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Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future

Logan Baker

In this cinematography breakdown by Wolfcrow, we get an insightful look at the visual motifs that make Blade Runner 2049 so aesthetically stunning.

Cover image via Wolfcrow

Casual friends and inspiring collaborators Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins have made something special with Blade Runner 2049. This film is so dense with visual and auditory delights that filmmakers will be picking it apart and replicating its tricks for years. Part of the reason the film has won so many awards and received such acclaim is the incredible attention to detail and plot development. Whether it’s the use of certain colors to evoke certain emotions or simply knowing how the audience’s eyes move, these filmmakers have definitely brought a new approach to dystopian science fiction.

Skewed Horizon Line

Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future — Horizon Line
Image via Wolfcrow.

In most meticulously crafted auteur projects, you’ll find shots that make a point of keeping the horizon line. That is where you naturally tend to look. However, in Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve and his team made the horizon line just a little off to force you to pay attention to specific parts of the composition — and each shot basically looks like a painting, so it’s worth the indulgence. This is but one of the few ways this film stands out. This approach is also a good way to add intrigue and dread to an established narrative world — a way to make it seem grim and sinister, and ever-so-slightly strange.

Adding Depth

Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future — Adding Depth
Image via Warner Bros

Villeneuve also shows us how to create an expansive world. (Despite the film’s hefty budget, these tricks are all Film School 101.) In order to make the world seem lived-in and large, the characters often stand in front of hallways and open spaces that are out of focus — a trick that creates depth. The inclusion of CGI in Villeneuve’s compositions then creates a hyper-realistic backdrop with minimal effects that still serves the story. (Villeneuve used the same tricks in Sicario.)


Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future — Yellow
Images via Warner Bros.

Wolfcrow points out that Villeneuve uses yellow as a source of information and enlightenment for our hero, K. Anytime a major plot point gets revealed, or a new twist happens, yellow is in the composition somehow. Whether it’s a fire, a light in the background, or a simulated cake, the color acts as a subconscious cue for the audience — and our hero. Notably, the information bank and Las Vegas are bathed in yellow, representing their importance — and the importance of the characters that dwell therein.

Color can be an incredibly powerful tool for telling subtle stories and conveying meaning. The beauty of Villeneuve’s color use is that he did this not as a stunt but to advance his story. Find your own style that reflects your personality and fill your projects with it. Have fun with the form, and don’t be afraid to use colors in different ways.


Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future — Green
Image via Warner Bros.

Villeneuve uses green almost every time Joi, K’s robotic companion, is on-screen — as well as anytime we see one of Wallace’s creations. Green typically connotes life and vibrance, which only plays to how the Blade Runner franchise explores the idea of “life.”


Finding Symmetry and Color in a Dystopian Future — White
Images via Warner Bros

White, representing truth and information, appears in any scene when K comes close to figuring out who he really is. The girl child and her home are bathed in white, representing a beacon for K. Toward the end of the film, K and Deckard approach the building where all the answers will come to light, and what do you know, it’s snowing outside, and the building is white.

These are just some of the innovative ways the Blade Runner 2049 team changed the sci-fi game by creating an original, breathtaking sequel worthy of repeat viewings. If you’re interested in more on the franchise, check out our past coverage:

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