Guillermo del Toro gave a private talk and preview screening of Pacific Rim for NFTS students at Warner Bros in London.
Del Toro answered a broad-range of questions from students specialising in digital effects, production design, composing, sound, animation, producing, directing and scriptwriting.
When asked what made him want to make Pacific Rim – a sci-fi action movie featuring a battle by human driven robots to save Earth from an invasion of alien monsters - del Toro replied: “I don’t normally do films that I haven’t written but this was an exception. I read a one pager from Travis Beacham and right there I could see the movie in my head. I rang my agent and said ‘how soon can I make this movie?’”
When asked by digital effects students how much attention he gave to the laws of physics in the film, del Toro said he’d spent a lot of time making sure the Sci-Fi environment worked and veracity was important but “…when it comes to physics you have to draw a line between looking good and looking real. In reality, robots of this size would move so slowly it would be like watching the most boring motion movie! And the monsters – no organism on our planet is going to reach that size. There is a point where you have to be willing to believe the fantasy.”
He said the same was true when balancing the need to give the information and avoiding overloading them with unnecessary details. “If you explain too much, people will tune out. Just dramatise it once. The only rule you really need in a story is ‘…and then?’ If you are a good narrator, your audience will come with you without understanding all of the rules of physics etc. Empathy for your characters, that’s what you need. Explain to me the rules in ‘Spirited Away’? It doesn’t matter so long as you keep the audience wondering what happens next.’
Asked how he created the Kaiju monsters in the film, he said “Monster movies are like beauty pageants; you’re not hiding your monsters – it’s all there on display. So you need renovate the enchantment for the audience.”
Del Toro was keen to avoid his monsters referencing monsters in other films so he looked to art and nature for inspiration: “I directed the designers to look at Japanese pagodas, a bone, a shape, as a starting point. I used Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as a reference for the film’s ocean battles. For the robots we looked to other machines like huge bomber planes.”
Asked how he was able to give the monsters such character, he said creating a silhouette before the detail was crucial. “I remember Ray Harryhausen saying that when you look at a lion it is beautiful but as soon as it’s on top of you it’s going to look terrifying. So I always sculpt a neutral expression on my monsters first rather than making them look constantly angry because then you have somewhere to go with the emotion.
“There’s a psychology to the monsters. I direct them like actors. I discuss the details such as the size of the lens or the camera angles with the animation director. I also give them little flaws. False gestures that give them a sense of true life because you don’t want monsters being perfect. They’re not superheroes. That’s boring. With my monsters you’ll see a wobbly belly, a shrug of the shoulders, it’ll lose its balance.”