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I'm trying to recreate the Blade Runner eye reflection effect found in these examples:

Blade Runner - Owl

Blade Runner - Android

The closest I've seen is with a flash where the light bounces off in the eye and causes a bright red or white pupil but that would be inconvenient during a live shot like the movie. I've tried shining a bright light angled between the light, my eye, and the camera without much success.

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    Since this is primarily about a film effect, this might be better on avp.stackexchange.com. But, it's also one of those things where the lighting setup could be done for stills as well. – mattdm May 6 '13 at 15:54
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    You know, I've watched Blade Runner a lot of times, even studied it in school, but I've never actually associated that eye reflection in some scenes with being a replicant before. I guess I've always assumed it was just a stylistic effect. Now I have to watch the film again to see whose eye has a reflection and whose doesn't! – thomasrutter May 7 '13 at 4:56
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    It will be interesting to see if the eye effect is continued in the Blade Runner sequel. I expect details will be published on the Blade Runner 2 information website once available. – user20010 May 19 '13 at 15:31
26

This effect was done by shining light directly in the same path as the lens. A half-translucent/half-reflective mirror (as in a "two-way" mirror) was placed in front of the lens at a 45 degree angle, and a beam of light directed on to that.

Like this:

         subject


           \    
darkness     \         <-- light
               \

            ^
         camera

The light would shine half through the mirror and half be reflected onto the subject; the camera's image would be half from the subject and half from whatever is to the left; to avoid that being an issue, one would presumably mask that with dark cloth to absorb the light shining through and avoid reflecting it back.

One could also use a ring flash to obtain a similar "on-axis" lighting effect, although of course the characteristic reflections would be ring-shaped, not the full circles seen in the replicants' eyes.

See this article in the American Society of Cinematographer's magazine for more on how these effects were done, including quotes from the film's cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth. (He notes that "very subtle colored gels" were used as well.)

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    +1, but just a pane of glass would do it; that's how a TelePrompTer works. – user2719 May 6 '13 at 15:54
  • @StanRogers: I remember reading the cinematographer saying he used half-translucent mirrors; found an article with the quote and linked it in the article. (I love this movie!) – mattdm May 6 '13 at 15:59
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    Kind of want to try it with a pane of glass now. We'll see if my kids are cooperative this evening. :) – mattdm May 6 '13 at 16:01
  • A "proper" beam splitter would probably be better when working wide (wide-angle lens and a wide-throw light) since you could work with a dimmer light and reduce flare, but with normal-to-long (and a restricted budget), you don't need to go there. – user2719 May 6 '13 at 16:41
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    Just a note: many animals (in particular those that need good night vision), have a special layer over the retina called the Tapetum lucidum which reflects the light. Humans don't have it, so you see their blood vessels (red eyes). Presence in dogs depends on breed and individuals. – xenoid Aug 8 '18 at 20:12
3

Essentially, mattdm's answer is correct. In addition, to the half-refelctive mirror, they used a tight, dimmable light to control when/how bright the eye reflections would appear.

Ridley himself discusses how they did it here:

https://youtu.be/IpzFOHEO8Sc

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    Can you summarize the info found in the video? As written, this is effectively a link-only answer. Please see the meta discussion, Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer? – scottbb Oct 5 '17 at 3:15
  • Hi Scottbb, I should have clarified, the other answer above is correct, and nearly complete. This video is additional verification that that is indeed how they did it, and provides just a bit more detail (it's also just fun to hear it from a primary source). – Max P Magee Oct 6 '17 at 13:51

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