Future Los Angeles: A Fake City Made of Metal and Smoke, Literally

Illustration for article titled Future Los Angeles: A Fake City Made of Metal and Smoke, Literally

This is future Los Angeles, as created in 1982 by Douglas Trumbull's team for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Back then, they didn't have computers to create synthetic 3D landscapes, so they used some truly amazing visual tricks.


This is how the city looked from the side, with no lighting. Just line after line of silhouettes, chemically etched on metal from photos:

Illustration for article titled Future Los Angeles: A Fake City Made of Metal and Smoke, Literally

And here's how they transformed that mess into one of the most fascinating imaginary cities in the history of cinema, using thousands of feet of fiber optics, forced and atmospheric perspective, models, and just pure genius:

After watching things like this, I only want to say: Screw computers. Check Trumbull's site for the full segment and much more. [Douglas Trumbull]



I always find this stuff fascinating. As for CGI versus models, I say CGI is far and away superior to anything done in the past, with very rare exceptions.

I think a bigger factor is design aesthetic. Older movies felt more natural because a lot of effort was put into making everything look weathered and worn. And because of the limitations of special effects they were almost forced to take a back seat to the story and setting. So we had props which were just there, they felt like a natural part of the scene. Whereas today, because of how much we can do, directors and artists seem obsessed with impressing us with special effects. And no doubt studios are convinced it sells.

And the other problem is that too often these effects come off as sterile and pristine. Everything is gleaming and new. When something is intended to look weathered it's so overdone it's almost comical But I think that's probably more of a factor of today's generation and current trends in film-making than anything.

A lot of movies in the 70s and 80s, not just sci-fi, and that gritty feel. People were depicted more convincingly, they lived lives that were more down-to-earth. Most movies nowadays depict people living in extravagant upper-middle class homes or in some lavish apartment. Cynicism in contemporary movies is a lot more artificial. Concepts are more simplistic and vision compromised. Good luck ever seeing a movie like 2001 done today. Everything is covered in a veneer of marketing.

I think the nature of current special effects reflects that. There are exceptions, but they are rare. Environments are created for wow factor, but they don't actually feel like a place people inhabit. It could also be that people who build models have a very different eye for what works compared to people who work with CGI.