Living-legend director James Cameron and pretty-close-to-living-legend Robert Rodriguez joined forces for the science fiction action film Alita: Battle Angel. Based on a popular Japanese franchise, production designer Caylah Eddleblute, along with co-production designer Steve Joyner was in charge of bringing this world to life.
Caylah is no stranger to fantastic worlds like that of Alita. Caylah’s filmography includes places like the Predator training grounds in Predators and the mysterious, mean streets of Sin City. Now, her incredible work is on display in a massive film from the minds of two wildly visionary directors.
PopAxiom fought off cyborg ninjas through dark alleys between towering skyscrapers made of glass to speak with Caylah about being a production designer and working on Alita: Battle Angel.
Taming The Beast
Caylah’s worked on films for nearly thirty years. If you’re a fan of the late 80s/early 90s action films, you might remember a series called Beastmaster. Caylah worked on Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine so bear with me. Caylah talks Beastmaster “That was definitely in the early days. Steve Joyner and I were working with Nigel Klinker … Beastmaster was shooting up by Lake Powell.”
Being a master of beasts required there to be some impressive creatures on set “… there were tigers involved.”
Caylah reveals more about working with the huge cats “One of the things of working on something like Beastmaster is that it trains you to become situationally aware. We worked with an animal trainer, and we had a specific regimen to make sure that the animals aren’t startled.”
If they were startled, Caylah and the crew “… learned that running is the worst thing to do when confronted by a predator animal. The minute you run, you are prey.” File that under things you won’t learn in film school.
Working With Robert
Caylah’s spent a lot of time around Robert Rodriguez having worked with him on just about everything since From Dusk Til Dawn in 1996, including the Spy Kids series and The Faculty. About the filmmaker, she says “Robert loves to edit. Editing is his true passion I think. He shoots and edits in such a syncopated manner,” Caylah adds “He’s got such a great rhythm to his work.”
What about the connection between Robert and James Cameron? “Robert and Jim have been friends for a long time. Their careers kind of evolved in parallel.”
Now we’re at Alita. For those not in the know, the story of Alita started out in 1990 as a manga called Gunnm which was later made into an anime commonly known as Battle Angel. Long story short, it’s a story about loss and rediscovery set in a future world and a place called Iron City “… it’s a 62,000 square foot set.” For the record, at this moment I repeated, very slowly … sixty-two thousand square foot set.
Caylah tells us more about the Iron City set “If you go in, you feel like it’s a real city. The scale and texture, those are things that add dimension to an environment, and we really focused on that.”
Deeper Into Iron City
The attention to detail for creating Iron City must also be pragmatic “At the same time, we could redress any street at any time to make Iron City bigger so-to-speak. So, any street could shoot, day or night, as a different street. So that helped us expand Iron City beyond what we built.”
Alita has a big budget, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try to maximize everything possible “The iconic Kansas Bar, that set only plays the Kansas Bar for one sequence. The rest of the time, it’s dressed as different sets.”
However, not all of Iron City was real “We had a great visual FX supervisor, Richard Hollander, he worked on the original Blade Runner. We worked closely together.”
Iron City was built to a height of twenty-four feet “That lets us cover all the action and gave the visual effects team a baseline to build all the vertical parts of the city digitally.”
Rodriguez is not shy about digital sets, having used them extensively throughout many films. But Caylah reveals “James Cameron believes that a set, a real set, can ground a science fiction movie. So we paid a lot of attention to detail while building everything. We made things look worn, we had steam, moss.”
Every word about the work done to create Alita has a distinct sense of pride. Caylah adds “We still have Iron City standing at Troublemaker Studios so I would love to dive into that world again.”
Manga And Movie
James Cameron famously fell in love with Alita back in the 90s when Guillermo DelToro introduced him to the manga. Since as early as 2000, he’s been working towards making a movie happen “We met with Jim during pre-production. He had this beautiful concept art that he’d commissioned back in 2004 or 2005. So we had a foundation on which to begin.”
Super-fans of the manga and subsequent anime films are wondering how closely the film will follow the source material. Rodriguez made fans proud with his Sin City movies. Caylah tells us that the same love exists “Robert had the first three volumes of the manga scanned and we printed out each page. We had three binders so that we could refer to the original story.”
As a production designer, what’s a recent film that blew Caylah’s mind from her perspective “Mortal Engines. That movie took me into the world, and I had fun. I was captivated. Such a creative environment.”
What’s next from Caylah? “There are a number of things coming down the pipe … none of which I can talk about yet. I’m looking forward to all of it.” Who doesn’t love a little mystery?
Thanks to Caylah Eddleblute and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.