Leigh Whan­nell walks us through the world of Up­grade

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En­vi­sion­ing the fu­ture can be tricky. Not just be­cause we haven’t been there yet, but be­cause the iconog­ra­phy of fu­ture worlds has been so set by films like Blade Run­ner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Akira. You know the look: sleek, steely, neon-flooded and, more of­ten than not, soaked in trop­i­cal rain.

That’s why, with the near-fu­ture de­picted in Up­grade, Leigh Whan­nell and pro­duc­tion de­signer Fe­lic­ity Ab­bott wanted to steer clear of the vis­ual cues of past sci-fi greats. “You start with what not to do,” Whan­nell ex­plains. “You draw up two col­umns of What To Do and What Not To Do, and you put Blade Run­ner and Akira in the What Not To Do col­umn. Fe­lic­ity had this list to work from.”

So what did they do? Well... “If you think back to the early 2000s, the world didn’t look that much dif­fer­ent to the way it does now,” says Whan­nell. “We said, ‘Okay, so the world ba­si­cally looks the same, but there’s been these tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances.’ We also de­cided we wanted the tech to re­flect the nat­u­ral world. That was a con­scious de­ci­sion to avoid that Akira/Blade Run­ner thing. In­stead of go­ing chrome and steel and mak­ing this cy­borg movie, we wanted to use a lot of wood, a lot of nat­u­ral ma­te­rial, so you see a lot of plants, a lot of wood materials.”

The nat­u­ral world also in­forms the film’s ar­chi­tec­ture. “We have this tech baron in the film, the Elon Musk sur­ro­gate. His house is very tech­no­log­i­cal and fu­tur­is­tic,” Whan­nell re­veals, “but in­stead of us­ing holo­grams and cold materials, we used a lot of plants and wood and rock. Stuff that felt very or­ganic.

“Ev­ery­thing is sup­posed to keep re­flect­ing the nat­u­ral world, be­cause that’s where Fe­lic­ity and I thought that tech was go­ing to go. I think in the fu­ture, tech will not be try­ing to look more tech-y. It’ll be try­ing to im­i­tate the nat­u­ral world and feel more or­ganic. That was our pre­dic­tion any­way, I might be to­tally wrong on that!”

Direc­tor Leigh Whan­nell thinks about the fu­ture.

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