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Blade Runner Revisited

May 31, 2012 | By

Joanna-Cassidy as Zhora in Blade Runner.

One of the seminal science-fiction films of all time, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is unthinkably now 30 years old.  Blade Runner was groundbreaking in its ambience, designs, visual effects concepts, individual characterizations and overall approach to science fiction.  Pointedly, director Ridley Scott’s two science-fiction films, 1979’s Alien, and 1982’s Blade Runner (both of which have spawned new films, June 8th’s Alien-inspired Prometheus and a Blade Runner sequel in the works) are indeed timeless because of their masterful attention to detail in virtually every cinematic department.

In an era before digital technology was implemented as a solution to many large-scale films’ production problems during the postproduction period, Scott realized his most memorable onscreen moments during principal photography. On Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner sets, though he had never ventured into sci-fi previously, everything was perfectly combined in camera: brilliantly ambient cinematography, lush set design, believable practical makeup and creature effects, gorgeous miniature photography and spectacular visual effects shots.  Thus, it was Scott’s absolute perfectionism which made every inch of every frame a visual masterpiece.  Unlike other films of the period, no amount of digital manipulation would have improved Scott’s two seminal genre films, other than the carefully selected material which meticulous producer Charles de Lauzirika included in “The Final Cut” of Blade Runner which came out in 2007 and more completely enhanced existing footage to more accurately reflect Scott’s original vision for the film.  In this way, Scott’s work stands among the best that the genre has ever produced.

Daryl Hannah as the replicant Pris in Blade Runner.

In an effort to illuminate the director’s craft from multiple points-of-view, Blade Runner was revisited by legendary makeup supervisor Marvin G. Westmore.  Currently a veteran of five decades of top makeup artistry, in 1981, he was a makeup department head with a formidable challenge in front of him.

As Westmore recalled, he was first invited to interview for the job by Blade Runner’s production coordinator.  “Ridley had never used an American crew before,” he said, “so I was very straightforward, and they said that I can do whatever I wanted.  They were looking for stuff that had never been done.  Every makeup I do is something that hasn’t been done before.”

Even though Westmore faced three to four months of work on the set of Blade Runner, he had only had two weeks to prepare.  “You really couldn’t prep because we didn’t know what we were doing until we were getting ready to shoot,” Westmore recalled. “Shirley Padgett was in charge of hairstyling, and we did all of our tests out of my small salon in Beverly Hills.”

Though it might take multiple viewings and a few freeze frames to see all of the widely varied characters within each scene in Blade Runner, even the casual viewer can recognize that the film had every type of makeup style from beauty to gore to old age, and a snake woman played by a youthful Joanna Cassidy.  “That involved gluing sequins all the way down her body,” Westmore stated. “We had three body makeup gals working on her.”

Handling the makeup tasks involved a handpicked Westmore crew.  For one scene, his brother Michael and makeup veteran John Chambers, both eventual Oscar winners, rigged an important makeup gag for him.  But for the most part, Westmore and a tight knit group of leading artists created Blade Runner’s makeups.  “I picked a couple of key makeup and hair people on those big sets to be assistant department heads,” Westmore reflected. “I did all of the principal characters.  Sean Young said that it was the most beautiful makeup ever done on her.  Those were the most perfect lips I had ever made up.”

For the little toys in Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) apartment, who appear midway through the film, Westmore brought in an established artist.  “I always made a habit of having an older guy on the film,” Westmore explained.  “I was comfortable and called on their experience, so Jack Obringer helped with the little clowns and toys in Sebastian’s apartment.  A lot of that was a collaboration, and it was all ad-libbed.”


To realize uber-villian Roy Batty, Westmore needed to rig a pivotal gag that was improvised by his actor.  “Rutger Hauer decided that Batty had a crucifixion complex,” said Westmore.  “The director said ‘that’s a good idea,’ so we had to do nails through the hands.  I carved them out of balsa wood and painted them, and we adhered them to the top and bottom of his hands.”  For Batty’s overall look, Westmore created a concave-from-the-temple hairstyle.  “That look got adapted, but it was done as an ad-lib. That’s the way Ridley worked.  When it came to visuals, the script didn’t make any difference.”

One of the more famous looks in the film was Daryl Hannah as the replicant Pris.  “For the airbrush makeup that we did on Daryl Hannah – a major cosmetic company [recreated] that look [in 2006],” stated Westmore.  “Blade Runner was the first time, to my knowledge, that airbrush was used on a film.  I used acrylic and held her elbow, off camera, and guided it across the eyes with my own hand.  I had used the exact same technique on a Maybelline commercial in the 1960s.”

Although Westmore had a crew of up to 40 for the big nights on New York street on the Warner Bros. Burbank backlot, he claims that the size of his team did not significantly impact production due to the chaos of the director’s indecisiveness.  It was a really tough film because Ridley didn’t know what he wanted,” Westmore described.  “He said, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’  That’s a tough way to do makeup.  I’d give him a look and he’d say to change it.”

“I must have done eight different makeups on Daryl Hannah before he approved it,” Westmore continued.  “These weren’t tests – it was day-of.  Her makeup finally evolved out of two small stubs of pencil that I had and a lip-gloss.  The last makeup that I did, I said, ‘here this is it.’ Ridley said ‘that’s good’ and that became her look.”

Looking back on the memorable work that he created in perhaps the most notable science fiction film of the past 30 years, Westmore was duly reflective.  “It was long days but not many shooting hours,” he commented.  “Working with Ridley, every department head had the same problem.  They would show him things and he would say that’s not what he wanted. I just about quit the industry after Blade Runner because the hours were horrendous.”

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