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BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

Creating The Visual Effects
The visual effects in Battle: Los Angeles created a number of challenges for VFX supervisor Everett Burrell, and at the top of the list was the concept of the film as Liebesman envisioned it: to tell the film from the Marines' POV, Liebesman would employ handheld cameras, and it can be a challenge to incorporate the effects into these shots. "He was very upfront with the vendors: ‘I don't want to hear any whining,'” laughs Burrell.

In Battle: Los Angeles, the City of Angels is destroyed by unknown forces… and Everett Burrell. Preparing to do his worst, Burrell flew in a helicopter between San Diego and Los Angeles, taking digital photos of the southland – wide shots that would become the background plates for the film for Burrell to use as a tool of his trade. "Once Jonathan had chosen the shots he liked, we could add smoke, fire, and city destruction,” Burrell explains.

But making the destruction was just the beginning – Burrell and his team were also responsible for creating the destroyers. Liebesman collaborated with a team of artists to create the aliens for Battle: Los Angeles and bring his vision to life. "While I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for the look of the aliens, the collaboration between concept artists and our post-production team ensured the aliens became far more complex and fascinating creatures than I could have ever imagined,” says the director.

"It's always difficult to get the design down because there are endless possibilities,” says Burrell. Of course, when designing an alien, even the sky isn't the limit: anything is possible. Where to begin? And how do you know when you're done? "We went through a lot of different concepts with Jonathan to get the alien right – to get what he envisioned. This is mainly due to the fact that it was such a different type of thing we were going for. We wanted ours to be very different, like nothing anyone's ever seen before. CGI allowed us to tinker with the look all through production, until he was completely satisfied.”

Moritz agrees. "We went through a very comprehensive alien development stage. During pre-production, we looked at many, many different alien designs. We obviously didn't want to duplicate anything that had been done in other movies, but we also wanted to make sure that our aliens were believable in a way that actually made sense for our story – why they came here, what they were looking for, how they were able to defend themselves, what made them a better, stronger opponent for our armed forces. Jonathan came in with a really cool, unique, scary alien – when we finally had the design, we brought in a huge, life-size alien to show the studio, it was a great feeling to know that we had nailed it. Everyone was every enthusiastic.”

CGI can do a lot of things, but sometimes, an effect is best achieved with a physical prop. On Battle: Los Angeles, this was true for the alien autopsy sequence, in which the Marines see up close what the aliens are made of and figure out how they can stop them. "I come from creature effects, makeup effects,” says Burrell. "Our full-scale alien really is the best way to get the effect when it has to interact with the actors closely.”

"Jonathan was very involved in the creature effects – the look of the alien, how he wanted it to react, what he wanted it to feel like,” says Alien Creature FX Department Head Joel Harlow, who was charged with heading the team that created the physical creature effects on the movie. Even once the design had been finalized, Liebesman was involved with casting parts – what would be silicone, or skin, or bone, or metal.

At the end of the day, the physical alien for the autopsy was an impressive presence. "The autopsy alien is about eight feet tall, with a 20-foot-long tentacle coming out of its leg. When they drag this thing, there's a residual trail of blood and goo. They bring that in, throw it down in the interior of the police station, cut it open and do an autopsy on it and that's a separate element – every time that the cast interacts physically with one of these aliens, it's something that we have made.”

For the aliens' aircraft, the design began with a happy accident. "Jonathan was playing around with the visual effects and, by mistake, there was a large ship with a separate piece broken off,” says Burrell. They liked that idea – and in the end, the UFO became a ship composed of nine smaller drones – "like a pizza cut into slices,” Burrell explains. "They'll destroy the world in thirty minutes or less or your money back.”

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