The latest expansion of the Blade Runner universe is coming this fall to Adult Swim with Blade Runner: Black Lotus. The 13-episode animated series is co-directed by famed anime directors Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, who have both worked in the Ghost in the Shell universe. At today’s virtual Television Critics Association panel for Adult Swim, attended by SYFY WIRE, the directors joined producers Joseph Chou and Alcon’s Andrew Kosove, and voice actress Jessica Henwick ("Elle") to reveal more about the series.
Created to be a canon story that ties into the previous cinematic installments, Kosove said Blade Runner: Black Lotus carries through the visual style started by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner and continued by Denis Villeneuve in Blade Runner 2049.
“And now, we have Kenji and Shinji, who are two of the great anime filmmakers in the world,” Kosove enthused. “What's incredible is when you have a franchise like this, and you can get the vision of different filmmakers because you have the ability both to honor what's been done before, but to bring something new and to build on what has occurred previously and be fresh and original... and I think that's so amazing about what our directors have done here.”
Kosove also clarified that the series takes place after the massive blackout introduced in 2049. “It's occurring at the point at which replicants have been banned and the Tyrell Corporation is in trouble,” he detailed. “But of course, we have the new version of the Tyrell corporation which is coming along with the new version of replicants. The timeline folds about halfway between the end of the first Blade Runner and the start of 2049.”
The series will also touch on the early days of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) from 2049 coming into prominence with his vision for what replicants can be in the world. “There's a lot of politics behind the scenes and of course, the character of Elle is wrapped up in that,” Kosove added.
Besides his role as producer, Chou also served as translator for both directors during the panel. He distilled that both affirmed how important it was to them, even in the animation medium, to stay faithful to the source material. “It was really trying to find that look, that would fall appropriately between the first film which Ridley Scott made and then 2049, which Denis Villeneuve made. Trying to stay consistent within that world was the most important thing, so that's what informed their decisions regarding the visual style that they were going for. However, they did need to add some aspect of uniqueness coming from the anime world. That was difficult to strike the balance.”
Part of that was deciding to go with an anime CG style that was not photo-realistic but rather stylized. Chou continued, “What was important for us, in order to create that look that matches the fidelity of the film, was lighting. To do the proper lighting, CG was the better way to go.”
That choice allowed the creatives to utilize a mixture of motion capture and traditional CG animation to make the main characters, like Elle, and the environments. Chou explained, “We used motion capture for a lot of motion capture sequences in Japan. The difficulty, however, was that English was the main language [of the series], so we had to actually have actors who spoke English. Because of the pandemic, we couldn't really have the cast come over, so we had to actually shoot in Japan for the motion capture. And then later on, we recorded with Jessica, and the wonderful cast that we have. Then we had to sync it all together.”
He continued, “However, even if you motion capture a lot of the sequences, there are scenes that really need the touch of animation to really refine the movements and also make it believable. Believe it or not, just motion capture by itself wouldn't actually produce the kind of look that we wanted to create. There was a lot of animating that went on at the same time.”
As for Elle’s journey in the series, everyone preferred to keep details to a minimum. But Henwick said it involves the recurring theme in this universe of what is means to be alive and human. “It definitely opened up a lot of questions getting into that headframe,” she said. “You have to put yourself into the character's position and waking up with no memory, you are kind of a child. It was like voicing a child and Elle has to figure out her limits and what she thinks is OK and what her moral compass is, in the same way that we all have to as we're growing up.”
Lastly, Kosove confirmed that Alcon is also planning interactive narratives within the Blade Runner world for the near future. “In the coming months, there'll be news about that. All the big interactive fans will have games to play as well though.”