Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pacific Rim Animator Describes Inspiration for Creating Epic Scale

(The Colossus by Goya on the left, Photoshop work by me on the right)
"That was first image [Guillermo del Toro] showed us, The Colossus by Goya, and the first words [he] spoke to us about Pacific Rim were 'operatic' and 'poetic'." -- Hal Hickel, Pacific Rim Animation Director

Pacific Rim animation directorHal Hickel in his office

Marc Chacksfield of TechRadar interviews Pacific Rim animation director, Hal Hickel. Below is an excerpt on how a painting by an 18th century Spanish painter was used to inspire the animators of Pacific Rim. Check out the stunning before and after video after the interview.

"[Guillermo del Toro] told us to forget about the painting's landscape and imagine it was the ocean and the clouds were sea spray and this figure was coming out."

And that was how the scene was set in pre-production for Pacific Rim, a movie with the achingly simple premise: man-made robots fight giant monsters.

Imagining these amphibious creatures (or Kaiju as they are known in the movie, a description ripped from the pages of Japanese storytelling) and giant robots (called Jaegers in Pacific Rim) takes a lot of computational power, VFX wizardry and, well, suspension of disbelief.

But this is something Hickel is well versed in. His CV is a geek tick-list of VFX laden Hollywood movies.

Dream job

As animation supervisor at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) his work can be seen in the Star Wars prequels, Super 8 and the movie that began Marvel's cinematic superhero onslaught, Iron Man.

It was Pacific Rim, however, that proved to be the perfect job for Hickel and his animation team.

"It was a dream come true working on this movie. If you could see my office, I am completely surrounded by toy robots and Kaiju.

"We hadn't worked with Del Toro before but we all knew he had a great vocabulary for visual effects."

Before Pacific Rim, del Toro had already showed the world with Pan's Labyrinth and two Hellboy movies he could successfully meld VFX with humour and pathos.

Much like his contemporaries Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, del Toro came from the practical effects laden world of horror before hitting blockbuster status – a grounding Hickel believes worked well for Pacific Rim.

"The colour, the vibe, del Toro knew exactly the mood to go for with the movie," says Hickel.

"Pacific Rim is a bit like a comic-book film. We were taking on a goofy sub genre but del Toro had the right tone. He didn't want to it to be too adult, he wanted it to be fun."

It's credit to a movie, then, that focuses on lumbering robots that these oversized metal machines close-up looked like practical effects but were practically all CGI. This was due to the 'colossal' scale of the movie del Toro, by way of Goya, wanted to create.
It was a movie that was even too big for the streets of Hong Kong.

"This was definitely a movie that was heavy on CG. Typically you go out and shoot as much as you can in camera but the scale meant we couldn't," notes Hickel.

"While the baby Kaiju scene was typical special effects, the big battles were 100% CG. The action was on such a huge scale. There aren't any boulevards in Hong Kong wide enough for that type of action. There is quite a lot of destruction and water interaction in the movie that we had to incorporate."

Read the rest of the interview at Meet the man who brought Pacific Rim's Kaiju and Jaegers to life

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