Review by C.J. Bunce
A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005? As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books. It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar. According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel. But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.
Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago. Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI. In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism. The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.
No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film. In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated. The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron. Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.
Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:
Artwork featured in the book was created by Alita production staff and outsourced artists, including Jonathan Bach, Marc Baird, Shane Baxley, Jonathan Berube, Michael Broom, Dawn Brown, Vitaly Bulgarov, Kit Casati, Keith Christensen, James Chung, James Clyne, Dylan Cole, Fausto De Martini, Mark Goerner, Saiful Haque, Joseph Hiura, Sarah King, Martin Laing, Ellen Lampl, Khang Le, Scott Lukowski, Stephan Martiniere, Steven Messing, Annis Naeem, Chris Olivia, John Park, Joseph C. Pepe, Joe Peterson, Ben Procter, Deborah Scott, Robert Simons, Tully Summers, Alex Toader, and Feng Zhu, and effects shops KNB FX, Lightstorm, and Weta Digital.
Fans of the manga, the film, and all things borg will appreciated the artistry behind the film in Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie. It’s available now from Titan Books. Pick up a copy here at Amazon.