Published Jul 11, 2013He has frightened and delighted audiences with the dark fantasy of Cronos and Pan's Labyrinth and the visually stunning comic book occult horror of the Hellboy movies; now with Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro brings his masterful craftsmanship to the giant sandbox of massive event cinema. Specifically, del Toro had made it his mission to inject new life into the Kaiju film, a genre that hasn't been treated with such reverence since Bong Joon-ho's excellent, under-seen (by Western audiences) offering, The Host. It's a match made in geek heaven that sets a new standard in how to inspire awe with moving pictures. The exuberant director took the time to talk about some of the influences on the project, how he achieved the most spectacular 3D since Avatar using post conversion, and what the fate of this love letter to his pre-teen self could mean for his passion project, Mountains at the Mouth of Madness. WARNING: there are spoilers near the end of the interview, so you may want to see Pacific Rim on the biggest screen possible before reading all the way through.
I've got to ask — are you an Evangelion fan?
That's one of the four animes I've never seen. I will acknowledge openly the influence of Patlabor, gladly. I'll fully acknowledge most Gaiden movies being an influence, but Evangelion, I have, and they bought it for me before the movie started and I made it a point not to watch it. I said "I don't know if it's close or not, but I don't want to be influenced," you know? Now I'm gonna watch it. I always loved the designs. I actually bought a couple of the toys because the look is fantastic. I don't know if it's the good guy or the bad guy but from a purely visual point of view I love it. I will watch it, I'm hugely influenced by anime; I have no problem with that above board but unfortunately I haven't seen Evangelion. I'm so attracted to the designs that I'd blindly go and buy all the toys but my daughter has watched it this year and said "You're gonna like it." And my daughter is my guru. My two daughters are my contact with the world.
So there's a DARPA reference. Did you do any research into existing or theoretical tech for that?
Yeah. First of all, Thomas Tull is somewhat of a boy genius and he's connected with all the weapons technology geek-ish area of the world. For example: lately, the trends are that people are talking about two minds to control a sophisticated machine. Not one: two. Two operators linked neurally with the machine and the DARPA jet fighter technology was a very early idea we adopted. We said, "Well, that technology exists". There are actual videos right now of telemetry where you have a Japanese operator with connections in his arm operating a robot arm in the background, which is where that image came from. We were basing a lot of our decisions in real technology. I read everything I could about nanosecond reaction communication between pilot and machine and I thought it would be very… arid… to do it all through cables in the head, so I created this torture machine that's sort of the rig that is attached to the pilot and I came up with the idea that they are also neurally linked by the spinal chord and that there is a liquid inside the suit, a yellow liquid that is called "relay gel." So they have a circuitry suit underneath that connects with the spine and then you get injected with this liquid that is sort of a lubricant and high transmission liquid that sends the signal really fast. We did a lot to create a bible for our movie — I think it was 300 to 500 pages thick — on the technology behind all this. I came up with some of those ideas early on in another project called Coffin, based on the comic book. It's very good. The idea that these guys were doing a suit that would be a rescue suit for extreme conditions — I thought it would be great for the suit to be controlled by the dormant occupant in a bed of gel. This is years and years ago.
Let's talk about the 3D. You shot in 3D?
No. It was post. I wanted the movie to be the best conversion job ever.
Well congratulations; it is.
Thank you. We actually had the studio pay ILM twice what was budgeted for 3D in order to have about 90 percent of the footage generated in native 3D. So there's a good chunk of the movie that is native. Then, normally they give you a few weeks for the conversion, maybe 20 weeks and I asked for 47 weeks to do the conversion. And instead of being just a guy who checks the conversion and goes "yeah that's okay," we met with the 3D house first two times a week, then three times a week, then at the end of the process, seven times a week, even Sundays, to make sure that every single thing was good, that it didn't get cheesy conversion, that it had real depth and I think we did a very good job. I think 3D is great, not when things come at you but when you are immersed, when it looks deep. And in the water, we did some exceptional work with the animation. I went to ILM and said, "I want the water in the ocean to be a character." I wanted it to be really dramatic, really operatic. And they did, they came through. I think we have some of the best water work in any movie. When you go under, there's incredible depth.
How important do you find comic relief in a movie like this where it's not without humour, but it's still a serious apocalypse piece?
Actually there's a lot of humour in the fights. Constantly in the movie I'm doing a huge shot and then something really small as a consequence. So we were constantly finding humour, like when they do the Kaiju sandwich with two metal shipping containers — that's sort of Three Stooges, you know? Then we have Charlie Day and Burn Gornman and then you have Ron Perlman and they together bring a lighter sense, and I think it's very important because I wanted the movie to feel very light. I think it's the lightest movie I've ever made; I think it's certainly the funnest [sic] movie I've ever made. And I wanted very much, honestly, to dedicate this movie to my own 12-year-old self and to say "Look, this is a movie I'm doing with the craft of a 48-year-old filmmaker and the care of a guy who's been making movies for 20 years but making it with the heart of a 12-year-old."
Spoiler Section Ahead!
How deliberate were the Lovecraft nods?
We actually very consciously veered away from any encephalopod Kaiju, first of all because they're very rare in real Kaiju mythology — you get the cuttlefish, you get the octopus that was caught from Frankenstein Conquers the World — but I think what gets a little Lovecraftian for me, not voluntarily, but it did get Lovecraftian, is the ending when you go to the other world and [meet] the guys we call the "Precursors" that are sending the Kaijus and their world looks almost like the dying world of the Elders.
And the idea of the engineered creatures…
Yes, like the Shoggoths… yeah, that, truly was functioning on a subconscious level because I actually made an explicit conversation with Thomas Tull from Legendary, I said "I don't want to do any Kaiju that look Lovecraftian because I don't want to cross over Mountains [at the Mouth of Madness] because Mountains needs to stay.
Is it still happening?
I hope it happens. I mean I wish it happens but it needs to happen the right way. I'm not joking; it's vital for Pacific Rim to do good for us to get Mountains one day.
Read our review of Pacific Rim here.