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Recreating Rachael in 'Blade Runner 2049'

Visual effects wizardry from MPC digitally de-aged "Blade Runner" star Sean Young for a pivotal scene in the sequel.

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Richard Trenholm
Rachael the replicant in "Blade Runner 2049"
1 of 20 Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros/Columbia Pictures

Rachael the replicant

Sci-fi sequel "Blade Runner 2049" uses cutting-edge visual effects to recreate the character of Rachael, played by Sean Young, exactly as she was in the 1982 film. Here's how they did it.

Digital model of Rachael's head.
2 of 20 Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros/Columbia Pictures

A digital model

Visual effects company MPC created a digital model head, identical to that of the young Rachael.

Sean Young in the original "Blade Runner"
3 of 20 Sunset Boulevard

On the set of "Blade Runner"

Sean Young in the original film. Young returned for the sequel to be photographed and to provide reference on set while Rachael's scene was filmed.

Rachael in a scene with co-stars
4 of 20 Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros/Columbia Pictures

Rachael meets co-star

The digital head was then added to real footage involving a stand-in on set with co-star Harrison Ford.

A ghostly look for Rachael
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A ghostly view

In this shot, the digital model of Rachael's head lends a ghostly quality.

Stand-in Loren Peta
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Scene with a stand-in

Stand-in Loren Peta took the place of original actor Sean Young for the sequel's pivotal scene.

Digital re-creation of Rachael's head
7 of 20 Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros/Columbia Pictures

Details matter

The digital head built by MPC had to be perfect down to the finest detail.

Digital re-creation of Rachael's head
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Skin tone and fly-away hair

Skin texture, makeup and even fly-away hairs were added to make the model look real.

Digital re-creation of Rachael's head
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Facial nuances

We're trained to subconsciously recognize the subtlest nuances in faces, so we can be thrown by even the tiniest thing that doesn't look quite right -- an effect known as "the uncanny valley."

Digital re-creation of Rachael's head
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Profile shot

The digital effects team went into incredible detail, including complex soft tissue simulations on the face and eyes.

Harrison Ford and Sean Young in the original "Blade Runner"
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Rick and Rachael in the original

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard with Sean Young as Rachael in Ridley Scott's 1982 film. Young acknowledged it's "nerve-wracking" to know that she could be recreated without her involvement, but she was glad to be involved in "2049."

Stand-in Loren Peta acts opposite Harrison Ford and Jared Leto.
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Stand-in with co-stars

Stand-in Loren Peta acts opposite Harrison Ford and Jared Leto.

Dots on the face help with tracking.
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Dots on the face for mapping

Dots on Peta's face were used to track the movements of her head, which could then be mapped with the digital version.

Rachael in "Blade Runner 2049"
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Speaking parts

Both Peta and Young were filmed saying Rachael's lines with a special head-tracking camera rig.

The digital model begins with a skull before adding tissue, skin and hair.
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Scene with skull

The digital model begins with a skull as a base, before building outward with tissue, skin and hair.

Rachael without hair
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Without hair

The MPC team also made small tweaks below the neck to "Rachael-ify" the performance.

Rachael with hair
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With hair

The result is a pivotal moment in the story when we see Rachael as she was in the original film.

Digital model in "Blade Runner 2049" scene.
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Digital mimickry

The model was animated to mimic Young's performance from the original film, drawing too on the performances from Young and Peta on the sequel's set.

Scene from "Blade Runner 2049"
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Texture and lighting

Finally, the model was composited with the plate shot on set, with texture and lighting effects added.

Rachael in "Blade Runner 2049"
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Digital double

Casting the scene's atmospheric lighting over the digital double completes the effect, making this one of the most polished digital doubles yet.

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