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Close up with manga cyberpunk film Alita: Battle Angel

A look at some scenes from the upcoming movie that started its journey with James Cameron way back in 1999.

Tania González
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Alita: Battle Angel

Twenty years in the making, manga action film Alita: Battle Angel opens in theaters in December.  

Inspired by Yukito Kishiro's manga Battle Angel Alita, the movie tells the story of a young cyborg girl who wakes up with no memories of who she is. Supporting her is Dr. Dyson Ido, a father figure who specializes in health care for cyborgs and who gave her the body he created for his late daughter.  

I sat down with director Robert Rodriguez, producer Jon Landau and lead actress Rosa Salazar to talk about the process of making a photorealistic manga film. Read my interview here

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2 of 9 Rico Torres/Twentieth Century Fox

James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez

In 2015, Robert Rodriguez started negotiations to become the director of Alita: Battle Angel, and shooting started a year later in Austin.

James Cameron provided 600 pages of notes to Rodriguez to help him finish the script and remained involved in the project as a producer alongside Jon Landau.

Here are Cameron and Rodriguez on the Alita set. 

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The visual effect

Weta Digital, based in New Zealand, is in charge of visual effects. 

"Weta combines science and art into their visual effects and very few other companies do that" producer Jon Landau said. "They look scientifically at how skin reacts to light and everything and that's how they find a way to incorporate it into their visual effects."

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The face

During San Diego Comic-Con 2018, I got to see 18 minutes of the 3D film, and what really blew me away was the skin on her face. The way it reacted to the light, her expression lines, and even the minute hair had me thinking I was looking at actress Rosa Salazar's face. 

Producer Jon Landau thinks the photorealistic face was the biggest challenge: "I think it's going to be something that is groundbreaking and sets the standard for films that come after Alita," he said.

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No makeup or wardrobe

Filming a full CGI character can be tough for actors. "You're not putting on wardrobe and makeup. You're putting on a whole suit, you're getting lined with your infrared dots, you're painting the dots on your face through a plastic mask," star Rosa Salazar said. "That stuff at first can be like, 'OK I'm learning how to ride a bike,' but once you're in it all of that stuff melts away."

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But let's not forget about the performance

For Alita director Robert Rodriguez, it's important not to get too technical when dealing with CGI characters. "You can get stuck in the lab too much when you look at things and it doesn't look right. You always have to marry it to a story or performance," he said. 

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Technology and performance

Rosa Salazar stressed that motion capture technology works in tandem with her performance. 

"I have a very emotive face so I'm trying to really give them that but not outside the bound of what I believe is right for the story."

Rodriguez said Salazar "has become the character and we want that to go all the way through the animation so when all that stuff is done [the technical aspects of animating], you see that come through."

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The action

You can see all the pieces Salazar got to incorporate from her martial arts training in the trailer.  

"That's me doing that two-hand punch, that's me doing a whip kick on this guy's face, that's me smashing this guy's face into a table," she said. 

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Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel will open in the US on Dec. 21 and in the UK and Australia on Dec. 26. 

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