Last July in San Diego, Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro couldn’t contain his glee when he promised a sneak preview of "extreme robot porn" for an audience of 6,500 Comic-Con geeks.
One year later, del Toro showed up at Red Studios in Hollywood to elaborate on his ambition for Pacific Rim. Opening Friday, the 3-D sci-fi spectacle—starring Charlie Hunnam (TV’s Sons of Anarchy), Rinko Kukuchi (Babel), and Idris Elba (TV’s Luther)—imagines a near-future smackdown between 12-story tall "Jaeger" robots piloted by mind-melded copilots and "Kaiju" beasts from the oceanic deep designed by their mysterious overlords to stomp mankind into oblivion.
"Pacific Rim is all about scale, but I also wanted it to be something unique-looking that stood out from any other movie put out in the summer, or any other season," says del Toro. "It has a peculiar look: very oversaturated, very graphic, very operatic, very rich. I wanted to make a movie for a young audience, yet all the elements are very sophisticated. I didn’t want to make a comic book movie that felt like a eulogy. I wanted to make it fun, not a downer. I wanted to make a movie I would have loved to see when I was a kid."
Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro became obsessed with low-budget Japanese mutant freak movies like Godzilla, Mothra, and The War of the Gargantuas. Within a couple of decades, he’d become one of modern cinema’s most accomplished fantasists, earning a Foreign Language Oscar nomination for his 2006 fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth before conjuring armies of trolls, goblins, and demonic elves for two Hellboy movies.
But after 2008's Hellboy II, del Toro hit a dry spell. He was supposed to direct The Hobbit, but Peter Jackson took over. Then, del Toro went down the development rabbit hole with James Cameron and Tom Cruise on a project called Mountains of Madness. "We worked at it really hard for a year and a half and created all sorts of designs," del Toro said. "There is a beautiful presentation of Mountains of Madness in a warehouse with 85 images and moving clips from ILM testing the 3-D design of the creature and all these physical mechanics."
When that project got dropped by Universal, del Toro took the reins for Pacific Rim, based on a treatment by cowriter Travis Beacham. "This movie came to me like a big, fat, obscene Christmas present at a time when I needed it very much," he told the Comic-Con crowd. In the book Pacific Rim: Man, Machines & Monsters" (Insight Editions), del Toro compared his comeback to Pacific Rim hero Raleigh Beckett. "I identify completely with the journey of Raleigh Beckett," he wrote. "After not riding a Jaeger for five years, he feels like I did after five years of not making a movie. Like him, I wanted to prove myself, not only to an industry or an audience, but also to myself. And, like Travis, I got on board a gigantic machine and found myself."
For Pacific Rim, one key creature feature includes the turquoise-colored blood that spills from the Kaiju’s glistening guts each time one of the monsters goes down in a hail of acid rain. Del Toro said, "The idea is that the Kaiju are living weapons unfurled by a race that basically sends them like a cleaning tool to other planets to get rid of the vermin," del Toro says. "Because one Kaiju is going to be a crustacean, another one is going to be sharklike, another will be a flying Kaiju, I wanted a design element that showed some commonality between all of them." From the bright blue blood, he said, "you get a sense that they were coming from the same sort of mind designed to be a living machine of destruction."
Pacific Rim, fueled by a reported $180 million budget, gave del Toro a chance to engage a more-is-more approach that translated into an intricately detailed backdrop for the bone-crunching action scenes. He explains, "We designed sets, logos, signs, zonings, pamphlets, ID badges, consoles, hardware, software. . . . We even reproduced entire blocks of Tokyo and Hong Kong only to destroy them. We spent thousands of hours figuring it all out . . . and getting lost in a world that we enjoyed the hell out of."
Check the slide show for a sampling of concept art and production stills featuring lead Jaeger, Gipsy Danger; Kaiju villain, Knife Head; and other artifacts from the world of Pacific Rim as imagined by del Toro and his design team.
[Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures | Headshot by Gage Skidmore]