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ALITA BATTLE ANGEL

Production Information (Cont'd)
Building Iron City
From the earliest stages of imagining Alita, James Cameron had a vision of putting audiences inside the tumult of Iron City, a 26th Century city reeling from war 300 years prior and but also pulsing with life. He always envisioned a deeply layered place of abundant contrasts, at once a cyborg-filled Wild West of rampant crime and bounty hunters, but also a place where Alita experiences the thrill of discovery, love, elation, street life and the inspiration to change the city for the better. No matter how tough times have become in Iron City, the human instinct for fun, for art, for achievement and for joy still runs rampant.

"Iron City is the place that people have come from all over the world to find sanctuary. So it's an ad hoc kind of slum superimposed on the high-tech world that existed there before the war. It's dangerous but it also has this amazing, chaotic energy," says Cameron.

Iron City also evokes a whole history of evolution and devolution, with hints of sophisticated technology falling into disarray. "You can feel the disparity between the technology that was created before the war but is still in use, and the living conditions that people now endure," says Cameron.

For technical reasons to do with Zalem's seemingly "magical ability to hover in the sky above the bustling and teeming iron city and the space elevator that once connected it to earth, Cameron chose to present Iron City as an equatorial city, somewhere in South America, though more a melting pot than representative of a singular nation. That concept hit home with Rodriguez. "Kishiro didn't set Alita in Asia," he notes. "He had Kansas in mind, but years ago Jim realized that for scientific engineering reasons, Iron City would realistically have to be closer to an equator. I loved that because it instantly gives you more color and richness than you've seen in a sci-fi story. Iron City isn't dreary and gray. It's inviting, vibrant and full of diversity."

The construction of Iron City began on paper, with the production's voluminous concept art started a decade ago. Ben Procter and Dylan Cole, co-production designers on the Avatar sequels, took on the challenge of serving as concept design supervisors for Alita: Battle Angel. Says Procter: "The mandate for Iron City was to bring out lots of energy, intensity, street art and the feel of classic, timeless architecture melded with influences from the high-tech world before the Fall."

Adds Cole: "It was important to us that Iron City have a futuristic culture unlike any you've seen before. We've seen so much rain-slicked, neon-lit sci-fi and the fact is, you can't top Blade Runner in that regard. So we wanted a completely different kind of tone. We've created a dusty, sundrenched look for Iron City that suggests that life goes on in this place despite the oppression people are living under."

The concept art moved all who had the chance to see it, but the task of turning these bold and lyrical paintings into functional sets on the backlot of Troublemaker Studio was going to be massive. That's why Rodriguez brought in a team that has always been undaunted by any creative mission: production designer Steve Joyner and his colleague Caylah Eddleblute, who have been working with Rodriguez since Dust Till Dawn. Says Rodriguez: "Steve and Caylah figured out how to turn Troublemaker's lot into a textured city that took on a life of its own. They used secret tricks to make eight streets feel like an entire world. It helped ground everything. It anchored Alita in that palpable reality that we absolutely needed."

The pair's simpatico knowledge of Rodriguez was an advantage. "We knew going in that Robert is all about depth. We knew he would want a city that seems to go on forever," says Joyner. "So we knew we had to create an intricate network of streets, allies and corridors that all interconnect. Ultimately, the sets were so complex there were nooks and crannies even Caylah and I didn't know were there!"

The sets demanded all manner of logistical parameters-each space had to be constructed to accommodate the unwieldy performance-capture process. But the main focus was on something else: to generate an environment visceral enough to transport the actors to a fresh reality.

Joyner and Eddleblute's approach to the future boiled down to one phrase: "What does the future look like? It looks like the past with the future layered over it." Eddleblute elaborates: "Times change, but many things stay the same. The film is sets hundreds of years in the future, but if you look back at life 400 years before today, people still sat in a chair to eat breakfast in the morning, just as we do. So we thought a lot about using everyday objects to make Alita's world feel accessible and relatable to us now."

Joyner and Eddleblute began forging this imaginary realm by researching Panama and Cuba, taking in the colonial architecture, the cosmopolitan vibe, the barrios and the fusion of modernity and history. Then, they imagined what would happen if a South American city was suddenly jam-packed with people from every corner of the globe. "Because so many people came to Iron City from all over after the war, it had to feel like an amalgamation of cultures blending together," says Joyner.

When it came time to erect the city, they enlisted more than 200 carpenters, painters, plasterers and craftspeople to join them in Austin for an unprecedented adventure. "This kind of build happens once in a career," notes Joyner," and it felt like an amazing gift to share that."

Landau recalls Alita creator Kishiro's first visit to the set. "Kishiro is a man of very few spoken words, but when he walked out on the set of Iron City, the smile on his face said more than any words could."

One of the first locations audiences encounter in Alita: Battle Angel is the scrapyard where Dr. Ido spies the discarded Alita. As the origin moment of the entire fabled story, it needed to have a tinge of the mythic to it, so Joyner and Eddleblute carefully built the scrapyard out of metal and mechanical detritus sourced at a military salvage yard in San Antonio. "We brought in huge crates of various scales of scrap from chunks of metal to the finest material that literally could fall like rain," says Eddleblute.

Ido's clinic and lab have a decidedly cludged together, low tech feeling. "It's an open space that was once a hotel or bank lobby," describes Joyner. "Now it serves as everything to Ido: his living quarters, office, kitchen and surgical suite all in one room, which is a very Central American thing to do, and also again gives Robert that thing he loves most: depth!"

Chiren's lab contrasts starkly with Ido's lab, highlighting the split in their philosophies: he turned his grief towards helping others while she has focused on gaining power and leaving Iron City behind once and for all. "Ido's clinic is rough and tumble, while Chiren is getting top dollar for her work," says Eddleblute. "She and Vector live in a penthouse where everything is top of the line for Iron City but terribly cold feeling. It's a loveless environment, so all the lines are very hard and severe."

Then came the Kansas Bar...the fan-favorite, hunter-warrior dive bar from the Manga (named after the classic 70s prog-rock band), which was envisioned anew in order to host an off-the-charts cyborg bar-fight. "The Kansas bar is canon to the book," notes Joyner. "But in the book, the bar is underground, so we modified that part. We were inspired by an original piece of concept art that instead had Kansas built into the bones of an old monastery. It was another chance to show the old and new coming together."

26th Century Action: Motorball
If there is one obsession that unites the people of Iron City it is Motorball: the glam and brutal gladiatorial sport whose champions are the heroes of an otherwise desperate city. The game takes place on rocket-propelled wheels, as hulking cyborgs fitted with chains, spikes, blades and armor race at 100-mph through the hairpin turns of a trap-filled track designed to damage cyborg parts. Those who win at Motorball not only attain rock star status in Iron City but a chance to ascend to Zalem forever. Jon Landau describes Motorball as "NASCAR meets WWF meets MMA on steroids."

Everyone in Iron City watches Motorball. Kids play street Motorball, which is how Alita is first introduced to the sport. Later, with her Berserker body, Alita tries out for the 2nd League - the "minors" of Iron City Motorball. "It's all new to Alita but she eventually becomes the LeBron James of Motorball," says Salazar. "I really like that, because the cyborg guys are like, 'look at all my bells and whistles.' And she takes them all down."

For the street Motorball sequences, the production recruited a quartet of world-class inline skaters to take on the park-our-like moves that needed to be captured. Still, many of the pro Motorball characters had to be almost entirely computer-animated because there simply is no human analog for the way they move. "Some of our characters just don't work like humans do, so you can't really even performance-capture them," notes Richard Hollander.

Art director Todd Holland became the in-house expert on the fictional sport, expanding from the Manga's inspiration to come up with scoring and rules. "Motorball is not about shooting into an end goal or a hoop-it's about possession," Holland explains. "The longer you're in possession of the ball, the more points you score. There are seven person teams, but there is also a more cutthroat version which is everybody pitted against each other, which is what Alita experiences in her tryouts."

What Alita believes will just be a low-key audition turns into an all-out, life-or-death chase. Rodriguez had the whole team watch race car movies to inspire the scene's whiplash camerawork but once things fly off the track, there were no precursors for this kind of action. "The Motorball chase is one of my favorites," says Rodriguez. "The action's already blistering when Motorball is just a game, but things quickly turn from a game to a hunt sequence as the cyborgs try to annihilate Alita."

Action, from the otherworldly Panzer Kunst martial art form designed for zero-g combat to the relentlessly-paced street Motorball clashes, is woven into the very fabric of Alita. Orchestrating it all was stunt coordinator Garrett Warren, who has collaborated with both Cameron and Rodriguez before. "Garrett is one of those guys who asks what you want, and then he'll quadruple it," says Rodriguez. "That's what we needed."

Warren says veracity was the bottom line for his work-which is why nearly everything you see on the screen began with real moves, rather than being created digitally after the fact. "Even though Alita and the other cyborgs are animated bodies, we still did it all for real, because it makes a big difference to have a person tangibly kicking, leaping and being thrown around," he explains. "Combining real stunts with performance capture technology has the ability to take audiences places they've never been before in action sequences. We're unlocking Pandora's box for the imagination with this way of making movies."

Warren worked in tandem with fight choreographer Steve Brown, known for his work on Wonder Woman. Brown was pushed to think way outside even the vast action box as he faced such challenges as training a seven-foot-tall stunt performer to fight on stilts in order to digitally capture Grewishka's moves.

It was also a chance for Brown to create a wildly dynamic, original fighting style for Alita, keeping in mind that style evolved a world beyond earth's gravity. "The idea is that the way Alita fights, her whole body becomes a weapon. It's never about just her hand or her foot. Her body works as a unit, as she bounces off targets, creating momentum to make more powerful strikes," Brown elaborates.

Alita's style and skill also progresses through the course of the story as she hones her self-identity. "She starts to have even more and more confidence in her fight style. And then when she gets her Berserker body, it's like everything just makes perfect sense, and there are few limits," says Brown.

Layering the Emotion
One of the last layers of creation added was the music, including the brand new single "Swan Song," co-written and performed by double Grammy nominee Dua Lipa. Says Dua Lipa of how Alita inspired her: "I see a little of myself in her, in both her badass spirit and our shared haircut. Alita is all about empowerment and standing up for who you are, which are two things that resonate with me."

Then there is the score by Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, the Netherlands-born producer who's become a close collaborator with Hans Zimmer and a go-to for searing action. Rodriguez knew he was the one after hearing his iconic wall-to-wall score for George Miller's non-stop Mad Max: Fury Road. "Junkie XL is all about propulsive music," says Rodriguez. "His music can drive a huge action sequence but also let you into the soul of a character. I felt he was about to bring both the 'battle' and the 'angel' to Alita."

Alita was always about recombining contrasts-the battle and the angel, the real and the digital, and also the styles of Rodriguez and Cameron. For Jennifer Connelly, the final film is a union of both filmmakers' sensibilities. "You have the epic scale of fantasy that we all associate with Jim but also the playfulness, sense of fun and a little bit of the subversiveness and dark humor of Robert," she says.

As Rodriguez put the finishing touches on a film that began nearly two decades before as the dream of Cameron, the mood was anticipatory. After all the visualizing, drawing, designing, rendering, performing, capturing and refining, everyone was ready for the fully alive Alita to meet the world. Rodriguez's only hope is that audiences emerge from theaters with an emotional connection to Alita and the movie rather than wondering how the immediacy of this photo-real world of the imagination was achieved. "At the center is always Alita's human journey," he says. "And that's also what Alita realizes. She may have lost much of her memory, but she has found her humanity, which is what counts."

Upon viewing the finished print of Alita: Battle Angel, its originator, Yukito Kushiro, could not have been more effusive. "I wanted to become a movie director and make fantastic films when I was a child. Though I was not able to realize that dream, I was able to pursue a career as a manga artist. So now seeing my manga series turning into this brilliant film, Alita: Battle Angel, is a dream-come-true for me. The visuals, the characters, the storytelling - all the factors that make this film are fantastic! I can see the passion, love and respect for my work in the film. It makes me feel that I would actually want to live in the Iron City! And I would very much love to see more Motorball scenes!"

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