Blade Runner Replicant Eyes

November 3, 2020

Recreating Blade Runner Replicant Eyes with my wife Becky

I’ve wanted to recreate Blade Runner replicant eyes for a few years and have finally got around to it. I half-heartedly tried a couple of times in the past, buying the wrong things and setting up wrong. It turns out it was easier than I was thinking and I had the necessary materials lying around.

Although the original inspiration is a movie, my aim was to shoot photographs on film.

First, Some Background:

I love the original Blade Runner. The story, the soundtrack, the aesthetic and the SFX.

I love interesting eye lighting in movies – the stars in Galadriel’s eyes, the reflection of Tyrell Corp in Deckard’s eyes (Blade Runner again), Clockwork Orange (and Minority Report), Westworld, Inglorious Basterds and so on.

In Blade Runner, the combination of practical technique and strange aesthetic for Replicant eyes caught my eye (sorry) immediately. Not to mention the fact the filmmakers are utilising a technical issue or mistake as a storytelling device.

The lack of a narrative in still portrait photography – at least compared to movies – does lessen the impact of techniques like this, however the aesthetic becomes the primary asset of the medium so perhaps it evens out.

Leopard eyes similar to Blade Runner Replicant Eyes - from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Leopard eyes similar to Blade Runner Replicant Eyes – from 2001: A Space Odyssey

The background projection method (front-projection) used in 2001: A Space Odyssey inadvertently caused the eyes of the leopard to glow, which is said to have influenced the filmmakers of Blade Runner.

How I Recreated Blade Runner Replicant Eyes

Various versions of Blade Runner red eyes
Contact sheet of my wife Becky with Blade Runner Eyes

I used a project with Nuraloop as an excuse to experiment with lighting to attempt another Replicant eye. I’ll skip the mistakes and the wrong turns I took on previous attempts and go straight to what worked:

  1. First, I set up a camera on a tripod
  2. Then I took a small pane of glass (from a photograph frame), positioned in front of the lens at an angle. I stood it up with the help of a small but heavy wooden box.
  3. Next, I put a redhead light to the side and pointed it towards the pane of glass
  4. The trickiest part was getting the model in place and, from their point of view, reflecting the light in the glass exactly where the center of the lens appears (behind the glass).

That’s it!

Thoughts:

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to see it or if it would only appear in the final results. However, it turns out I could see it working through the viewfinder, which was essential to getting the shot.

Close-up of my wife's Blade Runner eyes
Becky with one red Blade Runner eye – and one not quite

If you look above, you’ll see that the near eye is perfect – but it’s not as good in the rear eye. I think this is because the light reflection is quite small and a larger source reflecting in the glass might make it better.

An owl Replicant in Blade Runner

Although the same thing happened in the owl shot in the movie, as you can see above.

Rachael has Blade Runner Replicant Eyes
Rachael has Replicant Red Eyes – but Deckard also does here

But if you look at this image above, it’s clearly possible to get it to work over both eyes – and indeed over both eyes of two people. I don’t think Harrison Ford was meant to actually have them here: this shot was the source of a lot of Deckard is a Replicant theories.

I used my the Canon T70 that was my Dad’s when I was growing up – and Kodak Portra film.

Further Reading:

The Secrets Behind The Eyes of Blade Runner