The street is in ruins. Cars are overturned. Glass is everywhere. Fallen parts of huge skyscrapers litter the alleyways and streets. Hong Kong has become a war zone, and nothing is left unscathed after the latest attack. As I walk on the battered streets to take in what’s happened, I’m left marveling at the size and scope of the destruction, and I can’t believe it’s all fake.
But let me back up a second.
It’s March 29, 2012 and I’m on a plane flying back to Los Angeles from Toronto. I just spent the past two days in the great Canadian city where Guillermo del Toro‘s Pacific Rim is filming some of its Hong Kong scenes. While I’ve been to numerous film sets around the world, I have never seen the level of devestation on a sound stage like I did yesterday with a few other online reporters. So much more after the jump.
While I’m very confident everyone reading this article has heard about Pacific Rim, for those just joining the party, here’s the latest trailer. But the quick one-liner is: imagine monsters from another dimension invade our planet and we build giant powerful robots to defend us. It’s Godzilla meets Robotech from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. And it looks awesome.
As I’ve said many times in previous set visits, some productions are guarded, while other productions open their doors and reveal what would you like to know. For the most part, Pacific Rim was the latter.
The Sizzle Reel
When we first arrived, we were shown a six-minute sizzle reel consisting of ILM test footage, del Toro talking about the project, behind-the-scenes footage from the production, and some actual footage of the movie. Instead of first doing an interview where you try and figure out what the movie is actually about, they started by teaching us about the world of Pacific Rim and the size and scope of the monsters and robots. And as soon as the sizzle reel ended, I wanted to see more. If Pacific Rim turns out like I think it will, it’s going to be beloved by films geeks and casual moviegoers alike. It’s also going to turn Guillermo del Toro into a household name.
Pacific Rim Video Blog Time
As most of you know, when I do a set visit with Peter from /Film, we record a video blog as soon as we get back from a set. Last night was no different. After spending about 12 hours on set, we sat in my hotel room and did a spoiler-free recap of what we saw and our thoughts about the visit. While we were told and shown huge chunks of the third act, I promise, you’ll learn none of it here. We’re not going to ruin this movie for you.
20 Things To Know About Pacific Rim
When a movie is in production, they always come up with a fake name so they can put up signs and talk about it without casual filmgoers discovering what’s really going on. For Pacific Rim, they’re using the code name “Still Seas” which is great since the monsters come out of the ocean.
Pacific Rim has completely taken over Pinewood Toronto Studios. Every soundstage is being used, including the jumbo stage that’s the biggest soundstage in North America.
The robots, which are called “Jaegers”, are all being done using CGI. While they thought about doing motion-capture for the robots movements, del Toro wants the Jaegers to move and act like robots.
While we’ll glimpse a number of Jaegers in the film, the film will focus on four of them and they’re each from a different part of the world (America, China, Russia and Australia) and have various attributes. Also, while each Jaeger is piloted by two people, the Chinese mech has three.
The Jaeger is piloted from an area near the top. In this section, the pilots get put into essentially a rig similar to the power-loader Ripley uses in Aliens. While obviously different, there are some similarities because when a pilot moves him arms, the robot moves. Also, while some films have the actors pretend to do the motion, del Toro wanted everything done practically so when you see an actor sweating in the film, they’re actually sweating. We were told at the end of a day in the Conn Pod, you want to give the actor a lot of space because it’s an all day workout with few breaks.
The Jaegers are 250 to 290 feet tall – which is about 25 stories high. They thought about making them taller, but by having something like a building behind them when fighting, you gain perspective and scope so everything feels a bit more real.
Del Toro has every Jaeger using a different color scheme so when we go from the Crimson Typhoon (the Chinese one) to the Striker Eureka (the Australian one) you’ll know where you are.
Pacific Rim starts in 2013, but we spend most of the film in 2025 when the world has been overrun by Kaiju (the name of the monsters). It’s because of the constant attacks that the world has come together and created these giant Jaegers. The attacks always come from the sea, so coastal cities are no longer valuable real estate and inland is ideal. In addition, some areas of the world have been drastically altered by the invasion where people work just to get food (e.g. Alaska). However, in other places like Hong Kong, people go about their lives and just deal with the constant threat like people did in London during the bombings of World War II. They’ve even created special underground bunkers for when a Kaiju attacks.
Del Toro and the production have spent a huge amount of time detailing the various aspects of the Pacific Rim world. Everything in the film is there for a reason. No stone has been left unturned. An example is the way they rank every Kaiju and Jaeger in terms of category and labeling so they can figure out which is more powerful when it comes to a battle. Also, as you might imagine, if huge monsters get killed in a real world setting, the dead body has to be dealt with. In the future, a new class has emerged: scavengers. While scientists try and get to the dead body as quickly as possible to learn about where they come from, scavengers mine the bodies for their organs and bones to sell them on the black market the way some people desire ivory or exotic creatures today. Scavengers profit greatly in the world of Pacific Rim.
The production office already has some awesome posters on how to help battle the Kaiju. Most have the same tagline: “Join up now and help us destroy this mad brute.” There is no doubt the posters will be used for some viral campaigns or at Comic-Con. They had four on display and they were all great.
“Bullshit-tanium” (n.): A word del Toro uses all the time to explain how something works when you can’t really explain it.
Del Toro built as much practically as possible on Pacific Rim. He wanted the world to look textured and beaten up. He believes that when an actor can see something that’s really in front of them, it adds to the performance. Both Charlie Day and Ron Perlman were espousing the benefits of being able to really be standing on a destroyed street, or being able to see the base of a Jaeger when acting in the scene. While the production is using green screen, it’s not at the expense of real world interactions.
The entire 103 day shoot is being done on soundstages except for three locations (a beach, a street in Toronto which will be a street in Tokyo, and an old Hydro plant called the Hearn which is pretending to be somewhere in Alaska). Also, they have 101 locations in the 103 day shoot (which is insane) and they’re shooting 56 days of B Unit which del Toro is also directing. If you see an insert shot of a hand, or someone opening a door, del Toro directed it.
Del Toro makes everyone else look like they’re lazy. On Pacific Rim, del Toro is sometimes directing two units at the same time. Then, at lunch, he’s editing what he just shot. At night, he’s also editing and planning for the next day. Every day he makes sure that everything shot has been cut so he can turn over shots to ILM all the time. Also, instead of making ILM guess about how a scene might play out, del Toro is giving them exactly what he wants which will save a lot of time and money.
ILM is doing the visual effects work. They gave the production a good deal because they wanted to work with del Toro, and because the production promised to give them the shots with plenty of time to get the work done. While some productions throw money at ILM and have a crew of 200 working 7 day weeks to finish before the release, the folks working on Pacific Rim will number around 70 and will be working normal hours. Again, this is part of the plan to get great visual effects work at a reasonable price.
Del Toro is using the ARRI Alexa digital camera to shoot Pacific Rim. It’s his first time shooting digital.
To show just how much is going on at the same time on the different soundstages of Pacific Rim, we were given a walking tour through a number of them yesterday. On Stage 2 they were building the inside of a Kaiju brain (which is all blue). Stage 4 (which is called Jumbo and is the largest stage in N. America) held a huge shelter for when a Kaiju attacks Hong Kong. Stage 7 was a big fishing boat that will end up getting between a Kaiju and a Jaeger. Stage 8a was a destroyed Jaeger Con Pod (which looked amazing). Stage 8b was the Russian Con Pod on a massive gimbal that will be able to rotate 45 degrees. Everything was built practically and I couldn’t believe the level of detail.
Del Toro says they plan on shooting part of the third act using IMAX cameras. He also said he went through 14 drafts of the screenplay and he signed on to direct the day after At the Mountains of Madness fell apart.
The film will have 1600 to 1700 visual effects shots and the big issue is solving the scale and the physical reality of the world. They’re going to render the IMAX stuff in 4K to make sure it looks perfect. The goal is to be done with all visual effects by February 2013.
Del Toro is aiming for a tone similar to Hellboy, in which the movie is fun but the battles and action sequences are very intense and visceral.
Del Toro didn’t want to do the “mismatched partner” story like a buddy cop movie; he wanted to show small stories of people coming together in order to survive.
The film has the largest budget and shortest amount of shooting days that del Toro has ever had.
As you might expect, getting to spend the day watching del Toro work was a dream come true. As a huge fan of all of his movies, I’m so excited that we’re going to finally see his immense imagination paired up with a substantial Hollywood budget. But budgets don’t mean anything unless you’ve got a great story and interesting characters. Pacific Rim is loaded with both. Also, while we’ve seen plenty of cartoons showing us giant robots fighting monsters or other robots, this is the first time a Hollywood movie is attempting to make it all look real. And I’m so happy it’s del Toro doing it.
Pacific Rim opens July 12th. For more from my set visit:
- Collider Goes to the Set of Guillermo del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM; Watch a Video Blog Recap or Read 20 Things to Know About the Film
- Guillermo del Toro Talks Getting Back in the Director’s Chair, the Evolution of the Script, Creating the World on a Giant Scale, and More on the Set of PACIFIC RIM
- Charlie Day Talks How He Got Involved with the Project, Bringing Levity to the Story, the Giant Sets, and More on the Set of PACIFIC RIM
- Ron Perlman Talks Developing His Own Character, Practical Effects vs. CG, His Relationship with Guillermo del Toro, & More on the Set of PACIFIC RIM
- Executive Producer Callum Greene Talks Changes During Production, the Massive Visual Effects, Release Date Shuffles, Easter Eggs, on the Set of PACIFIC RIM