The TV show 'Utopia' has become renowned for its stylized visuals, including a type of saturation that is frequently described by reviews as "Acid Burned"...

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Director Marc Munden, who shot the first three episodes, set an incredible visual tone from the start with his use of acid colours and startling symmetry.

From the Guardian.

Channel 4's acid-toned paranoid thriller got off to a disappointing start ratings-wise, but soon built a detail-orientated fanbase whose obsessiveness was almost a match for the show's own graphic-novel nerds.

From the Independent.

What this seems to translate to is incredibly rich and vibrant yellows and greens, with de-saturated blues and washed out darker shades.

How is this achieved, and how could it be reproduced?

Is it entirely modified digitally in post production, or is a mixture of filmic techniques, lenses and post?

The British adaptation of Wallander also prominently used this technique:

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  • As Professor Sparkles said. The entire comment chain was unnecessary. Being insulting, or name calling is not appropriate here.
    – Dr Mayhem
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:52
  • Wallander (at least the screen shots) dont look similar to Utopia. In Utopia you can see he did a vignette, a darker circle around the movie, like a halo, also the colors are much 'richer'. In Wallander the colors are slightly bleached (destatuated), no vignette, and the yellows again, not a rich yellow but a over bright yellow. Wallander just does not look as rich and vibrant.
    – eLouai
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


I have not seen any movie that used any onset technqiuqes for this look. Of course you want the lighting to give away a certain mood to begin with but there are no special filters needed.

For the post production workflow, there is a great plugin for several video tools like After Effects, Premiere and Final Cut from Red Giant called Mojo that makes it extremely easy to achieve and fine tune such an effect. They also offer other tools to achieve specific filmic looks.

If you don't want to use a plugin or simply want to achieve a more "unique look", you can play with contrast and the individual color channels. I recommend using a "Levels" effect not a "contrast" effect, you usually have greater control with that. Then punch the blue channel up a bit and the green channel aswell but not as much. For some scene you may want to work with masks to strengthen the effect in some areas without overdoing it in others.

What can also help even more to achieve the color distortion but is not available in every video editor is to apply a blue (or other color depending on your desired look) layer over your footage with a blend mode like "Overlay" or "Vivid Light" (that's how they are called in Adobe programs) and adjusting the transparency of the color layer. This tints the image nicely in a blueish dark look. Play around with different blend modes, you can achieve very interesting effects with that technique. Your video software just needs to support blend modes for that.

You also want a very sharp image, thats important for the effect to really shine and have this "harsh" feeling. Applying a very subtle sharpening effect could be benefical.

You can also add a vignette as used in your first set of screenshots.

  • 1
    Just to add more options, you can also use Blender (blender.org) which is free software to do what Professor Sparkles describes here.
    – YoMismo
    Jul 23, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    @YoMismo You will have a much much harder time doing it though. Jul 25, 2014 at 14:53
  • Really? Have you tried the compositor? I haven't tried After Effects since it is not free, but after trying Blender's compositor I don't think it is that hard.
    – YoMismo
    Jul 25, 2014 at 20:03

To add onto what Professor Sparkles said and to give more of a specific answer to your question, I believe this is done entirely in post (but I could be wrong because I have no experience on set). If anything, one could definitely reproduce this (or very close to it) in post by performing a few things:

  1. Remove Noise
  2. Balance your R,B,G channels
  3. Juice the saturation, increase contrast, darken image(changing contrast and saturation can tend to have the same effect, so balance them appropriately favoring a higher saturation)
  4. Push your shadows to cooler temperatures, blues and teals
  5. Apply a vignette
  6. Apply slight sharpening
  • +1 for reducing noise and specifically mentioning shadows.
    – timonsku
    Jul 23, 2014 at 15:26

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