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

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

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.”

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.”

However, with a budget gap between del Toro’s ambition and ILM’s reach, Knoll devised a more efficient pipeline that shed a lot of waste and forced greater front end iteration. “Certain things you do as a director, if you’re changing your mind, you’re basically opening up an ATM machine that has no end,” del Toro quipped. “They made it easier to do the creative iterations on the front end because the back end beauty pass is much more expensive.”

Yet del Toro insists that “Pacific Rim” is more fantasy than sci-fi aimed at his inner 12-year-old. In fact, sci-fi doesn’t float his boat. “Robots I have a huge boner for. Sci-fi robots I find incredibly moving, collapsing on a beach or being maimed or trying earnestly Golem-like.”

But the humanity of “Pacific Rim” comes from “the drift.” That’s what elevates it beyond the rock ’em sock ’em fun. And the mecha warriors are only as good as the pilots inside them, who wrestle with their emotional demons when they’re drifting.

“The idea was: Can we have two characters, who don’t trust anyone, trust each other? I actually wanted the flashback scene of Mako [Rinko Kikuchi] to be like a fairy tale of a girl being saved from a dragon by a knight in shining armor, and when [her protector] comes out of the Jaeger, he looks like a knight. The movie’s about the largest things and the smallest things, whether it’s a fist hitting a window in a building or a giant monster and a little shoe. And I thought there was no other way to understand the Kaiju attack than by having it be the girl [running in the street] who’s in the pilot suit. To understand that little girl is fundamental.”

And to understand the passion of this lifelong animation geek is fundamental to our enjoyment of “Pacific Rim.” It’s all about del Toro’s personal drift, which is infectious.

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