I have chosen to look at Roger Deakins’ cinematography for my research project. I guess everyone’s heard of Roger Deakins which is why I’m also aware of him, but what initially attracted me to Roger was his work on Blade Runner 2049 and his largely ‘physical’ approach to cinematography – which I have since learnt about.

On Blade Runner 2049 Roger Deakins worked closely with director Denis Villeneuve – in fact Denis invited Deakins to be the cinematographer as soon as he himself was asked to do this project – from that moment on Denis and Roger worked together on constructing the world of Blade Runner. This meant that Roger was involved in almost every decision regarding the ‘look’ of the film, from the initial colour palette used to the very last lamp shade or wallpaper print. This obsession of Rogers to control all elements of the visual ‘look’ of a film is part of what makes a film look so obviously ‘Rogerian’, as he is quite literally part of every process. ┬áMost films would often be partly developed by the time the cinematographer has been asked to come on board, so Blade Runner presented Roger with a unique opportunity to really control every visual element of the film.

Dennis and Roger have had a close relationship working on three films together: Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). When Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher handed the sequel of Blade Runner over to Villeneuve they told him that even though Blade Runner is often placed as a sci-fi, at its heart it really is a film noir. Both Prisoners and Sicario have a very dark, almost noir-ish feel to them so it only make sense that Villeneuve asked Roger Deakins to work on Blade Runner 2049.

Prisoners (2013)

Sicario (2015)

Throughout Blade Runner and indeed Deakins’ other work he always prefers to use practical lighting (using lighting visible within the frame to help light the scene) as well as using actual physical effects (such as constructing cardboard city’s to look like the view of a window, rather than simply CGI the view in). This preference for utilising the physical means Deakins can do things such as light a scene and see how the light actually plays off those objects. Allowing him to achieve a very natural look, rather than simply guess how the light would be affected by the objects in frame.

One such example relates to the image above, whereby most cinematographers would choose to simply CGI the purple woman into the frame. However Roger had image of the woman projected into the environment where they were filming, so all the purple light present in the scene and the way it bathes both Ryan and the bridge are real. This also allows the actor to give a better performance as they are truly interacting with the objects in their environment, rather than just pretending they are.

Hallmarks of Roger Deakins’ approach to cinematography:

  • Muslin Bounce: Often tapes muslin onto walls or floors to bounce light around.
  • Tungsten Lights: Predominantly used for indoor scenes.
  • Vermeer Lighting: Bounces HMI’s through windows for a ‘Vermeer’ (soft light) look.
  • High Contrast Ratio: Especially on the face. Prefers to over expose the lit side of a persons face by 1 or 2 stops and maintains an approximate contrast ratio of between 2-3 stops.
  • Ring Light System: DIY ring light system that Rogers created himself to light scenes overhead, to provide an even distribution of light for large interiors. Uses dimmable tungsten or halogen fixtures.
  • Uses Natural Light: Prefers to scrim and bounce sunlight, rather than use artificial light for outdoor scenes.
  • Light Background Opposite to Subject: Lights the subject with the fill on one side and the key on the other, swaps this approach for the background lighting, placing the fill and key on the opposite sides to add more depth to the image.
  • Silhouettes: Often silhouettes characters in wide shots, to show their relationship to the surrounding environment.
  • Colour: Muted – normal looking colours. Rarely over saturates colours.
  • Favourite Camera: Arri Alexa
  • Favourite Lenses: Arri Master Prime Lenses
  • Favourite Focal Length: 32mm

Until next time,

Louise Wilson