h) The old neighbourhood
Old neighbourhood stores and apartment houses clustered at the base will have been gutted and converted into storage, delivery ducts, air conditioning plants and plumbing. 

Massive retrofitted equipment has been added to keep the out-dated structures in use. 

Then you would have big power conduits going up the outside of these old buildings. 

Instead of taking them down the whole inside out would be taken out and the entire interior remodeled. 

The streets would be transformed into a maze of pipes and tubes.

Syd Mead's city street


i) Life along the Street level
If someone is forced to live along the street level by economic accident or whatever, it's a very unpleasant place to be.  

He would see nothing outside of his  windows, except machinery etc. 

So, Syd thought, "We'll have a rental service where you can rent a view!" which meant a box that the owner would snap over the window. 

The owner would have a flat screen TV, which was technologically feasible in the 1980s, it could show a nice jungle with birds flying by, or the Niagara Falls or snowcapped mountains, complete with sound and motion.  

Of course, when everyone had one of these, it produces a non-inhabited warehouse-like look to old apartment buildings, but at the same time, there was light activity, little flashes coming out from the match lines. 

There would be congestion of cars and big machines that are just there. 

They are owned by the city, and they just sit there for a month. People are camping under them, and there would be a Hong Kong or Calcutta kind of density that Ridley Scott was after. 
 
Syd Mead's city street

j) Oriental Graphics 
The Oriental graphics on the streets contribute to that density without being as distracting as English language signs would be for an American culture. 

They give the viewer a sense of visual crowd and the add-on visual jumble without too much distraction. 

Syd Mead had noticed this himself in Tokyo on the Ginza where the signs look incredibly jumbled, but he was not distracted by being able to read them so he could enjoy the pure visual composited they created.

Source Quotes
  1. Ridley Scott: It's a kind of future people watching the movie might experience in 40 years' time. The environment is this massive city which could be on the eastern seaboard or could be on the west coast with this massive conglomerate of people. (Starlog, May 1982, p62)
  2. Ridley Scott: The city we present is overkill, but I always get the impression of New York being overkill. You go into New York on a bad day and you look around and you feel this place is going to grind to a halt any minute - which is nearly does all too often. All you need is a garbage strike or a subway strike or an electrical blowout and you have absolute chaos. So we took that idea and projected it forty years into the future and came up with a megalopolis - the kind of city that could be where New York and Chicago join, with maybe a hundred million people living there. Or maybe San Francisco and Los Angeles. In fact, at one point we were going to call the city San Angeles, which would of course have suggested that the eight-hundred mile-long western seaboard had been transformed into a single population center with giant cities and monolithic buildings at either end and then this strange kind of awful suburb in the middle. I thought the idea was interesting, but the city's now been moved to the East Coast because it's raining so much. (Cinefex 9, p6-7)
  3. Syd Mead: First of all you had this incredible congestion at street level. The streets had become like the underground sewers of Paris or the leftover space as you built higher and higher. I made a sketch of the typical new city where we had the World Trade Tower sized building which is now old and the new buildings going up past 3000 feet high. Then you start to build an entire elevated network of connections because decent people don't live below 60 stories above the ground. So the street level becomes an access corridor and really nothing more. If you are forced to live there by economic accident or whatever, it's a very unpleasant place to be. You get this congestion of cars and big machines that are just there. They are owned by the city, and they just sit there for a month. People are camping under them, and there is a Hong Kong or Calcutta kind of density that Ridley was after. The Oriental graphics on the streets contribute to that density without being as distracting as English language signs would be for an American culture. They give you the visual crowd and the add-on visual jumble without too much distraction. I had noticed that myself in Tokyo on the Ginza where the signs look incredibly jumbled, but I was not distracted by being able to read them so I could enjoy the pure visual composited they created.  (American Cinematographer, July 1982, p687)
  4. Syd Mead: The architecture was based on an idea that 40 years from now, most of today's buildings will still exist in modified form, The street level will be used as service access to the mega-structures built on giant pylons. Each pylon occupies half a block and extend up 60 stories to the structure's underside. Old neighborhood stores and apartment houses clustered at the base have been gutted and converted into storage, delivery ducts, air conditioning plants and plumbing. Massive retrofitted equipment has been added to keep the out-dated structures in use. (Prevue)
  5. Syd Mead: I know that we're going to have 3000 foot buildings. That idea jibes with the current trends of enclosing space.  But I think that once you're inside the future skyscraper, the building will represent  a variety of spaces from parks and zoos to business centers. Right now, we're just building artificial cliffs in cities, dull structures. (Starlog, May 1982, p61)
  6. Syd Mead: The city in the movie is not named. There's no particular setting. But, let's face it, New York is the example of what's going on in cities today with buildings going up to 1000 feet. (Starlog, May 1982, p39)
  7. Syd Mead: We used that as a springboard. We drew a profile of a city taking the two World Trade Towers as the norm. We figures that, as you went up higher, the street level as we know it today would just become sort of massive service alley sequestered beneath these enormous megastructures. (Starlog, May 1982, p39)
  8. Syd Mead: That would, in turn, give the streets a sort of subterranean sewer look. You'd have generators and tubes and gigantic pylons supporting the sides of those buildings and taking up space on ground level. You might wind up taking a whole city block, leaving the old building structures inside that block that would represent a pylon supporting a 3,000 foot skyscraper. Heck. That single pylon might extend for several city blocks on the side of the building. Using that idea, you eventually come up with a street filled with a lot of stuff. It would be transformed into a maze of pipes and tubes. (Starlog, May 1982, p39)
  9. Syd Mead: By inference, the crime and the congestion present on this ground level would be an enormous problem, making it almost necessary for all citizens to avoid it, to not venture below the 40th level of the megastructures. The streets would really be low, in every sense of the word. (Starlog, May 1982, p39)
  10. Syd Mead: That sort of low crime, vs, an elevated society would lead to the creation of a second level between-building accesses for normal citizens; freeways and people carriers looming high above the original street level. In essence you'd have a second society built upon the remains of a past one.(Starlog, May 1982, p39)
  11.  Starlog: Why do the streets look so crowded and poor?Syd Mead: That look evolved progressively. One of the backgrounds of the vehicle sketches - I think it was the taxi -  was reflecting the socialogical theories we were discussing at the time. The City had grown to where buildings were 3000 feet high. I made a scale drawing showing the World Trade Center Towers - they're about 1200 feet, then upped it to 2000 feet, and then added another thousand feet because we're in the year 2020. When you start to get this scale, you realize that the street level would really serve as access to the building maintenance system. If you had to live next to the street, you would see nothing outside of your windows, except machinery and stuff.  So, I thought, "We'll have a rental service where you can rent a view!" which means a box that you snap over your window. You have a flat screen TV -- which is technologically feasible right now - then you can have a nice jungle with birds flying by. Of course, when everyone has one of these, it produces a warehouse-like look to old apartment buildings. It has a non-inhabited look. (Starlog, November 1992, p43)
  12.  Syd Mead:Then you would have big power conduits going up the outside of these old buildings. There would be no use tearing them down. You may take the whole inside out and remodel the entire interior. (Starlog, November 1992, p43) 
  13. Lawrence G Paull: Another concept was that a lot of the environmental necessities of this city - plumbing, air conditioning and so on - are starting to malfunction. So how are these breakdowns handled? By 'retrofitting,' putting huge conduits and piping on the sides of buildings and sidewalks to provide the necessary services. Since the inner systems weren't functioning and the time and money weren't available to rip them out of the walls, it would be easier to merely service them from the outside of the buildings. (Cinefantastique, vol 12, 5&6, p33)
  14. Ridley Scott: So that look I wanted entailed a lot of air traffic within the City. I had envisaged traffic jams in the air, which I never really got because it would have been too expensive. But originally, we had two really marvelous opening sequences where you witnessed the most immense traffic jams at highway level. Then Deckard gets out of his car, because he's stuck, the police have called him to come in and he can't. He taps on a digital device inside a car - a kind of lock-in device - and the car moves off on its own. Then, Deckard carefully nips his way through the traffic, which is still moving slowly, like one mile an hour in a torrential rain, and he goes over the edge of the highway to what is in fact a huge, concrete mushroom. The mushroom reveals itself to be a landing platform. He sits up there having coffee out of a machine on the wall with other business men. They're all waiting to be picked up  by air traffic from the lip of the platform. When his turn comes, the Spinner arrives, and that was the introduction of that machine. That was also an expensive sequence. (Starlog, November 1992, p50)
  15. Ridley Scott: I wanted to call it San Angeles and somebody said, "I don't get it." I said, "You know, San Francisco and Los Angeles."  It's bizarre; people only think about what's under their noses until it comes and kicks them in the ass.  (geekymonkey #14)
  16. Starlog: Blade Runner seems to have a lot of rain in it
    Ridley Scott: If you decide to do a movie the way we did it, where we selected a studio backlot  to do the whole picture in, you have to go to every great length to disguise it. Because most backlots you see in films look pretty cruddy. The use of rain on textures that we've created finely puts a layer on it, which pushes it over the edge into reality. It glues it all together if you like. So it helps.
    The other side of things is that I thought of the idea of having a city with these monolithic buildings which, on average, are the height of the Empire State Building or more. There are buildings which are twice the size of that. Therefore it has created its own weather storms at a high level, its own precipitations. (Starlog, November 1992, p50)
  17. Syd Mead: The idea was that basically it was going to be unpleasant to be at street level in the cities. The old city structure would still be there, but the buildings might now be hollowed out and used as service access or plenum chambers for the really big megastructures above them.  Or maybe the building would be left where it was, but with a whole column built inside; so you'd have a normal five-story building, and then out of the top of it would be a big pylon that would go up a hundred stories to the underside of another building. So there'd be all this incredible changing scale. And I don't think it's too far fetched.  If today we can build the World Trade Center, which is two buildings, side-by-side, about eleven hundred feet tall, it seems reasonable to assume that forty years into the future - with better steels and technology and computerized wind loading and such - we could probably at least triple that as a fairly common occurrence. And it's also reasonable to assume that if that happens, the older sections of the city - those closest to the ground - will be the least desirable for living and working. (Cinefex 9, p8)
  18. Syd Mead: So I thought, if it's unpleasant to look out the window, with flat-screen TV - which is realizable right now; It's just not on the market - you'd rent a service that would come and put a box outside your window and you could have Nigara Falls or snowcapped mountains or whatever, complete with sound and motion. And you'd end up with a residential urban area that looks sort of like a warehouse district because there's all these funny boxes and things on the outside of buildings. Ridley thought it was really kind of a neat idea because it produced a strange, uninhabitable look, but at the same time there was light activity - little flashes coming out from the match lines, and all, So that started my involvement with doing the street sets. (Cinefex 9, p8)
  19.  Syd Mead: The other thing was that the street sets were going to show this accumulated progress. The buildings would just become surfaces on which you'd mount retrofitted electrical conduits, air conditioning ducts and all kinds of other things. Additional power would come from a generator sitting on the street - which might be there for years, but initially it was a temporary idea. And then these cables would be running up the sides of all the buildings.  But essentially it was an industrial design approach, but there had to be a very solid, mechanical logic behind it. It had to look like what it was. And what it was was a city whose discreet individual structures had been enveloped into sort of an urban machine, with people living inside.(Cinefex 9, p8)
  20. Ridley's Inferno was the name given by the crew to the vast industrial complex that surrounded the  city. Although appearing to stretch for miles, the force perspective. (Cinefantastique, vol 12, 5&6, p36)
  21. Douglas Trumbull: It is this incredible sort of New Jersey industrial wasteland gone beserk. It had thousands of light sources, The Tyrell Pyramids, and spouting flames burning off toxic gases from towering smokestacks (Cinefantastique, vol 12, 5&6, p43)

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