The second series of Dennis Kelly’s conspiracy thriller, Utopia, launched on Channel 4 this week. To promote the show’s return, 4Creative and Unit9 have produced an eerie set of interactive ads and a disturbing online experience…
Utopia follows a group of people who uncover a global conspiracy in a graphic novel and are forced to flee an organisation known as The Network. It’s a brilliantly dark and surreal show and a visual treat, with beautifully shot scenes rendered in acid brights.
To promote the launch of the first series, which aired last year, 4Creative launched a viral campaign targeting journalists active on social media. Using information journalists had posted online, it produced personalised films warning them: “the network knows everything about you” (you can see the case study here).
Series two’s creative builds on this sense of being watched with ads featuring a bloodshot ‘all seeing eye’ and the message ‘The Network is Watching’. In animated digital posters placed around the UK, the eye appears to track the movements of passers by, while interactive online versions respond to mouse movements.
The ads feature the same bold yellow which featured heavily in both teasers (below) and titles for series one. “Utopia is visually stunning and very quirky – we loved how the grading pushes colours to saturation limits,” explains creative lead Pablo González de la Peña. “We tried to reflect that by using yellow as the main colour in promos, again using this extreme saturation,” he adds.
As well as reflecting the show’s comic book-inspired aesthetic, the ads perfectly capture the sense of paranoia that runs throughout. The eye symbolises both the all-knowing power of The Network and the main characters’ sense of being watched while on the run.
“With the first series, we were introducing a set of characters who were running from someone or something but they didn’t know what. Now, people know what they’re running from, and they know and love the characters, so we didn’t need to explain. The eye says it all,” adds de la Peña.
The eye was created with Unit9, 4Creative’s production partner for the campaign. As Unit9 directors Dawid Marcinkowski and Kasia Kifert (The Kissinger Twins) explain, the aim was to create something that looked “both real and futuristic.”
“The process was very complex,” they add. “The eye was modelled in 3ds Max in three parts: the cornea, the lens and the iris. The material contains refractions, a bump map and a self-illumination map [making parts of it appear to glow and shine, much like a real eye]…and the texture was created in Photoshop with several layers used for veins, to give the impression of depth,” they explain.
To accompany the ads, 4Creative and Unit9 have also developed an interactive online experience at thenetworkiswatching.com. The experience begins by greeting visitors with a yellow screen and the message ‘Let us understand you better. Let us build a safer tomorrow,’ before a voice over says: “Hello…we’ve been waiting for you.”
The website then takes a photograph of users and accesses data from their social media account (with permission). A series of glitchy animations follow and users are asked “Can We Trust You?” before being shown black and white CCTV films of serious crimes.
At the end of each film, the perpetrator’s face is revealed, and users see their own face staring back at them, followed by the warning: “People will believe you did this. We own you. You can’t hide from us.” The interactive ends with a message from one of the show’s leads, Jessica Hyde, and a trailer for the series.
The experience mirrors the programme’s plot in series one, in which characters are framed for crimes they didn’t commit – in one scene, a character is shown doctored CCTV footage in which he appears to murder several people in a school.
“We wanted to make viewers feel how the characters in the show felt when they were being framed and people think that they’re guilty of something they haven’t done. We also wanted to create something that would show people who haven’t seen it just how crazy it all is, the lengths that The Network will go to,” explains de la Peña.
As The Kissinger Twins explain, the shoot was a complex process: “As the interactive uses html 5 face mapping, we had to be very precise with angles and performances. We shot the CCTV films in London, in a huge abandoned office complex near city airport – it’s a strange, very atmospheric place, evoking [post-apocalyptic novel] Day of the Triffids,” they add.
The interactive is an unsettling experience, particularly given the amount of information most of us share online every day. Like the all seeing eye posters, it offers a compelling glimpse into the world of the show that will be instantly recognisable to fans of series one, while creating plenty of intrigue for those who’ve never seen it.
To accompany the series, Channel 4 has also launched an online game which features 80s style graphics and music from Utopia composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer. The narrative was written by Kelly and levels will be released over the course of the show alongside videos and blog entries. To play it, visit channel4.com/utopia
Creative Lead: Pablo González de la Peña
Digital Producer: Christos Savvides
Art Director: Chris Rice
Production Partner: UNIT9
Interaction and Live Action Directors: Dawid Marcinkowski & Kasia Kifert / The Kissinger Twins