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Alita: Battle Angel's Most Complicated Characters & VFX Sequences

Alita: Battle Angel, directed and co-written by Robert Rodriguez off a story plan by producer James Cameron, may be getting a lot of attention for the groundbreaking processes and technology behind the creation of the title character player by Rosa Salazar, but Iron City is chock full of cyborgs of varying sizes and shapes.

Shooting sequences, especially large scale action scenes, with these characters against real-life sets and with actors performing motion capture can make these uniquely complex to bring to life. We asked the team leads at Weta Digital how they tackle these moments and which are the most challenging.

Related: The Challenge of Bringing the Alita character to Life in Alita: Battle Angel

Producer Jon Landau, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri, Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Saindon, and Animation Supervisor Mike Cozens each offered different examples and elements you wouldn't normally think to consider.

Speaking on the action set pieces, Alita: Battle Angel deals with characters, non-human characters included, of different shapes and sizes and limb sizes. But in often cases in real practical sets in Austin. So, what's the most challenging sequence to bring to life?

Jon Landau - Producer

I think the most challenging sequence to bring to life was probably the ambush alley fight. One of the sequences you saw where Romo jumps down, first with [Dr. Dyson] Ido and then Nyssiana. Because Nyssiana and Romo are both live action elements that we enhanced their bodies through CGI. Alita, of course, is completely CGI. We're locked into the confines and the logistics of a live action set. And making that work and having all of those different elements blend seamlessly, from a single scene standpoint, was probably the most challenging.

Eric Saindon - Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital

Yeah, the Motorball sequence, right? It's got all these crazy characters, that a lot of them are pulled straight from the manga. And some of them look really cool in the manga. But once you try to move them, they just don't work. It's always a challenge to take that design and put it into an animation, and emotion that you can actually work with, and that you can get a cool design or cool poses. So, that you can feel the same thing but actually have it work.

And we went into a lot of detail with a lot of our characters. Wheel sizes, moving them around, allowing them to have head movement. Because we actually performance captured all of the motor ballers on stage, at the starting line. And all those locations, doing all their motions. Now, some of them did things they couldn't do. Like Stinger was scratching his nose, but his arms are giant blades with chainsaws.  So, if we put that scene in, he’d gash his face out. We can't do things like that. But just getting the little extra motion you get from all those characters onto the CG characters, just helps to bring all of those to life.

Rosa Salazar ALITA BATTLE ANGEL Motorball Sequence
Alita's Motorball Sequence

Joe Letteri - Senior Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital

Well, the different sizes is an important consideration. Because for actors - we work with actors as much as possible. Because you want to get the drama. But eyeline is the critical thing. And when there are different sizes, it's always hard to get the right eyeline. So, if we had scenes between Rosa and Jackie, they would be like - he'd be looking at the floor and she'd be looking up at a stick above him. But then we'd also do a bit where they could just play the scenes off of each other. So, understand what the drama is. And then you take all those pieces and put them together. And you try to craft the performance from all those aspects that work. Because you might get something different when they're playing against each other, versus the bit that they're doing each on their own. And you have to understand, is it in the way that dialogue is delivered? Or is it the tilt of the head that's reacting to a certain beat? And those are the things that when you're making the character, you have to synthesize into making the performance be something that suits what you're seeing on screen.

Mike Cozens - Animation Supervisor, Weta Digital

Yeah, sure. So, there's a lot of great characters in this film, wome of them are big cyborg characters with a lot of weight. And for example, Jackie plays Grewishka, who's a 10-foot tall mech, and Jackie is closer to 5-feet. So, when we're taking that performance, we've got to make sure we're breathing physics and weight into that character. So, a performance like that needs to be augmented in order to put weight into it. You could take a performance, just slow it down, but that's actually not how weight works on something like that. You've got to adjust all the returns of the arms swinging and make it all feel physically correct. And that would be just for drama stuff. As you get into action scenes, we end up doing key frame performances as well. And pulling cool lines of action and poses and strong silhouettes into the characters. And just amping everything up in order to make it look all that much more beautiful.

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.

More: Robert Rodriguez Interview - Innovation at Troublemaker Studios

Key Release Dates
  • Alita Battle Angel (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019
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