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'Pacific Rim' Cinematographer Navarro Goes Digital on Del Toro's Gargantuan Monster Epic

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood June 25, 2013 at 4:29PM

“I’ve been holding onto film as long as I can,” said Navarro who, like del Toro, is a native of Mexico and has been working with the “Pan’s Labyrinth” director and creature-wrangler since 1993’s revelatory “Cronos.”
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'Pacific Rim'
'Pacific Rim'

Director of Photography Guillermo Navarro has shot nearly every one of Guillermo del Toro’s films, at least the important ones (“Mimic” and “Blade II” are distinct outliers) and for a cinematographer so closely associated with a master of effects-driven cinema, the upcoming “Pacific Rim” marks a noteworthy departure: It’s Navarro’s first digital movie. 

“I’ve been holding onto film as long as I can,” said Navarro who, like Del Toro, is a native of Mexico and has been working with the “Pan’s Labyrinth” director and creature-wrangler since 1993’s revelatory “Cronos.” He took home the Oscar for "Pan's Labyrinth." 

Guillermo Navarro
Guillermo Navarro

Navarro backed into his change in format: “Pacific Rim” was originally supposed to be shot in 3-D -- not transferred in post production, as happened -- so all of the cinematographer's research and planning were in the digital realm, which he’s not quite cottoned to. There’s a potential lack of control in a medium “where everyone can tweak and change what you’re doing,” he said. So a DP has to stay on top of things, to make sure that what he brings to a picture -- in Navarro’s case, a rarely matched elegance-amid-sensory-chaos – is properly maintained.

But there’s also, he said, far more collaboration between departments on a film like “Pacific Rim"--not that there are many films like this futuristic story about a time when rampaging monsters rise from the seas, destroy global cities, and are only beaten back by enormous robots, piloted by the tag-team melding of human minds. (It’ll be clearer when you see it.)

Navarro said the enormous scope of the movie and its overload of stimuli meant the art departments, production designers, et al., had to be even more in synch than usual. “All those elements connect with each other and then come the rain, steam, sparks, fog, lightning, maybe snow falling, etc., etc., and sometimes we hit the nail and sometimes we don’t, but that is a privilege: We like to imagine things and see them and recreate them and give them to everybody.”

He pointed out that he and Del Toro never make a movie in the present: They are always in an imagined past or future, but the goal, regardless of the visual magic, is to make audiences believe.

This article is related to: Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.