Outstanding Effect Shots, part 22 of 24

Welcome to the Single-Minded Movie Blog advent calendar. Between the 1st and the 24th of December every day will bring you a short post about a classic or not so classic shot from the golden era of visual effects.

The Spinners
- from Blade Runner (1982)

The stunning, flawless visual effects created by Douglas Trumbull and his talented crew for Blade Runner is as much a reason for its status today as anything director Ridley Scott came up with. There's no way of doing justice to Trumbull's work on the limited space we have here, we'll save that for another day, so let's just pause and enjoy the magic of this image:

Director Ridley Scott favored a slow, moody approach to his sci-fi epic. The stunning, atmospheric images required a different approach than the hectic Star Wars space battles

This was never more obvious than in the shots featuring the so-called Spinners - the flying police cars of the future. As they slowly glide through L.A., dozens of flashing lights pierce through the heavy smoke, and lens flares - once considered flaws, now icing on the visual cake - make the whole image come alive.

Most of the close-up Spinner shots were done with the hero model, 44 inches long, with movable human figures inside, and of course covered with multiple flashing lights, perfectly matching the full-scale mock-up.

An interesting detail is the way the model Spinners were shot. Rather than using blue screen, Trumbull preferred to shoot with a fronlit/backlit technique, where the mattes are usually created by having the models in silhouette against a bright white screen. This didn't always work properly (we'll talk about why another time) so a different approach was used. When the normal motion-controlled passes where done (usually four for every shot) the model was covered in white tape, and then photographed against a black background.

How crazy is that? A hardcore, futuristic movie with state of the art effects, and it was done with white tape. Still, it's the final result that counts.

We can all take solace in the fact that the future, as dirty and desolate as it may be, is full of movie magic.

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