Alita: Battle Angel took a while to find its legs but eventually became something of a sleeper hit. Every penny it made was well-deserved, too, as it’s a stylish and fun sci-fi action movie with some astonishingly cool fight scenes.
One of the most eye-catching elements of the film is Alita herself, a fully CGI creation derived from Rosa Salazar’s motion capture. But when Alita was unveiled in the first trailer back in December 2017, her design received quite a lot of criticism. Her look is inspired by the original manga and she has unnaturally big eyes, with many arguing that she falls squarely within the uncanny valley.
It’s an understandable criticism, but when you watch the movie you very quickly accept her, as she fits in quite neatly with the extreme body modifications seen on cyborg characters throughout the film. Still, the negative reception caused drama behind-the-scenes, with the VFX team at WETA wondering if they’d made the right call with her look.
CinemaBlend recently interviewed the Alita: Battle Angel VFX team leads, comprising Richard Baneham, Mike Cozens and Richard Hollander, and asked if they had any doubts about the character’s eyes. Here’s what they shared:
“We had the original design, right? The designs all the way back to 2005. Once you build that and you put that next to a live-action actor, they do have to always change a little bit, because it does look a little strange. And after the first trailer came out, right, everyone said ‘Her eyes are pie-shaped! They’re gigantic!’ And blah, blah, blah. And we did go to Robert, and we went to Jim, and said, ‘Hey, we’re getting this feedback. What are your thoughts?”
Fortunately, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron stuck to their guns, with Cameron being particularly direct, saying:
“Both of them said, ‘No, we want to go bigger on the eyes! Jim said, ‘Fu*k the haters,’ right? He said, ‘We’re going to go bigger on the eyes, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”
In an era where you can sense the invisible presence of focus groups filing away the interesting edges of movies (*cough* The Rise of Skywalker), it’s nice to hear that Rodriguez and Cameron had total confidence in their vision for Alita. And, in my opinion, her design totally works. Alita’s a super-advanced cyborg from a distant past war who’s designed to fight outer-space kung-fu battles, so of course she’s going to look a little weird.
WETA followed the filmmakers’ advice, too, with the VFX team saying:
“At the end of the day they were both right. We didn’t actually go that much bigger on the eyes, but we went bigger on the iris, and we filled the space of the eyes a little bit more, and it just popped her character to life even more.”
Honestly, I really hope we get a proper sequel at some point in the future. Alita: Battle Angel is a seriously cool movie that ends on something of a cliffhanger, and I’d love to see where Alita’s story goes next. Let’s hope that fan campaign succeeds.