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No. 99 (Alita: Battle Angel)

No. 99 (Alita: Battle Angel)

Renette Bariso
by renettebariso on 1 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Here is what I’ve created during my time at Vancouver Film School. Based on the film "Alita: Battle Angel." I couldn’t have done it without all the help and support from my instructors at VFS and industry mentors.

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When deciding what to do for my project, I knew I wanted to create something that consisted of both organic and hard-surface features, so Alita in her Motorball body was the perfect choice. 


Since Alita is an advanced CG character, I did plenty of research to make my project as successful as I could. I was able to find a number of resources, such as articles and breakdowns from Weta, DNEG, Framestore, and more. I bought the book, Alita: Battle Angel - The Art and Making of the Movie by Abbie Bernstein and attended a Weta Digital conference that touched on the making of Alita. It's incredible how much work they put into bringing her to life.


I compiled my references in PureRef, which were mostly screenshots from the last scene in the film. I also looked into various mechanical components for details and functionality.

Hard-Surface Modeling 

For efficiency, I started with a simple base mesh and blocked out her general body shape. I then used it as a foundation to build off of for certain body parts by using Make Live, Quad Draw and Extrude. I also frequently used the Crease and Lattice tools to create complex shapes. There were dozens of tiny pieces, so to easily remember which textures to apply later, I assigned coloured lambert materials to represent each corresponding texture. I kept in mind to make her body functional so it would be easier to rig; since her body is hard-surface, I was able to test this by placing pivot points at the joints and rotating. I used entirely Maya to model her body. 


I organized my UVs by UDIM/material to minimize the need for masking. Her body consisted of materials such as aluminum, titanium, copper, rubber, etc. I intended it to look decently worn as in the film, so to achieve this I applied layers of dirt, dust, rust and scratches-it was important to break up surfaces so it wouldn’t look too consistent. For convenience, I created smart materials to use as a base for similar textures. I used entirely Substance Painter to texture her body.

Face & Hair

Weta mentioned that they adjusted her face to look more mature as she changed bodies, so I gathered most references from the second half of the film (post-Doll body). It was necessary to get shots from different angles for more accurate dimensions. I closely followed KubisiArt's workflow. TexturingXYZ tutorials were also helpful.


Sculpting her face was most especially a process of consistent refinement. Starting from a sphere, I tried to define her signature features such as her heart-shaped facial structure, small lips, and large eyes. Finding the correct proportions of these forms and breaking the symmetry of the face was essential to capturing the likeness. I often used the ClayBuildup, DamStandard and Move brushes. I retopologized the head in Maya afterwards.


Starting off in Maya, I created a plane and assigned TexturingXYZ Multi-channel Face maps to it. Then, I used R3DSWrap to wrap the plane around her face before tweaking it in Zbrush to better match my sculpt. I went ahead and baked my maps using XNormal, then brought them into Mari to project onto her face. I cleaned up the maps by re-projecting/painting over details I didn't want.

For the displacement, I used a 50% grey colour to remove any unwanted information. When I was done, I separated the RGB channels and took them into Zbrush to control the strength of the secondary, tertiary and microdetails using layers. I continued to sculpt specific details, like wrinkles or more porous areas, and exported the final map from there. 

Lastly, I created a roughness map and painted the eye makeup and blood using Substance Painter. I plugged all my maps into an 'aiStandardSurface' shader (I used this to apply SSS).


Alita's big, brown eyes are her most distinguishable physical trait, and one of the most important aspects of achieving a realistic character. I used TexturingXYZ Multi-channel iris maps and added amber tones to her outer iris; to the sclera, I added a diffused blue/grey ring to represent her limbus. 

I made three pieces of geo: "outer eye" (serves as sclera and cornea), iris and retina. I used a ramp node to create a soft fade from her "outer eye" to her iris. I also made sure to create tear menisci and applied an opacity map to soften the edges. 


For her hair, I used XGen's 'placing and shaping guides' feature. To replicate Alita's thick and layered hairstyle, I used a variation of clump, cut, coil and noise modifiers and created multiple descriptions for more control. 

This project was definitely challenging, but I improved my skills and learned so much through the process. Special thanks to my instructors at VFS and industry mentors, Manuel Armonio and Jon Catapia. I also want to thank Elias Issa for rigging, Chase Houston for the sword texture, and Craig Shiells for helping with the lighting.

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