Upgrade (2018): Exploring All Filming Locations

Leigh Whannell’s action thriller ‘Upgrade’ is a cyberpunk-fueled feature that portrays a man’s neurophysiological ascension after fusing with a high-tech chip. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is an auto mechanic, who loses his wife and the use of his body after a mugging leaves him paralyzed. Unable to find a solution, he accepts an implant surgery from tech innovator Eron Keen, who promises to fix his life as a person living with quadriplegia. The technology alters Grey’s mind and body, allowing him to control his body in unimaginable ways.

A deep dive into the world of high-stakes action dramas, with a sprinkling of science-fiction madness, the world of ‘Upgrade’ combines the best elements of both worlds, to offer something unseen. The 2018 film is set in a near future where technology controls almost every part of society and our day-to-day conditions to survive. To bring such a blend of high-tech wizardry in a relatively retrograde setting to life, the filmmaker and his production crew had to focus on the cornerstone of their film first: its reality.

Where Was Upgrade Filmed?

The shooting of ‘Upgrade’ took place in writer-director Leigh Whannell’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Principal photography for the film began in March 2017. For the purpose of filming, the production team used a mix of real-life locations and the controlled environment of a studio. He and his production designer, Felicity Abbott, outlined the necessary details they needed to bookmark when depicting a future world that wasn’t too distant from ours.

Melbourne, Australia

‘Upgrade’ features a world of the near future where technology, although rampant, hasn’t entirely changed the landscape to the point where it’s unrecognizable. As such, reality becomes a major part of grounding this science fiction world. Writer-director Leigh Whannell discussed this with his production designer, Felicity Abbott, as a defining principle when trying to bring his film to life. Real-life locations were a must to stitch the cyberpunk reality of ‘Upgrade’ together, therefore, the film was shot in several spaces across Melbourne, Australia.

First, the suburban locales in the city were pinpointed for the generic tone and feel of cities found in the US. The production designer consulted the American actors on set to gauge their reaction regarding their choice of locale. They agreed the Melbourne suburbs were indistinguishable from the feel of many US cities. Additionally, there is a chase scene that takes place on the Craigieburn bypass Hume Freeway (M31). Because Australia is a left-hand drive country, the traffic flow shown in that scene is in the opposite direction than might be witnessed normally.

When sitting down for an interview with Ausfilm, Abbott went into further details, revealing that a sequence was taped at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. “We used a vast stairwell at RMIT University in the city,” she said. It is a public research university on 124 La Trobe Street in Melbourne, Australia. The historic institute was built as a response to Australia’s industrial revolution and houses a stairwell that’s traversed by thousands of university students every day. Its appearance in the film helps augment the future grunge appeal of the production.

“Also, we shot on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne to establish Eron’s world,” Abbott added. The Shire of Mornington Peninsula is a local government area in southeastern Metropolitan Melbourne in the state of Victoria. Situated to the south of the Melbourne City Centre, it houses gorgeous scenic routes bathed in sun rays, golf courses, and views of the ocean. “We shot scenes on a cliff with beautiful sunsets and for the entrance to his world we built enormous rocks and used DSX (Digital Set Extensions),” she said.

The film’s worldbuilding had to go beyond what could only be filmed on-site. “We also had a backlot at Collingwood Arts Precinct with about ten sets of various sizes with lots of built elements, elevators and set pieces and that was a great adjunct to filming at Docklands,” Abbott said. The not-for-profit arts organization, where a few scenes were filmed, is located at 35 Johnston Street in Collingwood, a suburb in the coastal capital of The Garden State.

For several interior shots, sets had to be built at Dockland Studios on 476 Docklands Drive in the eponymous inner-city suburb. When describing these sets, Abbott called them the two character environments for the story, and the most significant part of the storytelling. Grey and Tasha’s house, as well as the interiors of tech mogul Eron’s house, including the labs, were filmed at the production facility. They alternated their shoot between both sets during production as they were built on separate soundstages.

During early talks with Abbott, Whannell discussed his intention to make a film that would fit into an aesthetic he described as “future noir.” Mixing several genres like “science fiction, horror, action, and comedy” together, she revealed he wanted something new to spring forth. Even the automated police vehicles were built in a dedicated workshop. The scenes featuring the cars are filmed in a mix of interior shots done on smaller sets inside Dockland studios, as well as exteriors that were built separately elsewhere. Additional VFX work was done to augment the reality of those scenes.

Read more: Was Grey Dreaming the Whole Time in Upgrade?