blade runner rachael sean young

‘Blade Runner 2049,’ directed by Denis Villeneuve and with dizzying cinematography by Roger Deakins, is, without argument, a visual stunner from start to finish. If you’ve seen the film (SPOILERS AHEAD IF NOT), you’ll remember that one of the most amazing effects to pull off was bringing back Sean Young’s Rachael from the original 1982 film.

Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor John Nelson, who worked on Rachael’s two-minute cameo in ‘2049’ for a year, gave a recent interview and revealed some of his magic tricks. Nelson said:

“Digital humans are sort of like the holy grail — they’re really hard. I knew it would be one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career. We had many challenges in this movie but this one was definitely the hardest one we did.”

rachael blade runner 2049

Loren Peta was cast as Rachael reincarnate, and was put in full makeup and hair to be shot alongside Harrison Ford during the film’s production. Sean Young was on the set that day as an advisor, and her son also worked on the film as a production assistant (talk about intimidating). Nelson explained:

“It was all very secret — this was our seriously-can’t-talk-about-it thing. (The character’s code name, even amongst the crew, was “Rita.”) Peta had dots on her face so that everything from the neck up could be replaced and rebuilt with CG.”

The crew played close attention to the original ‘Blade Runner,’ as it was essential to capture Sean Young’s mannerisms. Nelson talked about the challenge, saying:

“I never thought I would learn so much about makeup but I did. It’s one thing to make a digital double look real, it’s another to make them perform and act.”

One of the things Nelson was particularly happy with is something most of us probably would never notice. He explained:

 “I’m really proud of those flyaway hairs. Digital hair is really beautiful but sometimes it can be too perfect. So we made flyaway hair the way it would in real life.”

During one particular “super secret” Saturday in Budapest, Sean Young and Loren Peta were put in a facial motion-capture rig and filmed, with both women saying Rachael’s dialogue from the film. This process helped the animators later on in the complicated human-building process. Says Nelson of the visual effects company MPC that worked on building Rachael’s face from model to skeleton to human:

“Only a couple of places could do it.”

Is this the way of the future for casting movies? Not quite. As spectacular the results are, Nelson assures us that real-life actors don’t need to worry about being replaced by replicants. He said:

“Doing digital human work is so incredibly hard. To do these shots took an amazing amount of time. I think real actors are safe for a long while.”