The BladeRunner Blaster is a DigiLabs Project borne of equal parts sci-fi geekery, a passion for hard surface modelling, and a fascination with all things mechanical-engineering.
This all started with a discussion of classic 80’s Sci Fi movies, and putting together a watch-list of all the best films of that era. Near the top of everybody’s list was of course Blade Runner. The iconic style of that film is obviously well known, and the universe that the film portrays is chock full of fantastic pieces of design, a favourite of which is Deckard’s famous Blaster.
So with some scope for a DigiLabs project appearing, the decision was made to recreate the famous prop as a high resolution render asset, and in the process do some experimentation with the Arnold Renderer & materials that are now bundled with Maya 2017.
Gathering reference for this project was not hard. There are entire portions of the web devoted to this film prop. Forums of model-makers, 3D artists, movie aficionados, nostalgia collectors… the list goes on. Common to all these groups however, is the desire to collect information, reference, and gigabytes of photos. There are various replicas & toy versions available of course, but there are plenty of photos available of the real thing.
Originally purchased by Hollywood Marketing specialist Jeff Walker, in a sale by the production company after filming of BladeRunner had wrapped, this iconic prop was in Walker’s private collection for over 25 years, until being sold for $225,000 in 2009!
From the enormous catalogue of photos available on the web, a few were particularly useful, having been taken with the gun sat against rulers or grid-paper. From these images, and some key dimensions obtained from data on the real-world guns used to originally create the prop (namely a Steyr Mannlicher .222 Model SL and a Charter Arms Bulldog revolver), it was a relatively simple task to create some templates, and an accurate scale block-out of the weapon followed.
From there, delving into the amassed archive of imagery was of great help with modelling all the various features of the weapon, and as there were photos of the original prop in a number of lighting environments, getting a good feel for the material properties wasn’t too hard.
All the modelling was done in Maya, and once finished, and UV’d, the blaster was taken into Substance Painter for texturing. With the vast array of base materials available to Substance Suite users now, especially with Substance Share & Substance Source, blocking out the various materials found on the gun was a quick process. Once the basics were in, it was all down to the various layers of scratches, dents, scrapes, dirt, grime, wear & tear. Some procedurals were used for some of the pattern-based features such as the grip, and then a number of custom masks were created for elements such as the embossed text, serrations on catches, and so on.
Once texturing was complete, the outputted maps were plugged into Arnold shaders back in Maya, and the materials developed. Lighting was set up using an HDR environment and a number of area lights to pick out edges and highlights, and bring some colour to the scene. The Arnold Renderview as great for this look-dev stage, especially for the positioning of lights and adjusting their power & colour, as well as experimenting with the more involved materials such as on the translucent grip pieces.
All said and done it was a great fun little project to work on, and a new-found appreciation for these sorts of prop designs was discovered. That ‘best 80’s sci fi movies’ watch-list is sure to get queued up in the coming weeks, so hopefully there’ll be the opportunity to find another worthy candidate to put through the DigiLabs Project process.
What are your favourite movie props? If you’ve got a great idea for what you’d like to see next from the DigiLabs stable, let us know! Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org