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SYFY WIRE Blade Runner

Blade Runner visionary, Back to the Future set designer Lawrence G. Paull passes away

By Benjamin Bullard
Los Angeles from above in Blade Runner

Lawrence G. Paull, the art and production designer whose striking and memorable movie worlds came to life in iconic films like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, has reportedly passed away at the age of 81. 

THR reports that Paull, whose Blade Runner set design earned him an Academy Award nomination alongside David L. Snyder and Linda DeScenna, died Sunday, Nov. 10 in La Jolla, California. 

A lifelong designer with an architecture degree, Paull put his skills to use in a lengthy career behind the scenes of visually arresting action, fantasy, and science fiction movies. In addition to Blade Runner (1982) and Back to the Future (1985), his artistic vision also graced John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) and Escape From L.A. (1996), as well as Project X (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and a host of non-genre action and drama films from the 1970s through the 1990s.

It was Paull’s Oscar-nominated work on Blade Runner that perhaps left the most lasting influence by expanding filmmakers’ concepts of what science fiction could look like on the big screen. In an earlier interview quoted by THR, Paull recalled how Scott gave him free license to help craft a set that tapped his creative impulses — and he ran with it. 

“Ridley really knew how to appeal to the art department, he was very wise about it. What he would say, up in the art department: 'If you build it, I'll shoot it.' And who could resist the temptation of that?” said Paull, via the report. “Because we've all suffered, making films with gigantic sets, and beautiful sets, and all that is shown are talking heads. And that was disappointing. But because [Ridley] was an art director, he knew he could hook us with that bait. And he did it — if we built it, he shot it.”

In a statement to THR, Scott doffed his hat to “Larry’s” outsized contribution helping adapt author Phillip K. Dick’s dystopian vision of a futuristic Los Angeles for the big screen, saying he was “always struck by [Paull's] staunch and faithful support of the strange plan for the unique world of Blade Runner…Between Syd [Means, visual futurist on the film] and myself and Larry, it was a challenging, monumental task for him and against all odds — the proof is in his work in the film. So I guess we won. My hat comes off for him.”

Paull continued to teach his craft in the early 2000s after retiring from the production side of the film industry, creating and teaching a new curriculum at Chapman University aimed at graduate fine arts students in production design, according to the report. He also served as a guest speaker at Harvard, USC, UCLA, Catholic University of America, and the University of Arizona — his Architecture alma mater.