Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series–Go behind the scenes into the design and story development of Netflix’s hit series

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re a fan of hard-hitting science fiction and noir of the Blade Runner variety, your top pick for binge-watching this month should be the first seasons of Altered Carbon (reviewed here and here at borg).  Abbie Bernstein, author of several film and TV tie-in books arrives with her latest book, Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series.  In design and layout, this is the next book in the series of behind-the-scenes studies of top-level sci-fi television series from Titan Books that includes The World of the Orville (reviewed here) and The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World (reviewed here).

Unapologetically pulling its look and feel from the original Blade Runner, the creators of Altered Carbon made a world that could easily be a spin-off of the Philip K. Dick realm, a region just north of the cityscapes in Ridley Scott and Syd Mead’s futuristic dystopia.  Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series is not a look at the concept art, but full coverage of the first two seasons of the series as seen through the eyes of the writers, cast, production designers, costume designers, stunt department, visual effects artists, and more.  Based on a trilogy of books from novelist Richard K. Morgan, the challenge for series creator Laeta Kalogridis and second season showrunner Alison Schapker and a team of writers was how to split up the novels between seasons.  Pulling Morgan into the writers room they based season one on the first novel and the theme “what does it mean to be human”–a common theme of many sci-fi stories–but more loosely adapted the next two books into the second season, focusing more on the love story between lead character Takeshi Kovacs and his former leader Quellcrist Falconer, asking, “Can love between two people survive, even for centuries?”

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Bernstein doesn’t hold back any content or story arc, digging into the relationships between characters, taking apart key sequences, and highlighting dozens of the series’ key characters, including accounts from the actors.  Because of the significant physical combat sequences among the major cast, the actors joined their stunt performers in daily sessions to bring greater believability to the visual effects elements.  Readers can expect hundreds of full-color photographs, including set photographs, film stills, and an entire chapter of sample storyboards from the series.

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Unlike many behind-the-scenes accounts of shows, the book is comprehensive, giving equal weight to both seasons, providing plenty of content for readers to examine their favorite characters, sets, costumes, vehicles, and weaponry.  And the nature of the series provides an interesting look for actors to see how to portray characters whose physical bodies are swapped–each character is examined with respect to the variety of actors that have portrayed the character on the show.  The character spun-up into the most sleeves, of course, being Kovacs himself.

Students of costume design will find prime material here for study, as the costume design teams approached each character’s change and growth across each season utilizing subtle and not-so-subtle changes in color and composition–an approach used in most series and films, but handled exceptionally well in this series.  Want to see close-up images of the stacks, and Ortega’s cybernetic arm?  That’s here, too.

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If you want to see Syd Mead’s influence on the series, you need only study the cityscapes of Bay City in comparison to the late futurist’s works, especially demonstrated by Bernstein via different layouts of the future cars that appeared in Altered Carbon.

Just released by Titan Books, for fans of the series, cyberpunk, tech noir, and all things sci-fi, Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series is a great addition to your shelf of behind the scenes works.  Order it now here at Amazon.

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