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Immersed in Movies: Guillermo del Toro Talks 'Pacific Rim' Robot Porn (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 5, 2013 at 1:29PM

Guillermo del Toro calls it "robot porn." The Mexican filmmaker was at his geekiest last week at Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco, dissecting a fierce fight at sea in "Pacific Rim" between his enormous robot Jaegers and Kaiju alien monsters. It was like watching his version of "Raging Bull," as he explained how he staged the fight choreography while getting the right height, weight, speed, and volume in CG. But he was just as effusive about the aesthetics of alternating between gritty and surreal.
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'Pacific Rim'
'Pacific Rim'

Guillermo del Toro calls it "robot porn." The Mexican filmmaker was at his geekiest last week at Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco, dissecting a fierce fight at sea in "Pacific Rim" between his enormous robot Jaegers and Kaiju alien monsters. It was like watching his version of "Raging Bull," as he explained how he staged the fight choreography while getting the right height, weight, speed, and volume in CG. But he was just as effusive about the aesthetics of alternating between gritty and surreal.

"I wanted to take a different approach," del Toro suggested. "I wanted a realistic use of camera and lighting. I wanted camera work that was geographically understandable and believably located, including the impact of surrounding water. The heads are often chopped off and movement is out of frame. We have built in errors with camera positions that are real. We talked to the simulation guys early on in the process and I asked them to make the ocean and the water and the rain another character. To give it a real kind of dynamic."

Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro


For del Toro, the Jaegers represent analogue heroes comprised of World War II machinery riveted together, yet controlled by pilots both physically and mentally through a neurological handshake called "drifting." By contrast, the Kaiju are voracious reptilian creatures of bioengineering that keep evolving into better WMDs.

Del Toro said his three-year apprenticeship at DreamWorks (through "Rise of the Guardians") proved invaluable when devising an animation language for "Pacific Rim" and in working with ILM's John Knoll and his team. For Knoll, it was a constant negotiation between speed vs. scale because of his engineering background, so he wanted the physics to be as realistic as possible. But for del Toro, theatrical spectacle was more important so they often cheated the physics to make the robots faster so they didn't look like slow, lumbering machines.

"But the complicated factor in all of this was that all of these characters are interacting with all kinds of simulations: water, splashes, fragments of buildings that they smash," del Toro continued. "When John and I started talking about cinematography and how we were going to light it, we decided to do something very very rare, especially in a summer blockbuster. We decided to use existing light, beginning with the first fight when the Kaiju finds the Jaeger: the Kaiju's only lit by the lights on the Jaeger. If the Jaeger isn't lighting the Kaiju, the Kaiju's almost invisible because it's black against a black sky.

"And that is another level of realism and it is also another code for the audience to say, 'It's happening.' Because the movie is visually so stylized. It goes into super-saturated colors, deep blacks, strange shapes, that I wanted to at least establish some verisimilitude in the way we show the damage. We treated the water and lighting of this thing almost like a symphonic element."

When Knoll resisted going over the top, del Toro urged him to go crazy and to embrace his inner Mexican. "During the fight scene in Hong Kong, I would say, 'Give me a green light on the left.' And he would say it doesn't match. 'I don't give a fuck! I want a green light on the left. We're doing Mario Bava.'

"On the other hand, he forced me to think in logical terms. I needed to come up with a language for the first punch in the movie from the Jaeger. I knew it was going to be the most important point. You either buy it or you don't. I came up with the idea that I'm going to cut and I'm going to use two cameras, a wide one and a tight one, and that will allow me a third cut outside. John was on top of me saying how fast they need to move."

This article is related to: Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro, Immersed In Movies, Video, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews , Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.