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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL – In Cinemas Today: From Rotoscoping to Andy Serkis: The History of Motion Capture: From Past to Present Day

06 February 2019

This week sees the arrival of Alita: Battle Angel, the latest blockbuster to push the boundaries of motion capture in films. 20 years in the making, the film sees Rosa Salazar take on the role of Alita entirely via motion capture.

The use of motion capture has created some fantastic characters over the years, from rotoscoping in the 1950’s to modern day with digital effects company WETA, here are some films that have revolutionised blockbuster films over the years.



The first use of rotoscoping dates back to 1915 when invented by Max Fleischer but it wasn’t until Walt Disney adopted the technique for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Instead of tracing over the footage frame by frame, as Fleischer did, Disney would film live-action footage as a reference for character movement. Disney continued to use the rotoscoping technique and by the time Alice in Wonderland was released in 1951, they were filming entire performances with dialogue.



Terminator 2: Judgement Day proved to be a breakthrough in computer-generated imagery and was one of the first films to use motion capture, as well as feature the first partially CGI character. The sequel to the 1984 original, young John Connor (Edward Furlong) is the target of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a Terminator sent from the future to kill him. But when the revamped T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent back, he must protect the boy and his mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), forming an unexpected bond with the robot. The film spawned a further three sequels with a fourth arriving this year. Winner of the 1992 Oscars for Best Effects, Visual Effects and the BAFTA Awards, Best Special Visual Effects, to name a few.



The dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park created by VFX company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) were a mixture of CGI and life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. ILM had worked on several blockbusters before this point, notably Star Wars, Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones series but their work on Jurassic Park pushed the boundaries for computer graphics in films. Whilst this isn’t the first film to feature a CGI character, it’s the first to create breathing creatures entirely with computer animation, and the lasting effect that it has had on Hollywood has been monumental, bagging the 1994 Oscar win for Best Effects, Visual Effects.



British actor Andy Serkis pioneered motion capture throughout the 00’s when he took on the role of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 - 2003). The character was built around a three-stage process. First, Serkis would perform his scenes on set with the other actors, the same scene would them be performed without him, and finally, Serkis would replicate his movements back in the WETA studio wearing a motion-capture suit.

This threefold processes became simplified when Serkis worked on the Planet of the Apes series (2011 - 2017). The advance in technology meant that he could leave the studio and film scenes on set without having to double up on work. The CGI in the last instalment, War For The Planet of the Apes earned nominations in the Visual Effects categories at the BAFTAs and Academy Awards the following year. Serkis’ work on The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes series have truly changed the way motion capture is used.



Starring Rosa Salazar as the eponymous title character, Alita: Battle Angel is the latest film to test the limits of motion capture. 20 years in the making, the film is based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series, Battle Angel Alita, it follows the story of a young cyborg girl who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic city without knowing who she is. Taken into the care of Ido (Christoph Waltz), a doctor who believes he can unlock her memories, Alita discovers that she has unique fighting abilities and that those in power will stop at nothing to control her. The role was performed by Salazar entirely via motion capture while being able to act on set with the other cast members. WETA were then in charge of creating a photo-real fully-computerised character that resembles the Alita from the comics to stunning results.




Alita: Battle Angel Film Page | Alita: Battle Angel Review


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