The Skydance Studio in Surrey, B.C. was once a printing press. The large building was built with one purpose in mind: the house the production of “Altered Carbon.” Future series and films will originate out of Skydance’s newest facility in the future, but right now it feels like it was custom built to bring Richard Morgan’s cyberpunk novel to life. Due to the requirements of the old printing press, the buildings feature high ceilings and wide open spaces. “Altered Carbon” makes use of every available inch to create some of the most detailed and fully realized sets ever seen in a Netflix series.
Due to the scale of the production, navigating is similar to a labyrinth. Multiple different sets connect to each other, turning basic functional hallways of the studio into futuristic passages. A stairway to access the main soundstage serves also as a VR café set for the show, complete with dirty royal blue paint and rusty chain-link fences. Through the café doors, the vast expansive soundstage is cluttered with several locations for both the street dwellers and the Meths.
The Raven Hotel & Kovac’s Penthouse:
The first stop on the tour came as a set which functions both as The Raven Hotel and the penthouse of the character of Kovac. The hotel features a revolving door that empties into the lobby heavily decorated in dark browns and blacks. The design harkens back to the grand old hotels of the early 20th century. A modern contemporary would be the St. Regis hotel in Rome.
The floor is tiled in a tessellation style that is commonly associated with the works of M.C. Escher. The artist’s influence spreads to the wall décor, too. What starts as a black mass, the print spreads out and it becomes apparent that the mass is actually a muder of ravens flying up towards the ceiling. The use of ravens and Escher tie directly into the keeper of the hotel, a synthetic who has taken on the personalities of Edgar Allan Poe and the artist.
Based on the concept art presented prior to this tour, it was easy to envision how this set would be redressed to serve as the alternate set. When flipped to serve as Kovac’s home, the hotel lobby bar becomes his headboard. A glimpse of the bed’s concept was seen in the production office. Rather than being a simple means of getting rest is actually a lavish sanctuary of slumber with velvet that is draped down from the second floor almost like a carnival tent.
Around thirty yards away from the Raven’s interior stood an even larger structure. White in color and vaguely resembling a gothic church, this set felt somewhat ominous. The only point of entry was through a faux elevator. Following a dark hallway from the elevator was an expansive two-story set that was introduced as Laurens Bancroft’s lair. Collective exclamations of, “Wow,” could be heard from the journalists as they entered the main room.
Walls of ivory white were indented on both floors with shelves housing various rare books, both real and replicas. Two spiral staircases flanked the long walls and a single walkway crossed the rectangular room. The walkway and second-floor deck are elevated by white pillars, carved in the Art Deco style. The entire room sports the look of a man who has classic tastes. Bancroft’s Tower could have easily been the second home of Blade Runner’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell.
Bancroft has an obsession with collecting strange and rare objects. At one end of his abode hangs Sputnik. In the center of this massive set is a black granite dining table with matching chairs. What makes this piece interesting is that the chairs appear to be growing out of the floor. Upon closer inspection, the floor below the table is, in fact, a pool of dark water.
At the opposite end of the set were Bancroft’s solid marble desk & chair. A small set of twin stairs leads up to the mysterious Meth’s observation deck. Here is where the attention to detail kicks into high gear. Bancroft’s collection includes an impressive silver telescope, a part of the Apollo II, dozens of maps, and a control panel. The control panel is particularly fascinating because it appears to be from the Cold War and each button is worn but some of the Russian writing is still visible. The exact function of the Soviet technology is not clear at this time, but it sits right behind the telescope.
From riches to rags, the next set was the polar opposite of Bancroft’s. In Richard Morgan’s book, the “bubble fab” structures that dot the Golden Gate Bridge are indeed bubbles that act as housing for the poor. For functionality purposes of the series, the name is the same, but the bubbles themselves are made out of large shipping containers. There is a slight bubble resemblance on the outside, but only fleetingly. Instead of a large sphere, the structure’s namesake resembles more of a half-Frisbee attached to rusting cargo containers.
Regardless of not being a pure adaption of the literary description, the bubble fabs presented here show the stark contrasts between how the lower and upper classes in “Altered Carbon”. This particular bubble belongs to the character of Elliot, who has much more to do with the plot than he did in the book. His home is a comprised of two shipping containers and is just about as miserable as would be expected. Racks of old electronics section off his workshop area from his small sleeping quarters. Servers, patch panels, harmonic oscillators and gutted PCs are strewn about the workshop, evidence of a man on a mission. Elliot’s pad is dark and dirty, giving real gravity to just how desperate life is becoming for those who live well below the Meths.
The exterior of the bubble fab is shot just outside of the soundstage. Two to three storage containers are stacked on top of each other, forming a rough ‘L’ shape which dead-ends at a small storefront. The fabs are painted with graffiti from various artists who were brought in to decorate this current iteration and those that came before when the set served as another part of the slum built onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The current state of the bubble fab was the canvas of a South African artist. The long side of two containers depicted a large face sporting a small crown. The face appeared to be yelling at a group of non-descript followers.
Above the storefront sits the exterior of Elliot’s home. The disc shape protrudes out a good ten feet beyond the advertisement filled windows of the store. The exact purpose or function of the shop was not made clear, but it may serve as something like a 7-11 or church for the Neo-Catholics. An interesting poster found on the glass promotes a concert for a band or tour called the Tusk Fuckers.
Once ushered back into the studio, another set can be seen that is tall and cylindrical. A short stair climb grants entry into the clone pod chamber belonging to Bancroft. In the final product, the chamber will be a part of a massive elevator that stores a vast number of Bancroft’s clones. The floors are a dark shiny gray and the walls are a silvery blue. Oval openings on the walls give way to white reclined chairs where the clones are stored.
The small clone pods appear to be dodecahedron-shaped with frosted glass to hide the details of the body doubles or dummies. No clones were present during this tour, but it was revealed that a large action sequence will happen here. During the stunt-heavy scene, the character Ortega will be in a fight for her life as all the clones come online and attack. The clone chamber will also be redressed to serve the same function, but located in an underground cave.
In the world of “Altered Carbon”, the clone chamber climbs reach up into the sky and connects to a haven for the wealthy know as Head in the Clouds. The floors were so polished that journalists were asked to wear booties before entering. From floor to ceiling, everything felt sterile like the interiors of the newer Star Trek films. The walls are curved, smooth and white. The floors are gray. This is Reileen’s stateroom. The few flat walls that exist here are covered with various ancient weaponry: katanas, broadswords, throwing stars, and halberds to name a few.
Some more human elements are scattered around that give us a peek into Reileen’s life that is less violent. In front of four medical pods are a guitar and a grouping of mannequins draped with her sexy outfits. Her bedroom is sparsely decorated with anything aside from weaponry, but there are two distinct paintings. Across from her bed is the painting titled “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya. The one above her bed is less gruesome but eerie all the same. The name and artist were not available upon request, but it looked to depict Lot and his wife escaping the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The room connected to Reileen’s bedroom leads to an elevator and a large sliding door. Here is where the corridor set meets the stateroom. Here a group of stunt workers is rehearsing a fight. The scene should turn out to be quite violent as the floor shook violently as the actors threw each other around. The context here was not explained, but it may be a good guess to say a security force is escorting someone who attempts to escape.
Now onto the showstopper.
Spanning 400′ in length, by 45′ wide and 60′ tall, the City Bay Street set is a massive living and breathing slice of heaven. From the street vendors to the neon signage, to the garbage on the street, the homages to Blade Runner hit all the senses like a baseball bat of fandom to the brain. Steam was pouring out of grates on the sidewalk and lights beamed down from overhead simulating passing hover traffic. At one end of the street, filming was commencing with dozens of extras milling about their business on foot, bike and hybrid Segway scooters. Vendors peddle their wears out of carts constructed out of cannibalized vehicles or other found items. Some sell freeze-dried packs of food, other server noodles or technological scraps.
The empty side of the street contained a large 20′ tall police barricade used to section off parts of the set to aid in extending the versatility filming the same location as different parts of the city. Only a few vehicles are present but both are hovercars complete with futuristic gullwing doors. Oddly there are not many vehicles on the street set. One mode of transportation that is mentioned in the book will only be alluded to in the series, though. At the end of both sides of the street are tunnels which lead down to the subway system where large pill-shaped pneumatic transportation would exist. The pills will not be shown in the series, but they can be spotted in some artwork and signage around the entrances.
In terms of construction, the entire multi-level set took nine weeks to complete. This includes all the lighting, functioning elevated walkways, rain sprayers and the backdrop paintings that are so photorealistic one could not be blamed for thinking the street continued one for another mile. Impressive fails to accurately describe what was presented in sprawling Skydance facility, but it will certainly drop jaws when “Altered Carbon” premiers in 2018.
Check back tomorrow for the next part in our series on the “Altered Carbon” set visit.
“Altered Carbon” is set in a dystopian 25th century where the wealthy elite are granted eternal life via downloading their digital souls into clones. Having an unending existence is not without its problems as one such modern Methuselah must rely on a resurrected nemesis to help solve his mysterious death.