Comic Con 2012: Guillermo del Toro on Pacific Rim

Relying on practical effects, why it's not a kaiju film and where his anthology television series currently stands.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The two creative forces formerly behind The Hobbit crossed paths at Comic-Con today. Warner Brothers presented both The Hobbit and Pacific Rim, so Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro took turns both in Hall H and in press conferences with reporters at the Hilton Bayfront.

At the Pacific Rim press conference, we got to ask del Toro some questions and hear his deep thoughts on how to make giant robots and monsters fight in ways we’ve never seen before.


We ask Guillermo del Toro if it was weird to cross paths with Peter Jackson and if they’d kept in touch after he left The Hobbit?

Guillermo del Toro: I was sending him emails from Pacific Rim. We’ve been emailing a lot during the prep of The Hobbit. I sent him a photo of me with a guy who looked exactly like him. Then the two productions were at peak and we hadn’t talked in a long time. We stayed at touch and we haven’t seen each other here. I went to the tech rehearsal yesterday at 10 and he came to a tech rehearsal at 11 something. Probably I’ll run into him this afternoon.


Guillermo del Toro on how Pacific Rim raises the bar for his work.

To me, this movie was a big, big growth for me as director. It represented the chance of, in the same way Pan’s Labyrinth represented the chance to do something in the Spanish language that I tried before but I wanted to show what I could do with more support and freedom, to me Pacific Rim represented that on a bigger scale. As a director I concentrate on things I felt personally I needed to improve from the other films and things I hadn’t tried. I shot the film in different ways but the same philosophy and visual style. It happens in many of the battles, many of the quirks are going to be executed a different way than you normally would. I cannot say because I would be spoiling stuff. It’s a year away but there are things in the movie that I’m the proudest of I’ve ever been. Things are not executed the way you necessarily think they would be. You think of an action film and I always imagine a huge Mission Impossible movie with Tom Cruise and all of a sudden you see the scene from the point of view of the janitor sweeping the floors and poof, something passes. That’s the point of view i wanted to see, what point of view could I take that was not oh, this is what they do in those films. But creating a new world. I wanted it to be a movie I was proud of on its own.


Guillermo del Toro’s ideas will make CGI look better.

There’s a school of thought on CGI where you do an impossible camera move every time and everything is sleek and clear and beautiful. I do exactly the opposite. I dirty it. If you saw in the advance [footage], there’s drops of oil, there’s streams of oil in the lens, there’s drops of water in the lens, there’s dirt. In some instances I even scratch the glass on the virtual lens, so you can have refractions of a lens that has gone through a lot in battle. In the case of Pacific Rim, we really built a lot of stuff that was oversized and difficult but in order to bring that tactile effect. For example we build a whole street of Tokyo and rigged it with pneumatic shockers, so every time the monster took a step, the whole street would shake, the cars would jump, the walls would shake. Normally those would be digital. Also it’s about making the plate seem to exist in a world that’s hard to shoot. Instead of doing an impossible move around, I tell my guys at ILM, come back to the same shot. Nobody does that normally in CG. Every shot is great, every shot is new. I tell them come back to the same master, the same over as if we were shooting this fight for real and we needed to use the same angle. Don’t always make the camera smooth. Miss the punch. Be late for the monster breaking the building. I know we’re spending so much money on breaking the building. Come back three seconds later so we can keep the reality. the dirtier the effect the more real. That same philosophy comes into this one.


Guillermo del Toro on the characters Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi play in Pacific Rim.

What was great is the character of Rinko is same as Charlie had a big fall. They both lost a lot in the past and when they meet, one of the ideas in the script is two people who are really, really hurt can become one, both metaphorically and in life. They meet with their two empty pieces and connect almost like a puzzle.


Guillermo del Toro on kaiju films and and giant robots!

I wouldn’t compare it to a Godzilla film. What it is, there are two subgenres that are very popular and in Japan. One is the Kaiju and the other is the giant robot subgenre. Occasionally they mix together, mostly on TV series, but on film I thought these were things that were part of my nutritional makeup growing up. I literally was raised watching these movies. One of the things I made clear to my designers, every head of department, was we should not reference other movies. We should not re-watch Gamera or re-watch Gojira or re-watch War of the Gargantuans. We said let’s create the world that we’re doing. It falls in here and falls in there, but we should not be doing a referential. If things happen, they happen because they’re being made by people who love those genres. But I didn’t want to be postmodern or referential or just belong to a genre. I wanted to create something new, something mad. I tried to bring epic beauty to it and grandeur.


Get your pencils, here are the names of the giant robots.

Jaegers. Jaegers. They’re called Jaegars. Each of them comes from a different country. We have Cherno Alpha, which is a Russian robot. Crimson Typhoon which is a Chinese robot and so on and so forth. They each have a name and they are as much characters as the pilots. I wanted each robot to have a personality and for you to feel when they get hurt or when the robot wins. I wanted very much to be able to make the audience feel for those machines as much as they feel for the other characters. Frankly also for the kaiju. There are very unexpected things that have to do with the kaijus. The kaijus and jaegers were both designed as characters.


Naming the robots makes it more realistic. Here’s how:

Also the pilots name their robots very much depending on where they come from, the American robot has nose art like the WWII planes. The bombers name their planes. There’s an affection and there’s a plausibility to the robots. We spent so much time doing the signage, when you see the robot you’ll see them move and you’ll see the mass, but between the mass, you’ll see so many little parts doing the work. We designed them as practical machines. We didn’t design them as something that we just put bullsh** moving. We went in and said this is where they refuel them, this is where they put the new cells, you can see all the port markings as if it were a giant helicopter. We took a lot of reference from giant machines. We took photographs of the most massive airplanes, ships, some airplanes that are so massive that they never took off. We took all those stills from real machines, and part of that was giving them names like pilots give to their ships.


The robot cockpits were really dangerous.

We built the cockpit of the robots in the head. It’s almost three stories high and we mounted it on hydraulic shakers so every time they get hit, you would really hit. I wanted to do it with the actors. I didn’t want to do it with the doubles. But the first time they were in, Charlie [Hunnum] came to visit the first group of actors, I won’t say who they were, he said, “Babies. Cry babies.” And then he went in. The interface flows with their bodies. It was a huge engineering fete. It was real. We could’ve done it CG but why? Why do that? We did it. Every guy broke. Every guy broke. The only one that never complained was Rinko.


After the press conference, we ask: Now that Prometheus is out, is it really so similar to Mountains of Madness that he can’t do that movie anymore?

I haven’t seen it. Because I’m so afraid. I’m going to go see it because I want to see it as a fan. I go to the theater, I almost got my ticket and I go, “I’ll see it a little later.” But I’ll see it. I promise I’ll see it eventually.


Guillermo del Toro says his TV anthology series is still in the works.

I was trying. We’re still, it’s taken so long because literally I was thinking of doing it right after the feature project I was doing which was Mountains, but Mountains collapsed so everything else was pushed, other than the things that publicly we developed and they’re keeping their course. That was a wish list thing. I’m still selecting stories because I want to do famous ghost stories. We were able to put the three Night Galleries on DVD and Blu-ray which was a big deal.