Years ago director James Cameron had a choice of making Alita: Battle Angel or his original IP, Avatar, and part of the decision came down to the technology and processes required to realize each on the big screen. Avatar of course came first, taking years of development and innovation, and it helped pave the way for Alita to finally be made afterward.
Here we are a decade after Avatar released, changing the industry forever thanks to the talent and innovation of Weta Digital, and Alita is making her long overdue debut. The development of Avatar and years of further advancement and new tech created afterward, allowed this adaptation to come to fruition, and the work that went into it is helping now inform and realize the Avatar sequels for which Weta is working on next.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to visit Weta Digital last year and experience first hand how movie magic really happens, and we spoke to some of the team leaders and Alita: Battle Angel & Avatar producer Jon Landau about the future tech, special effects, and motion capture element of these productions.
The amount of performance capture work and tech and processes developed for Avatar helped inform some of what you've been able to push forward with Alita. Does the tech, down to the software used and developed for this movie,help inform what you're doing with future Avatar films?
Jon Landau - Producer
So, I was talking to Joe Letteri of Weta Digital, probably a year ago, and we both concluded that the work we're going to do today, and now on Alita, is going to even have a greater impact on the Avatar sequels than the first movie really had on Avatar. Because we have learned so much. No longer could Weta hide behind an ape skin and fur to bring a facial performance to life. She's out there, human skin, she's all there for everybody to see and it's a new standard that they had to ascribe to.
Eric Saindon - Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital
We do new technology for every film. So, even if we started a new film tomorrow, we would end up starting new technology. It's been three years on this film. So, technology we were using at the start of this film, is probably outdated now. And we'd be moving on to a new technology by the-- in another year. So, because we get to work with people like Jim Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, who always want to push technology, we're always pushing ourselves to get new technology that's going to help us to be more creative or more flexible in the way we do things.
Rosa Salazar - Alita
This is the cutting edge of technology and we're creating a brand new human. That's different. I'm not a huge fan of the live-action hair and makeup and wardrobe. I love my job. Obviously, I love acting. I almost feel like I've graduated that part and now I'm onto this. You know what I mean? [Laughs]. Like I'm onto doing the process plus another process because I don't know, I got really obsessed with this and the ability to create a character without the nuisance, almost, of making sure my angle is right. I can be really in my head and superficial if it's my coverage and go like "oh now the camera is here so I have to do this and then I'll look here, and then the lighting, and oh we have to get the lighting..."
With this there is none of that. You're free! You're completely free to exist so it affords you that right, that ability to play because you're free. You're not thinking of the superficial details of how does my face look, how do my clothes look, how does my hair look.
Joe Letteri - Senior Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital
Every project, we take what we learned from it and bank it for the next one. Because you're constantly building your tool kit. And then you wait to see what the script is, and what is it that we're being asked to do, and you look at what you've got and what you're missing, and you just take it from there.
With all the work that went into designing these characters and the processes, especially when it comes to Alita herself, which is a character we've never seen like that before, does that make it, I don't want to say easy, but does that reduce so much of the challenge? If we were to make like an Alita sequel, this character again, is a much easier the second time around?
Usually it is easier the second time around. Having gotten to work on a few sequels, I can attest to that. Because most of the time, the first time around, you are just trying to figure out what and who the character is. Once you've established that, it makes it a lot easier to get into the flow of the character. So, yeah, hopefully there'll be a sequel.
Jon Landau - Producer
Well, look, I think one of the things that Jim has been great about in his career is that every project that he does with visual effects informs the next. He wrote the scene of the pseudo-pod into The Abyss to see if he could finally make Terminator 2 with the T-1000 coming out of the floor. When we did Avatar, I mean when we did Titanic, we put digital people on the ship as a step to, could we do Avatar? When we did Avatar, we realized yes, we could finally do Alita. So, they're all building upon one another.
Official Alita: Battle Angel Plot Synopsis
From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (AVATAR) and Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY), comes ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past - she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she's grown to love.