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– by David Kozlowski

EXCLUSIVE: We’ve become so accustomed to green screen in sci-fi movies that it’s actually a story when a new project goes out of its way to avoid it. That’s the case with Robert Rodriguez’ highly-anticipated Alita: Battle Angel, which the filmmaker claims was a mostly practical shoot.

Why is this important?

Audiences are increasingly fatigued by green screen and many actors loathe performing in front of them. It’s obvious and distracting when green screen is over-used in a film, and audiences can sense the difference. Scenes can feel like video games that lack weight or substance.

Related – Alita: Battle Angel Goes Behind-The-Scenes With James Cameron & Robert Rodriguez

For example, audiences were thrilled to learn that Star Wars: The Last Jedi emphasized practical effects. Director Rian Johnson explained to CinemaBlend, “We got a feel, we got a vibe, we got a grounded kind of look that we never could have gotten on the green screen.”

Rodriguez mirrors that sentiment in an interview with LRM at last weekend’s SXSW. He described his vision for Alita: Battle Angel and the importance of having physical sets:

“People here at SXSW got a real thrill last night. They got to come visit what’s called Iron City, where the movie takes place, at my studio, which is — my huge parking lot in my studio is now 70,000 square feet of Iron City. 20 foot high walls. Seven or eight city streets. And everyone got to visit it last night as part of the opening night of SXSW, and they were blown away by the attention to detail, that the city actually exists.”

Rodriguez then went on to explain why this choice to go practical instead of green screen mattered for his movie:

“It gave us a real tangible real-world set to put the action in, because Jim [Cameron’s] whole thing in science fiction is to make it more science fact, and the more fantastical the story, the more it needs to be grounded in reality. So we surround Alita with real actors, real characters that are played by real people, and real set versus doing it green screen — there’s very little green screen in the movie, it was really done on practical set locations, because I really needed feel to ground it.”

Re-watching the trailer for Alita: Battle Angel, it’s clear that a lot of CG was used to create the character’s robotic limbs and express the violent combat scenes, but the detail and depth of the surrounding environments brought a sense of gravity to the sequences.

Practical sets and physical locations bring a sense of reality to the hyper-reality of sci-fi. Alita: Battle Angel looks as surreal as any film I can recall, and yet there’s something tangible about it that’s unlike the worlds in Blade Runner 2049 or Valerian. It’s strange, but knowing that green screen was minimized makes me want to see this movie even more. How about you?

Does the lack of green screen in Alita: Battle Angel get you more excited for what’s to come? Let us know in the comments down below! And keep an eye out for our full interview with Alita producer Jon Landau, director Robert Rodriguez, and stars Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson.

Alita: Battle Angel hits theaters on December 21, 2018.

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SOURCE: LRM, CinemaBlend (for Star Wars quote)

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.