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Ron Perlman and Charlie Day battle invisible monsters for Guillermo Del Toro on 'Pacific Rim' set
Plus a visit to one of the most amazing art departments ever
Looking at the art on the walls of that room, the palette alone looked like nothing else coming out this year. He's painting in a more expressive and in some ways extreme way that movies like "Dick Tracy" or "300." If someone walks out of "Pacific Rim" talking about reality instead of the movie's reality, then it's just plain missed the mark for that person. This is world-building. When you step into the world of "Pacific Rim," you're buying in for the whole thing. The run-down end-of-WWII aesthetic to things, the way each country's Jaegers have an identity, the monster animations that totally eschew the "realism" of performance capture to depend on pure animation… there are so many things going on here that all have to work if the world's going to come to life on the screen.
As we were talking about the designs, Guillermo said the ILM team on the film was being headed by John Knoll and Hal Hickel. That is, put simply, the A-team for the company. Those guys are titans. They are remarkable at what they do, and when you take guys like that and hand them something like this that has to be done at a certain price and on a certain schedule and still somehow give us an experience we haven't had before… well, you hope for something special.
Guillermo talked to us about how when he was a kid, he would draw these ornate cutaway diagrams of giant monsters that had people somehow living inside them, using the chambers of the body as rooms. He would do the same thing with giant robots. He imagined these things as sort of ambulatory dollhouses, giving the rooms all sorts of inspired functions. For him to be given a world to populate with the kaiju and the Jaegers is like him finding his destiny.
The film also seems to have a strong undercurrent of "brilliant outsider who has been prevented from doing his job for a while shows up ready to kick some ass and then KICKS SOME ASS," and it would be very easy to see Guillermo as that person. He has had some time away from features, and not by choice, so there is a bit of a sort of act-of-faith fervor to the filmmaking here. Listening to him talk about the design and rewrite phase of this film, he sounded both very happy and also like he was still not sure it was really happening, half expecting it to get shut down for reasons beyond his control. Every decision he made during that time seemed reasonable and well-advised and creatively interesting, and the films just didn't happen. When you see directors announce six or seven films that they're developing, this is why. You always want to have something that is nearly ready to go so that if everything else goes to hell, you've got something to fall back on.
In Guillermo's case, "At The Mountains Of Madness" was the "should have been" that almost was, a film that got shut down just as it was about to get on its feet. I hope the film eventually happens. There is a lot of work that's already been done that deserves not to just vanish to some shelf somewhere forever. Because Universal blinked, Guillermo found himself out of work on a Friday afternoon. And on Monday, he was back at work with "Pacific Rim" and a deal to make the film. This is a case of him wanting something at the same time that Legendary wanted a certain something, and those wants lined up perfectly and now here we are, and Guillermo's actually on a soundstage in Toronto that has been smashed to shit by a 250 foot monster.
We saw one wall in the art department that was nothing but Jaegers. Details of how they work and the inside of them. Size experiments at different scales. Lots of designs that aren't in the film, and then the final hero designs that did get picked. Another wall was nothing but Kaiju, all the same sorts of details, but obviously wetter and grosser and weirder. It's amazing to see how thought out and examined every corner of the world appears to be, and a testament to just how much work the art department generated. There was so much to be designed and thought out and created that it's amazing anyone had time to talk to us while we were there. They had over 100 sets to build and just over that many days to shoot, which is a ridiculous pace to try and hit. The sets they built weren't small, either. In fact, one of them may be one of the coolest physical builds I've ever seen on a set.
The control room for the Jaegers is not just a set where you walk in and do a scene and walk back out. It is a torture chamber in which Guillermo Del Toro thrashes his actors while firing sparks and water at them at random. It is an amazing physical build that was housed on one of the stages at Pinewood, and when we got to explore it, I was amazed by how solid it was, how real everything seemed to be. Legacy Effects handled much of the environmental elements of that set, the pieces that the actors were strapped into and then the controls that made the set come to life. Guillermo wanted to shoot them doing something very physical to show that it's not easy to be a Jaeger pilot. There is real effort behind it, blood and sweat and tears, and it takes a toll on them. Guillermo knew he couldn't get that out of an actor standing in front of a green screen with everything to be added later, and he tried to create spaces that felt real for the actors, especially when they're driving the Jaegers.
We saw a stage that was being prepared for one of the last things being shot, a scene that comes closer to the start of the film involving a Kaiju and a Jaeger running into each other out at sea with a small fishing boat stuck in the middle. Guillermo mentioned a similar image in "War Of The Gargantuas," and he tells us how much water is going to have to be pumped into the set, and it sounds like the sort of thing that would be the big effects highlight of some other film, and here, it's just one small part of a much larger sequence.