A futuristic, post-apocalyptic Las Vegas was seen in Blade Runner 2049 thanks to behind-the-scenes tech that helped the film win Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Cinematography at the Academy Awards on March 4, 2018.
The visual effects were created using Esri's CityEngine 3D design software. Framestore, a visual arts studio based in Montreal, Quebec, used the software to depict a future vision of Las Vegas for the film while leaving recognizable landmarks in place.
"We were tasked in creating a futuristic Las Vegas for the year 2049. We had to fly over the main strip of Vegas on a long sequence shot," said Didier Muanza, lead environment TD, Framestore. "CityEngine seemed to be the best choice to help us generate a present day 2017 model of Vegas which was used as the base for the futuristic version."
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The setting of the film shows Las Vegas after a nuclear bomb strike, but there are some recognizable structures remaining such as the Luxor's pyramid, Caesar's Palace and the MGM Grand sign. Framestore designers used CityEngine for one month and generated a 6.759km long, 4km-wide set with more than 1,400 buildings. Realistic textures were based on aerial and oblique photos of the Las Vegas main strip.
"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," said Richard Hoover, VFX supervisor at Framestore.
In the real world, CityEngine transforms 2D GIS data into Smart 3D city models and is used for urban planning, architecture and design with 3D visualization capabilities. It also shows the relationships of projects, assesses their feasibility and is used to plan implementation. The designs can be published directly on the web for sharing 3D models, analysis results or design proposals with decision makers and the public. It is integrated with Esri's ArcGIS, which allows users the ability to import or export any geospatial vector data.
"The easiest way to probably explain what Esri CityEngine does is essentially you can very easily turn 2D data into 3D data. CityEngine's a great tool to quickly do that and then create things that are visually appealing, and yeah obviously it can be used in a lot of different contexts," said Taisha Waeny, project manager for the Esri R&D Center in Zurich.
CityEngine was used to create special effects in Zootopia, and there are a few other films coming out that are using the software.
"We have some of our lead developers here that work very closely as well with some of the VFX studios to really fine-tune this pipeline so that it is as easy as possible for the artists on the other end to use CityEngine and to render it in whatever engine they're doing their renderings in," Waeny said. "We have people working closely with the visual effects industry to sort of allow that to happen easily."
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Note: This story was updated on March 5, 2018 to reflect the film's Oscar wins.
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.