HN Entertainment’s Nicholas Whitcomb and CJ Paschall spoke yesterday with two-time Oscar nominee and Alita: Battle Angel visual effects supervisor Eric Saindon, who has been at Weta Digital for ages now working on effects-heavy films such as Avatar, King Kong, X-Men: The Last Stand, Fantastic Four: The Rise of The Silver Surfer, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies, Pete’s Dragon, and the Lord of The Rings trilogy.
In the first part of our interview with Eric Saindon, we talked about his current release Alita: Battle Angel. The topics on the film ranging from the visual effects, how to properly see it the movie in theaters, his favorite of the other cyborgs, and his experience working with director Robert Rodriguez.
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.
Alita: Battle Angel is currently out in theaters and Eric certainly believes that audiences need to experience the film in 3D. Unlike other films that are converted into 3D in post, Alita was shot in native 3D and Eric hypes the Dolby 3D version of the film that our very own Nick was able to see in his screening last month.
“It [Dolby 3D] really makes it pop, I mean because it’s a native 3D movie it really is better anyways that way. But then when you set it in Dolby 3D you have that extra amount of detail and amount of brightness to the whites. It makes it much more of an experience, it’s more of a window. The post-converted movies drive me crazy cause it’s just plains of 3D and I never get emerged into it and the native 3D/Dolby 3D makes it all pop so much more that you forget you’re watching a movie screen.”
Eric revealed that while Alita might be a bigger budget for director Robert Rodriguez it doesn’t sound like his cool factor diminished on set. Along with being able to delegate the production/post-production jobs that Robert normally does himself on his previous films.
“Robert’s [Rodrigurez] done all sorts of movies, right? Like Sin City and things like that but he usually does movies where he’s very restricted on the budget, he ends up being the DP [director of photography], he ends up doing the sound at his house, he wears all the hats on the movie. This is the first time he’s been able to delegate out some of these other roles and concentrate on what’s he’s really great at which is getting a really great performance out of the actors.”
“So with letting us worry about the visual effects and him not worrying about the technology, cause there is a lot of technology behind this film. He was just able to get a great performance out of Rosa or Christoph, Ed Skrien and all those guys. And really others do these roles he usually has to do himself.”
“That said, he’s really a fun director to work with, right, like any director that walks around on par 90% of the day between takes is usually playing the guitar and just sitting back and just chillin’, he’s just a really fun guy to work with and you wanna work harder for him, right, cause he’s such a cool guy to be around that you really want to do a better job than what you’re doing too.”
Alita was always meant to be a CG character according to Saindon, who said that James Cameron was keen on waiting until the technology was able to bring this type of humanoid character to life.
“No, Alita was really always meant to be a CG character. I mean even Jim [James Cameron] said that back in 2005, right. The first time I heard about this project was when in 2005 when Jim got the manga from Guillermo del Toro and got into it, really started writing the script and then working on both Battle Angel and Avatar. He didn’t feel like the technology was there to make a full CG character that could sit next to other actors. Like the Na’vi are full CG characters but because they weren’t humanoid you could really get away with a little bit more putting them next to a live-action actor. But because Alita needs to be To act with or interact with and be next to, having emotional moments with these other actors on screen he didn’t feel that the technology was there to do that yet.”
He also talked about how Robert Rodriguez trimmed down the film’s script that Jim had envisioned as a longer film. Also a couple of things that were taken out of that larger script to give the film a shorter running time.
“There were some early training scenes with Alita learning how to use Motorball skates and things like that. A lot of it is more backstory for Alita and Hugo, and things like that. All stuff that Jim and Robert felt the movie could be reduced out so that they could get it down to a reasonable running time and still get the story of the characters.”
When asked about his favorite of the many cyborgs in the film Eric was quick to point out he really liked Ed Skrein’s Zapan.
“I really liked Zapan because I really like Ed Skrien, he’s just a fun guy and cool guy to be around. He has such great presence on screen, his attitude, it just fits as Zapan like he just works for that character. I have to always say that I’m the most invested in Alita because obviously we spent the most time on her but as a character I really liked Zapan.”
Panama City, Panama also seemingly influenced the look of the Iron City in Alita.
“So we actually took OSM data, which is open street map…it’s taking the building data and street data from actual cities. We used Panama City [in Panama] as a starting point and took the streets and all the building types and used that to drive how we laid out our streets and the building types in the city. So in Panama, if a certain building is a highrise building we got that data from this OSM data and we put a highrise in the same sort of footprint as that building or industrial areas or residential areas. We really followed the same layout as real cities to design out our Iron City.”
We have a lot more to share from Eric Saindon and will be posting more tidbits from our interview with him in the coming days, so keep an eye out.
Alita: Battle Angel is currently out in theaters and you can watch Nick’s spoiler-free video review below.