Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Altered Carbon Looks Stacked in an Exclusive Preview of Netflix's Coffee Table Book

Kovacs looks out over a cityscape on his home planet, Harlan’s World.
Kovacs looks out over a cityscape on his home planet, Harlan’s World.
Image: © 2020 Skydance Productions LLC. All Rights Reserved

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a show that tries to match its substance with lots of style. Taking inspiration from the cyberpunk genre, most notably Blade Runner, the series intertwines wealth, poverty, and technology to represent a universe where death is meaningless. We have a first look inside Netflix’s official artbook that shows the style, substance, and tech behind Altered Carbon.

Advertisement

Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series from Titan Books is a behind-the-scenes look at seasons one and two of Altered Carbon, a series based on the book trilogy by Richard K. Morgan. Written and curated by Abbie Bernstein, Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series takes readers inside Bay City, Harlan’s World, and everything in between—featuring concept art, storyboards, visual effects builds, set photos, and more. The book comes out March 31.

Advertisement

Here’s a peek at six photos and development stills from seasons one and two of the series, along with the book cover:

The book also features interviews with the cast and crew about the creation and philosophy of the series. The book’s introduction, shared below, dives into the complexities behind adapting Morgan’s book for television and what the cast thinks is the underlying moral message of Altered Carbon. You can read it in an exclusive preview below:


The Netflix series Altered Carbon, produced by Skydance Television, is based on a trilogy of novels by English author Richard K. Morgan. The first book, published in 2002, shares its title and storyline with the first season.

Advertisement

Season two show runner Alison Schapker adds, “We have taken creative license, but we have tried to stay true to the spirit of the universe he created.”

For Schapker, that spirit “calls into question the nature of human identity itself. How much of what makes me ‘me’ is tied to the mind, the body, the soul? If minds can move between bodies, what residue of lived experience remains etched in our flesh? And what does it mean to inhabit the flesh of another?”

Advertisement

“From the beginning, everyone at Skydance was instantly intrigued by the world Richard K. Morgan had built in the book series and knew Altered Carbon would make for a gripping television series. There are so many layers to Altered Carbon that make it so compelling, especially for us as a studio: it’s an epic story spanning massive worlds. It’s action-packed and thought provoking and – at its heart – it’s a love story. At Skydance, especially with our films, we’re known for big world building, event-level movies; we’re excited to be able to bring the same engaging stories and high-quality visuals to television with Altered Carbon.”

In translating Altered Carbon from a novel to ten episodes for the first season, Kalogridis relates, there were a number of issues. “The mythology is pretty complex. Also, I think we forget sometimes how much just in our lifetime technology has transformed in things that fifteen years ago, we would not really have considered as being normative – Google, the Internet. That’s a part of what makes it challenging to create a world where there’s a whole new technology that’s upended everything in a much bigger way than the Internet has upended everything. It’s a matter of course you don’t really explain it. We’re world-building around an idea that, even though it’s simple at its heart, brings with it a great deal of complexity in how it’s used.”

Advertisement

Middleton says he doesn’t know where to begin describing what he loves about Altered Carbon. “Richard K. Morgan’s books are very involving, entertaining stories, with big existential ideas. As for our adaptation of Altered Carbon, I am particularly fond of the mixture of sci-fi and film noir. I like that we are able to tell stories that are very adult, provocative, and unabashed. I have loved dealing with our cast and very talented writers, from Laeta Kalogridis, to Steve Blackman, to Alison Schapker. Finally, I am drawn to the fact that, at its core, Altered Carbon is about how individuals deal with intense loss, whether it is the loss of an intense love, or of one’s very humanity. Dealing with loss is something that everyone faces, which makes our story very relatable. I think it is unique in its approach to examining existential ideas, such as what makes us human, and, also, the question of if love can survive over centuries, no matter what body we inhabit.”

Chris Conner, who plays the artificial intelligence being Poe, says he sees Altered Carbon as being about “the struggle to be human, the fight to hold onto our better angels. If we don’t fight our inner demons, we could end up in a dystopia. But love and humanity will hopefully crack through.”

Advertisement

Other aspects of Altered Carbon also resonate. In Season two, Kovacs is played by African-American actor Anthony Mackie. Kovacs’ lover/mentor Quellcrist Falconer is played throughout the series by African-American actress Renée Elise Goldsberry.

Simone Missick, who plays bounty hunter Trepp in season two, is likewise African-American. She observes, “I don’t think very often you see three African-American lead actors in an action series and also to have Will Yun Lee [as Kovacs Prime], Dina Shihabi [as the AI Dig 301], [and] Chris Conner – it’s a very rich, inclusive cast. I think it’s very exciting to see Renée and I onscreen together. It’s two women who are both equally strong, but have completely different needs and wants and desires and outlooks and moral codes that aren’t necessarily ones that, in our bodies, are often given to us as actors.”

Advertisement

Then there are characters who wind up in sleeves that don’t match their identities. For example, when Ava Elliot’s stack is released from her prison sentence, the only available body is male. Director Peter Hoar, who helmed the last two episodes of season one, says, “It’s effectively a lesson in transgender. What does it mean, if you can change bodies like this? It was like, okay, you may be wearing this body, but the person inside is still Ava. She identifies as ‘she,’ so we should call her ‘she’.”

Production designer Carey Meyer cites the original Blade Runner as an inspiration for Altered Carbon’s season one look. Meyer devised the primary street set for Bay City as something that would anchor the essence of the show’s world. “In the early stages for creating the look of the show, the conversations with the producers were about creating the three levels of [Bay City], because that tells you a lot about how your social structure works. We spent a lot of time creating Bancroft’s tower, and then the Grounder city base level, and then we would [create] the spaces in between from the top down to the ground. Richard K. Morgan has a unique and probably quite realistic take on what might happen in the future. A lot of it is right around the corner.”

Advertisement

Kalogridis says of Altered Carbon’s journey to the screen, “It has so many layers and so many technological challenges that there’s a reason it took years. But getting to explore something that is complex as a technological and an intellectual idea, while making the story human, that’s a huge victory.”


Excerpted from Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series. © 2020 Published by Titan Books, March 31, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Advertisement

Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series is out March 31, and you can pre-order a copy here.


For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

Advertisement

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

BlueSeraph
BlueSeraph

I can see what they decided to show on here was more art from season 1 than season 2. For possibly a good reason. I loved season 1 but was disappointed by season 2. To be fair seasons 2 was kind of a victim of circumstances. In terms of budget and production that was given than most shows season 1 carved out a visual world that spoiled us. You wanted to be in that world. Unfortunately it’s initial release wasn’t as well received as Netflix hoped for. Not as well as the Witcher for comparison. I’m getting the sense it became more of a cult hit series now.

So season 2 was scaled down production wise on a more practical level. On it’s own it is not terrible but in comparison to season 1, it does look cheaper and in lower quality. Season 1 gave you that cyberpunk atmosphere. It explored themes and ideas well enough to realize that yeah as a society (especially if rich) people would exploit the technology that essentially reduces the human body from a temple to simply a hotel room. Twisting it in both weapons application and more perverse purposes.

Those that complain it’s just trying to be like blade runner rip off for it’s cyberpunk or game of thrones gratuitous nudity and sexual depiction of women may have a point on the surface only. But the show did find a way to stand on its own as a different animal for the cyberpunk noir feel. And the nudity and violence made a believable portrayal of society. For example, episode one where Kovach discovers the world he was trying to prevent now exists and is worse than he imagined, he decides to get high. And it was executed in a way that was very cyberpunk and left that feeling of wanting to be in that world similar to Blade Runner, but had its own flavor to the point it wasn’t like Blade Runner. Then the fight scene where the antagonist is basically having hand to hand combat nude and jumping from different clones. That could’ve been executed in a cheesy terrible way, but they not only took it seriously, they achieved it coming off as something both a novel approach and a threatening situation. It didn’t feel gratuitous. Season two showrunner Alison Schapker unfortunately failed to deliver something to expand the world of Altered Carbon if it was going to remove those elements.

The showrunner tried to show the concept of jumping bodies and worlds can also mean in going a different genres of scifi for the show than just cyberpunk. Sadly it’s more scifi action route (which isn’t bad) was executed in a bad way. It came off more generic and forgettable. There were themes it could’ve explored but whether it was that they didn’t have the budget or just poor direction, you didn’t feel like you were submerged into this world as in season 1.

I recently rewatched the expanse, and it was by far not a cyberpunk show. But season 1 did have a noir storyline, and that was over by season 2. That show was able to continue telling a compelling scifi story with mystery. And once again looking at season 2 of Altered Carbon, they couldn’t do that. They reduced it’s cyberpunk, dropped their noir, yet couldn’t do what the Expanse could do. Tell a story that may have been told before but still stands out for it’s flavor.

Anthony Mackie had potential but was also a dissapointment. What he had to work with maybe hurt his portrayal of Kovach. In season 1 Joel Kinnaman portrayal of Kovach was someone that really came off as a jerk that was burned out and jaded and someone you can’t help but feel sorry for and would want to drink with to be miserable with him. Mackie’s portrayal was just a version of Marvel’s Falcon in angry jerk mode. Just playing soldier going from point A to point B. I’ll give credit where credit is due, by episode 7 and 8 his performance changed enough where I was enjoying it, but it was too little too late.

So maybe this article should point out that this coffee table book may not be the best for those that didn’t like season 2. Instead just sell a glass with a bottle of whiskey for that coffee table.