Sci-fi series Utopia centres around a mismatched group who discover a global conspiracy in a comic book. But are they also living in one? For beyond the Channel 4 thriller’s hyper-real violence is a use of colour unlike any other show on TV.
In order to replicate the graphic novel’s bold aesthetic, director Marc Munden turned to the Technicolor palette of 1950s Hollywood. “Normally the way you’d colour a piece of cinematography is by constructing it with greens, blues and reds,” explains Munden, 54. “The three-strip Technicolor process we use is comprised of the opposite colours — yellows, cyan, magentas. I was interested in Doris Day films from the 1950s that pushed those distinct elements.”
Utopia | Channel 4Channel 4
Like comic-book artists, Munden and colourist Aidan Farrell carefully colour-correct each shot in post-production — though they use grading software Nucoda Film Master instead of a brush or pen. “It’s the equivalent of when they used to hand-paint photos in the Edwardian times,” says Munden. “So, we choose certain colours like yellow and turquoise and paint them into the shots afterwards. The skies that we shot weren’t always blue, they were mostly grey British skies. The same goes for making grass greener, eyes brighter, or turning a blue van yellow.”
The colour palette for series two, airing Monday 14 July onwards, is even bolder — with production now aided by sets that are pre-prepared for grading. “In series one, where we were still trying to find this aesthetic, it was difficult to manipulate colours in a shot that weren’t part of the palette. This time, we can afford to dress the sets in more yellows, cyans and magentas so in post-production we can make them bolder. We had a much clearer idea of what we were looking for.” As for the central mystery itself, Munden is keeping it under wraps — although he does hint towards one mysterious episode that he’s not allowed to talk about. “It’s mad, I can tell you that.”