Casting the film proved troublesome, particularly for the lead role of Deckard. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher envisioned Robert Mitchum as Deckard and wrote the character's dialogue with Mitchum in mind. Director Ridley Scott and the film's producers spent months meeting and discussing the role with Dustin Hoffman, who eventually departed over differences in vision. Harrison Ford was ultimately chosen for several reasons, including his performance in the Star Wars films, Ford's interest in the Blade Runner story, and discussions with Steven Spielberg who was finishing Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time and strongly praised Ford's work in the film. Following his success in films like Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Ford was looking for a role with dramatic depth. According to production documents, several actors were considered for the role, including Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, and Burt Reynolds. One role that was not difficult to cast was Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the violent yet thoughtful leader of the replicants. Scott cast Hauer without having met him, based solely on Hauer's performances in Paul Verhoeven's movies Scott had seen (Katie Tippel, Soldier of Orange and Turkish Delight). Hauer's portrayal of Batty was regarded by Philip K. Dick as, "the perfect Batty—cold, Aryan, flawless". Of the many films Hauer has done, Blade Runner is his favorite. As he explained in a live chat in 2001, "Blade Runner needs no explanation. It just [is]. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world's thinking. It's awesome." Hauer wrote his character's "tears in the rain" speech himself and presented the words to Scott on set prior to filming.
Blade Runner used a number of then-lesser-known actors: Sean Young portrays Rachael, an experimental replicant implanted with the memories of Tyrell's niece, causing her to believe she is human; Nina Axelrod auditioned for the role. Daryl Hannah portrays Pris, a "basic pleasure model" replicant; Stacey Nelkin auditioned for the role, but was given another part in the film, which was ultimately cut before filming. Casting Pris and Rachael was challenging, requiring several screen tests, with Morgan Paull playing the role of Deckard. Paull was cast as Deckard's fellow bounty hunter Holden based on his performances in the tests. Brion James portrays Leon Kowalski, a combat replicant, and Joanna Cassidy portrays Zhora, an assassin replicant. Edward James Olmos portrays Gaff. Olmos used his diverse ethnic background, and personal research, to help create the fictional "Cityspeak" language his character uses in the film. His initial address to Deckard at the noodle bar is partly in Hungarian and means, "Horse dick [bullshit]! No way. You are the Blade ... Blade Runner." M. Emmet Walsh plays Captain Bryant, a hard-drinking, sleazy, and underhanded police veteran typical of the film noir genre. Joe Turkel portrays Dr. Eldon Tyrell, a corporate mogul who built an empire on genetically manipulated humanoid slaves. William Sanderson was cast as J. F. Sebastian, a quiet and lonely genius who provides a compassionate yet compliant portrait of humanity. J. F. sympathizes with the replicants, whom he sees as companions, and shares their shorter lifespan due to his rapid aging disease; Joe Pantoliano was considered for the role. James Hong portrays Hannibal Chew, an elderly geneticist specializing in synthetic eyes, and Hy Pyke portrays the sleazy bar owner Taffey Lewis with ease and in a single take, something almost unheard-of with Scott whose drive for perfection resulted at times in double-digit takes.
Interest in adapting Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? developed shortly after its 1968 publication. Director Martin Scorsese was interested in filming the novel, but never optioned it. Producer Herb Jaffe optioned it in the early 1970s, but Dick was unimpressed with the screenplay written by Herb's son Robert: "Jaffe's screenplay was so terribly done ... Robert flew down to Santa Ana to speak with me about the project. And the first thing I said to him when he got off the plane was, 'Shall I beat you up here at the airport, or shall I beat you up back at my apartment?' "
The screenplay by Hampton Fancher was optioned in 1977. Producer Michael Deeley became interested in Fancher's draft and convinced director Ridley Scott to film it. Scott had previously declined the project, but after leaving the slow production of Dune, wanted a faster-paced project to take his mind off his older brother's recent death. He joined the project on February 21, 1980, and managed to push up the promised Filmways financing from US$13 million to $15 million. Fancher's script focused more on environmental issues and less on issues of humanity and faith, which had featured heavily in the novel, and Scott wanted changes. Fancher found a cinema treatment by William S. Burroughs for Alan E. Nourse's novel The Bladerunner (1974), titled Blade Runner (a movie).[nb 1] Scott liked the name, so Deeley obtained the rights to the titles. Eventually he hired David Peoples to rewrite the script and Fancher left the job over the issue on December 21, 1980, although he later returned to contribute additional rewrites.
Having invested over $2.5 million in pre-production, as the date of commencement of principal photography neared, Filmways withdrew financial backing. In 10 days Deeley had secured $21.5 million in financing through a three-way deal between The Ladd Company (through Warner Bros.), the Hong Kong-based producer Sir Run Run Shaw, and Tandem Productions.
Philip K. Dick became concerned that no one had informed him about the film's production, which added to his distrust of Hollywood. After Dick criticized an early version of Hampton Fancher's script in an article written for the Los Angeles Select TV Guide, the studio sent Dick the David Peoples rewrite. Although Dick died shortly before the film's release, he was pleased with the rewritten script, and with a 20-minute special effects test reel that was screened for him when he was invited to the studio. Despite his well known skepticism of Hollywood in principle, Dick enthused to Ridley Scott that the world created for the film looked exactly as he had imagined it. He said, "I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull's special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly." He also approved of the film's script, saying, "After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel." The motion picture was dedicated to Dick. Principal photography of Blade Runner began on March 9, 1981, and ended four months later.
In 1992, Ford revealed, "Blade Runner is not one of my favorite films. I tangled with Ridley." Apart from friction with the director, Ford also disliked the voiceovers: "When we started shooting it had been tacitly agreed that the version of the film that we had agreed upon was the version without voiceover narration. It was a f**king [sic] nightmare. I thought that the film had worked without the narration. But now I was stuck re-creating that narration. And I was obliged to do the voiceovers for people that did not represent the director's interests." "I went kicking and screaming to the studio to record it." In 2006 Scott was asked "Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?", he replied: "It's got to be Harrison ... he'll forgive me because now I get on with him. Now he's become charming. But he knows a lot, that's the problem. When we worked together it was my first film up and I was the new kid on the block. But we made a good movie." Ford said of Scott in 2000: "I admire his work. We had a bad patch there, and I'm over it." In 2006 Ford reflected on the production of the film saying: "What I remember more than anything else when I see Blade Runner is not the 50 nights of shooting in the rain, but the voiceover ... I was still obliged to work for these clowns that came in writing one bad voiceover after another." Ridley Scott confirmed in the summer 2007 issue of Total Film that Harrison Ford contributed to the Blade Runner Special Edition DVD, having already done his interviews. "Harrison's fully on board", said Scott.
The Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles served as a filming location, and a Warner Bros. backlot housed the LA 2019 streets. Test screenings resulted in several changes including adding a voice over, a happy ending, and the removal of a Holden hospital scene. The relationship between the filmmakers and the investors was difficult, which culminated in Deeley and Scott being fired but still working on the film. Crew members created T-shirts during filming saying, "Yes Guv'nor, My Ass" that mocked Scott's unfavorable comparison of U.S. and British crews; Scott responded with a T-shirt of his own, "Xenophobia Sucks" making the incident known as the T-shirt war.
Ridley Scott credits Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks and the French science fiction comic magazine Métal Hurlant ("Heavy Metal"), to which the artist Moebius contributed, as stylistic mood sources. He also drew on the landscape of "Hong Kong on a very bad day" and the industrial landscape of his one-time home in north east England. The visual style of the movie is influenced by the work of Futurist Italian architect, Antonio Sant'Elia. Scott hired Syd Mead as his concept artist who, like Scott, was influenced by Métal Hurlant. Moebius was offered the opportunity to assist in the pre-production of Blade Runner, but he declined so that he could work on René Laloux's animated film Les Maîtres du temps – a decision that he later regretted. Production designer Lawrence G. Paull and art director David Snyder realized Scott's and Mead's sketches. Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich supervised the special effects for the film.
Blade Runner has numerous deep similarities to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, including a built-up urban environment, in which the wealthy literally live above the workers, dominated by a huge building – the Stadtkrone Tower in Metropolis and the Tyrell Building in Blade Runner. Special effects supervisor David Dryer used stills from Metropolis when lining up Blade Runner 's miniature building shots.
"Spinner" is the generic term for the fictional flying cars used in the film. A Spinner can be driven as a ground-based vehicle, and take off vertically, hover, and cruise using jet propulsion much like vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. They are used extensively by the police to patrol and survey the population, and it is clear that despite restrictions wealthy people can acquire spinner licenses. The vehicle was conceived and designed by Syd Mead who described the spinner as an "aerodyne"—a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: "conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity" Mead's conceptual drawings were transformed into 25 working vehicles by automobile customizer Gene Winfield. A Spinner is on permanent exhibit at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington.
- Voight-Kampff machine
A very advanced form of lie detector that measures contractions of the iris muscle and the presence of invisible airborne particles emitted from the body. The bellows were designed for the latter function and give the machine the menacing air of a sinister insect. The VK is used primarily by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements.—Description from the original 1982 Blade Runner press kit.
The Voight-Kampff machine (or device) is a fictional interrogation tool, originating in the book where it is spelled Voigt-Kampff. The Voight-Kampff is a polygraph-like machine used by Blade Runners to assist in the testing of an individual to determine if he or she is a replicant. It measures bodily functions such as respiration, blush response, heart rate, and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions. In the film two replicants take the test, Leon and Rachael, and Deckard tells Tyrell that it usually takes 20 to 30 cross-referenced questions to distinguish a replicant; in contrast with the book, where it is stated it only takes "six or seven" questions to make a determination. In the film it takes more than one hundred questions to determine that Rachael is a replicant.
The Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis is a dark melodic combination of classic composition and futuristic synthesizers which mirrors the film-noir retro-future envisioned by Ridley Scott. Vangelis, fresh from his Academy Award winning score for Chariots of Fire, composed and performed the music on his synthesizers. He also made use of various chimes and the vocals of collaborator Demis Roussos. Another memorable sound is the haunting tenor sax solo "Love Theme" by British saxophonist Dick Morrissey, who performed on many of Vangelis's albums. Ridley Scott also used "Memories of Green" from the Vangelis album See You Later, an orchestral version of which Scott would later use in his film Someone To Watch Over Me.
Along with Vangelis' compositions and ambient textures, the film's sound scape also features a track by the Japanese ensemble Nipponia - "Ogi No Mato" or "The Folding Fan as a Target" from the Nonesuch Records release Traditional Vocal and Instrumental Music - and a track by harpist Gail Laughton from "Harps of the Ancient Temples" on Laurel Records.
Despite being well received by fans and critically acclaimed and nominated in 1983 for a BAFTA and Golden Globe as best original score, and the promise of a soundtrack album from Polydor Records in the end titles of the film, the release of the official soundtrack recording was delayed for over a decade. There are two official releases of the music from Blade Runner. In light of the lack of a release of an album, the New American Orchestra recorded an orchestral adaptation in 1982 which bore little resemblance to the original. Some of the film tracks would, in 1989, surface on the compilation Vangelis: Themes, but not until the 1992 release of the Director's Cut version would a substantial amount of the film's score see commercial release.
These delays and poor reproductions led to the production of many bootleg recordings over the years. A bootleg tape surfaced in 1982 at science fiction conventions and became popular given the delay of an official release of the original recordings, and in 1993 "Off World Music, Ltd" created a bootleg CD that would prove more comprehensive than Vangelis' official CD in 1994. A set with three CDs of Blade Runner-related Vangelis music was released in 2007. Titled Blade Runner Trilogy, the first disc contains the same tracks as the 1994 official soundtrack release, the second features previously unreleased music from the movie, and the third disc is all newly composed music from Vangelis, inspired by, and in the spirit of the movie.
The movie's special effects are generally recognised to be among the best of all time, using the available (non-digital) technology to the fullest. In addition to matte paintings and models, the techniques employed included multipass exposures. In some scenes, the set was lit, shot, the film rewound, and then rerecorded over with different lighting. In some cases this was done 16 times in all. The cameras were frequently motion controlled using computers.