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Wednesday November 21st 2018

Blade Runner 2049 | 2017

Blade Runner 2049 filming location: Szalay Street, Budapest, Hungary
Blade Runner 2049 location: K's apartment block in 'Los Angeles': Szalay Street, Budapest | Photograph: Google Streetview

Like Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is set largely in a glum Los Angeles of the future but unlike Scott’s original, none of it was filmed in the USA.

Apart from Second Unit landscape shots, the entire film was made in Hungary.

The aesthetic of the first Blade Runner is honoured by director Denis Villeneuve’s decision to use practical sets and built-miniatures, largely reserving CGI to extend the scale.

Most of the film was shot on soundstages, using all six and the backlot at Origo Studios in Budapest and three at Korda Studios in Etyek, west of the city, with the few practical locations taking advantage of the Brutalist Soviet-era architecture of Budapest.

As seems to be de rigueur for Hollywood sci-fi films these days, there are flyover shots of Iceland though the remote farm, where K (Ryan Gosling) is sent to ‘retire’ Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) but discovers something of much greater importance, was despite appearances built on the backlot of Origo Studios.

The offices and archives of the Wallace Corporation took up soundstages at both of the studios, while the marketplace around Bibi's Bar was built at Korda. Again, digital effects were kept to a minimum. The elaborate set, with its echoes of the Warner Bros street set from Blade Runner, features rows of touchscreen vending machines. With minute attention to detail, each graphic display is individually designed and lit.

It seems times are hard for Blade Runners in 2049. Back in the day, Deckard’s apartment was based on the wonderful Ennis House in LA. Now K lives in a noisy, crowded, graffiti-sprayed complex. The exterior is a streamlined block in central Budapest, which you'll find at the southeast junction of Szalay and Honvéd streets, near the Neprajzi Muzeum of Ethnography.

K's investigation into the possible birth of a child to replicants takes him south of 'Los Angeles' to the municipal waste processing district of ‘San Diego’, where his Spinner is brought down in a seemingly endless scrapyard. This is the production's largest set, built on the backlot at Origo and then vastly extended with miniatures and CGI.

The interior of the Orphanage, where the Dickensian Mr Cotton (Lennie James) usefully employs the children as an unpaid labour force, is a mix of studio sets and two practical locations.

Much of the vast, rusting machinery, walkways and stairways are an old power plant on the outskirts of Budapest. It's a Stalin-era facility dating from 1950, which has been closed and abandoned since 2001 and, apparently, there's been some vandalism since the release of the film, so we're not giving an address.

As always, be respectful and do nothing to harm these precious environments. Visit, take a photo, but never trespass or cause a nuisance.

More of Cotton’s recycling enterprise uses the former electronics warehouse in Kistarcsa, a few miles to the east of Budapest.

The trail eventually leads K out of the dark and rainswept LA to the virulently orange glare of what’s left of ‘Las Vegas’ after its destruction by a ‘dirty’ bomb.

The remnants of the city are scale models designed by Syd Mead, the man who was responsible for the legendary miniatures used in the Ridley Scott film. Oddly, this is overall Production Designer Dennis Gassner’s third bite of the cherry at re-imagining Las Vegas. He’d already worked on Francis Ford Coppola’s massive 1982 folly One From The Heart, which recreated Vegas in the Zoetrope Studios in Hollywood, and won an Oscar for conjuring up the 40’s Strip in the desert for Barry Levinson’s 1991 Bugsy.

There’s another practical location for the kitschy interior of the old-school 'Vegas' casino where K finally catches up with Deckard (Harrison Ford). It's Budapest’s old Stock Exchange Palace which occupies the entire block on the western edge of Szabadság tér (Freedom Square). When the stock exchange moved out, the building was taken over to become the studios of Hungarian Television. When, in turn, the TV folk moved to purpose-built offices, the grand palace was left empty.

Only Second Unit aerial shots were filmed outside Hungary. The the favelas of Mexico City provided the densely packed city and the Valley of Fire in Nevada, the blasted outskirts of Vegas.

You can see much more of the magnificent red sandstone Valley of Fire State Park, about 35 miles northeast of Las Vegas, as the surface of ‘Viridian 3’ in Star Trek: Generations. It's worth the trip.

Two visually striking, but very different, locations were found in Spain.

The field of circular installations makes use of the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant at Fuentes de Andalucía in the province of Seville, Southern Spain.

The concentrated solar power system generates electricity by concentrating a large area of sunshine onto a central hub, using circles of mirrors, white drives the heat engine. In reality, there’s only one of these circle, but it’s replicated over and over for the film.

At the other end of the environmental spectrum is the so-called ‘Sea of Plastic’, a vista of endless polythene greenhouses covering more than 165 square miles in El Ejido near Almeria, also southern Spain.

The growth of this project has certainly turned around the lives of the farmers who’d been struggling to eke out a living from the dry, rocky soil. But it’s at a price.

Inside the plastic tents, vegetables are grown hydroponically in a chemical broth of fertilizer and pesticides, an ecological nightmare largely dependent on the cheap labour of undocumented migrants from Africa.

Pretty much chiming with the world of the film.