Alita: Battle Angel Visual Effects Breakdowns
Alita: Battle Angel is a 2019 American epic cyberpunk action film based on Japanese manga artist Yukito Kishiro’s 1990s series Gunnm and its 1993 original video animation adaptation Battle Angel. It was directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron, who co-wrote the script with Laeta Kalogridis. Rosa Salazar stars through performance-capture animation as Alita, a cyborg who awakens in a new body with no memory of her past and sets out to uncover her destiny. Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Keean Johnson star in supporting roles.
Announced in 2003, production was repeatedly delayed due to Cameron’s work on Avatar (2009) and its sequels. After years of development hell, Rodriguez was announced as Alita’s director in April 2016, with Salazar cast as the lead the following month. Principal photography began in October 2016 in Austin, Texas, mostly at Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, and lasted until February 2017.
Alita: Battle Angel had its world premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square on January 31, 2019, and was released in the United States on February 14, 2019 by 20th Century Fox in RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, 4DX, ScreenX and IMAX 3D formats. It is the first film produced by Lightstorm Entertainment since Avatar. The film grossed over $404 million worldwide, making it Rodriguez’s highest-grossing film, but with a reported break-even point of $350–500 million there is debate on whether it was profitable. It received mixed reviews from critics, with praise for Salazar’s performance, the action scenes and the visual effects but criticism for the screenplay.
Alita: Battle Angel VFX Breakdown by Weta Digital
WATCH, Alita: Battle Angel VFX Breakdown by Weta Digital.
Buy your Favourite Alita: Battle Angel Products at Weta Workshop.
Alita is a fully digital lead actress driven by a fantastic performance from Rosa Salazar. New facial animation techniques helped artists realize Alita with extraordinary detail. Inhabiting two bespoke CG bodies, Alita explores the digitally enhanced world of Iron City and confronts cyborg villains new and old.
Alita: Battle Angel Visual Effects by Framestore
Based on the comic books by Japanese manga artist Yukito Kishiro, the stories of cyborg ‘Alita’ have a global cult following, which has now been brought to the big screen in 20th Century Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel. Produced by visionary filmmaker James Cameron (Avatar) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), Framestore contributed 263 shots to the action-packed dystopian feature.
Framestore’s work on the project encompasses a broad range of VFX; from the floating city of Zalem, to the vast Iron City and the Motorball stadium; featuring keyframe animation of the team players, cheering crowds and the building of the vast stadium itself.
With Weta Digital creating the character of Alita, this was an example of a seamless and successful collaboration between VFX studios. In the shared shots, renders of Weta’s animated characters would be placed in Framestore’s worked-up environments, complete with special effects and final comp. A portion of the work was also completed in full by the Framestore team, including the creation and animation of the motorball team players, as well as stand-out environments.
Models already developed by Weta Digital for Iron City were ingested into the Framestore pipeline and laid out using the studio’s proprietary layout tools. A huge build out of the city commenced. ‘It was a lot of work and the results reflect the passion and dedication the environments team put into the process,’ says Nigel Denton-Howes, VFX Supervisor. Alita was a very large project for Framestore environment’s team, who collaborated with modelling to build the city made up of nearly 300 assets. Says Jerome Martinez, Environment Supervisor, ‘we worked on the environment for about six months – from ingesting, to build, layout and lighting. At the same time we were working up concepts to show the client what direction we suggest to add polish to the final picture.’
Alita: Battle Angel VFX Breakdown by DNEG
DNEG’s main body of work in Alita: Battle Angel was creature (cyborg) animation. This included the ‘Factory Gang’ in the crazy bar fight scene, as well as the cyborg, ‘Amok’ in the Ido flashback scene.
In addition to creature work, there was quite a bit of environment work completed for the pick-up rollerball game, as well as the addition of all rollerball skates within that same sequence.
Alita: Battle Angel Visual Effects by Rising Sun Pictures
Rising Sun Pictures, Studio teams with Weta Digital for new film’s lunar battle and zero-gravity training sequences.
Rising Sun Pictures’ ability to deliver amazing visuals is on full display in the 20th Century Fox’s new cyberpunk adventure film Alita: Battle Angel. Working in tandem with Weta Digital, the lead visual effects studio, RSP created breathtaking shots for two key sequences in the film, including a furious battle between soldiers from Earth and fearsome cyborg warriors known as Berserkers.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and co-written and produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, Alita: Battle Angel centers on a young woman (Rosa Salazar) on a journey to discover the truth about who she is. Produced natively in stereoscopic 3D, the film is based on the best-selling manga series from Yukito Kishiro.
Weta Digital VFX Supervisor Charlie Tait and VFX Producer Kevin Sherwood, collaborated with Rising Sun Pictures on the moon battle sequence as well as a second, equally complex sequence set inside a translucent satellite used to train cyborg fighters in zero gravity. For the former, RSP produced the lunar environment as well as spacecraft, weaponry and pyrotechnics, and integrated Alita and hero CG characters provided by Weta Digital. Although fully CG, the sequence looks photoreal with the moon environment rendered in precise detail and the action, including explosions and clouds of debris, calibrated to conform to real conditions.
Integrating falling debris with the scene’s dozens of CG characters, all engaged in combat, was a formidable task. “To make the lighting and the swirling dust work properly, we created proxies of many characters, using curves and specs provided by Weta,” says Wood. “Our compositors employed every trick in the book.”
Achieving a seamless, believable and exciting sequence required unusually close collaboration between RSP and Weta Digital. The animation and effects underwent continuous refinement from the initial phases of production through final delivery. As a result, assets were in constant need of updating or replacement. “We did a lot of testing in the early stages to ensure the smooth sharing of assets and renders,” recalls 2D Lead Jess Burnheim. “By the time shots arrived in compositing, the pipeline was so well-honed that the process was seamless.”
The training sequence was produced in a similar manner with Weta Digital artists creating the characters and RSP focusing on the spherical, satellite, high-tech props and atmospheric effects. “Weta supplied a model of the training facility as well as the camera data,” says Wood. “We took their setups, developed their assets and integrated Alita and her instructor who are training with swords.”
In this instance, the team had to simulate zero gravity, making characters and props appear to float freely in the translucent globes. “The weightless effect was keyed off of the animation and hair simulations from character work at Weta,” says Burnheim. “We enhanced it by creating an environment that is clean and clinical, with subtle light flares adding realism. We gathered reference material of other zero-gravity environments and studied how light reacts to edges and strands of hair, how it makes highlights bloom.”
Again, there was considerable back-and-forth between the two facilities. “We maintained a shared schedule and shared targets,” notes VFX Producer Arwen Munro who joined RSP from Weta Digital last year. “That allowed both sides to track progress as we moved forward from work-in-progress and temp phases. The key was keeping lines of communication open and transparency in scheduling and targets. It went smoothly and we are very proud of the resulting images.”
With sharing shots becoming increasingly in common, it’s important that facilities know how to align their pipelines and work cooperatively toward a common goal. “Working with Weta was a very positive experience from the start,” notes Wood. “There was a lot of commentary and things that needed to be changed right up to the last minute, but it was a very smooth run. We had a great time.”
Alita: Battle Angel Visual Effects by The Third Floor
Fantastic new worlds meet visionary production techniques in the new sci-fi adventure Alita: Battle Angel. Collaborating with Visual Effects Supervisor Richard Hollander and Director Robert Rodriguez, THE THIRD FLOOR LA contributed previs, techvis, and virtual art department work. TTF supervisors led the team to visualize extraordinary scenes in this live-action manga adaptation.
Previs and techvis supported realization of opening shots in the dumping grounds of Zalem, action-packed Underworld Battle, Ambush Alley, Motorball Chase scenes and closing dramatic moments in the film. TTF mapped out complex designs for The Chase scene environment, provided overviews of staging for character and camera placements and visualized designs for weapons and props.
“The previs was used to help work out the action, as well as tech requirements for the shoot,” said TTF supervisor Austin Bonang. “Since the film was almost completely CGI, it was critical to visualize what it would look like to film virtual characters within virtual environments. We also incorporated Lightstorm Entertainment motion capture technology in our previs pipeline, which worked really well and allowed for very realistic animation in the previs shots.”
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Release Date: 14 February 2019 (USA)
Production VFX Supervisor: Richard E. Hollander / Joe Letteri
Production VFX Producer: Mark G. Soper
Makeup Effects Supervisor: Greg Nicotero
Special Effects Supervisor: Bob Trevino
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