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TORONTO - We're in China.
Well, technically, we're in Hong Kong by way of Toronto, standing on a soundstage that has been transformed into a city street that appears to have been wildly smashed to pieces, but when you're in the middle of it looking around, it's pretty convincing. We're in China, and the giant monsters were evidently here right before us.
It's March of 2012, and there is a small group of us who are visiting the set for Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. robots epic as the film nears the home stretch on what was, all things considered, a relatively quick shoot. Most of the stuff involving the Jaeger pilots was shot earlier in production because there is so much CGI that they're going to have to do to those scenes that they needed the lead time. On the day we visit, we're watching Charlie Day and Ron Perlman working together, which seems like a good deal to me.
The Pinewood Toronto Studios is a great facility, and it's funny that I'm running two set reports this week, one from each of the Pinewoods. We were met at the front door of the building where "Pacific Rim" had its production offices by Ian Gibson, Guillermo's badass assistant. And believe me… I've been in Los Angeles long enough to know when someone's assistant is of the particularly badass variety, and Gibson is one of those guys. The right match to Guillermo, and a great host for the first half of the day.
We began with a sizzle reel. I read one of the early drafts of the script by Travis Beacham, and one of the things I was told before coming to the set was that even reading the script wouldn't really clue me in to what they were doing. I know why. It's because what I see when I read a script is not necessarily what Guillermo Del Toro sees when he reads a script.
Guillermo's imagination is so big and so visual that the easiest way to set the stage for a set visit is to show us what sort of work they've been doing on the film so far. By now, you've seen more in the trailers and the featurettes than we did that day, so you have some idea how we felt. At that point, ILM was still very early in the process, but we saw a test they did that was incredibly convincing, featuring both a giant monster and one of the Jaegers. It was just enough to set a tone, and then they took us into the art department.
There is no room that is more fun to visit than the art department of a Guillermo Del Toro film in full swing. If there was a job that consisted of just drawing new crazy-ass monsters every day, I think Guillermo would have that job, and he would be the happiest man alive. He always puts together these great teams of artists, and then he encourages them to try anything and everything. On this film, they set up a series of bake-offs, where they would take all the designs generated in a week and pit them against each other, so that little by little, the strongest designs ended up rising to the top.
And when you're talking about "the top" in a room full of guys like Francisco Ruiz Velasco and Wayne Barlowe and TyRuben Ellingson and Guy Davis and Oscar Chichoni and Hugo Martin and Doug Williams and Stephen Schirle… that's about as "top" as it gets. That's a crazy batting line-up. Throw in the Toronto crew like David Meng and Raul Monge and Rob McCallum, and you're looking at a murderer's row, all dedicated to realizing the vision of the cackling Mexican madman at the middle of this hurricane, Guillermo.
When Guillermo and his team cut loose, they tap into all sorts of crazy styles and sizes and details, and Japanese monster movies are only one of the many influences all mixed up in there. There's a lot of real-world influence, Spanish surrealism, crazy nature photography… Guillermo's so art-literate and he devours so much of it that the final expression is run through so many different filters that it comes out new. When he finally lands on something, there is a really lovely sense of aesthetic taste that marks it as his.