Sitting in the theater, I really didn’t know what to expect. Would James Cameron be here? This was his next big movie, right? I was in a theater in New Zealand and a guest of 21st Century Fox waiting to be one of the first to see 3D footage of Alita: Battle Angel, in theaters February 14th.
Out came a few of the VFX guys who worked on the project. Then the man, the myth, the legend: Jon Landau, producer of Avatar and Titanic, two of the biggest movies ever released.
He explained how great the process has been bringing this manga to life, and how he couldn’t wait to show us the footage. Then he nonchalantly dropped a bomb, revealing that just one of Alita’s oversized eyes uses more detail that all of Gollum in the Hobbit movies (both characters were created by Weta Digital, a visual effects company founded by Peter Jackson).
My mind was reeling, so when I had a chance to speak with Weta Senior VFX Supervisor Joe Letteri, I had to ask about the drastic jump in graphics from Gollum to Alita.
Gollum’s eyes well “those eyes, we just painted them,” Letteri says. Years later, Weta had a chance to really get things right in Alita.
“If you look at a real eye it’s actually not just a flat surface,” he says. “There’s layers there. So you try to build the layers and you think, that’s really still too simple, what’s really going on is there’s these fibers that are all intertwined.”
A lot has been said about Alita’s eyes since the first trailer came out (they didn’t look great), but the footage screened in New Zealand showed a lifelike cyborg with real emotions. Those eyes never bugged me, and they’ve only gotten better since that original trailer dropped.
Back in New Zealand, the lights dimmed as we prepared to see our first look at Weta’s latest achievement in Alita. Then Jon Landau spoke into the microphone.
“Here is a video message from James Cameron,” he said.
James Cameron was not there.