Pacific Rim: JAEGERS VS. KAIJU

“In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own.”

Del Toro was largely responsible for shaping what are, literally speaking, the biggest stars of “Pacific Rim”: the Kaiju. “I love monsters,” states the director who conceived all the various monsters in the film in conjunction with an elite band of concept artists, illustrators, sculptors, and designers. “We had some of the best creature designers in the world involved in the making of the Kaiju.”

Del Toro began with a group that included artist and illustrator Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Wayne Barlowe, Stephen Schirle, Doug Williams, Hugo Martin, Tyruben Ellingson, Guy Davis, Oscar Chichoni, David Meng, Simon Lee, Raul Monge, Carlos Salgado, Keith Thompson, Simon Webber, Allen Williams and Rob McCallum.

Members of the team brainstormed for weeks, beginning in a windowless room they appropriately dubbed “the submarine.” Together, they examined everything: from sizes, shapes and colors to how the immense beings moved and fought. Del Toro says, “We wanted to evoke the sheer awe and terror that one would feel when coming upon one of these monsters.”

He set down certain parameters: an example being that any animal kingdom inspirations were primarily limited to lizards, crustaceans and insects. For the most part, however, the think tank could let their imaginations run wild, taking a tag team approach as they pooled ideas. Recalling some of the process, del Toro describes, “Guy Davis would start a design and then Francisco took a stab at it. Then Simon Webber rendered it and Dave Meng would sculpt it. Seeing all those iterations of the creatures enabled us to make them all individual.”

The designers gave the Kaiju different nicknames that were indicative of their most prominent physical attributes, like Knifehead, Axehead, Leatherback, etc. Some are viciously calculated, others are more raw power. “They are living weapons,” del Toro says. “They are blind instinct combined with tactical intelligence, capable of making instant decisions in battle, so there are definitely a few surprises.”

Making them even more fearsome, every appendage on the Kaiju bodies is part of their arsenal. And, as Thomas Tull points out, “They are quickly evolving. With every attack, they learn something and continually progress in both size and tactics.”

Many of the same artists who helped bring about the Kaiju also lent their talents to the formation of mankind’s last line of defense: the Jaegers.

Beacham says, “The biggest challenge in the world of ‘Pacific Rim’ is finding a way to beat the Kaiju on their own terms. That was the whole idea behind the invention of the Jaegers.”

Just as every Kaiju is unique, each Jaeger is distinct in both design and function, with its own array of weapons, “so every time you see a Jaeger go up against a Kaiju, it’s a completely different fight,” says del Toro.

The once mighty Jaeger fleet has been reduced to four surviving robots. The director wanted the huge war machines to appear combat-worn, with markings that flaunt the number of enemies downed. Their shape, color and insignias reflect their country of origin, as do their fighting styles.

Del Toro equates the look of the U.S. of A.’s Gipsy Danger to “a classic gunslinger heading into a fight. A mixture of a deco skyscraper and John Wayne. Gipsy has swagger and is made to resemble a WWII fighter jet in paint job and details.” A Mark 3, it is considered an old Jaeger and, although it’s been refurbished, it still carries the scars of war…as do its pilots.

Russia’s Cherno Alpha

Russia’s Cherno Alpha is a T-series Jaeger with an oversized nuclear reactor. Its exceptional brawn makes up for its more lumbering gait. It is the oldest, heaviest Jaeger in the surviving fleet. “Brute force and blunt trauma are its calling cards,” says Thomas Tull.

China’s Crimson Typhoon is a Mark 4, the only Jaeger with three arms, thanks to its three-man pilot team. Its moves are as close as a massive Jaeger can get to martial arts. Jon Jashni observes, “Some of what they’re able to pull off in the course of the movie is a function of them being able to do more with more.”

The Resistance has one Mark 5: Australia’s Striker Eureka. Being the latest model, it boasts faster speed and better maneuverability. “But it’s an Aussie brawler, so it has a lot of bravado and a bit of a strut, like a guy who would pick a fight in a bar,” del Toro teases.

Although the Jaegers would exist only on screen, a great deal of planning went into the mechanics of the robots. “From a technical standpoint, we decided to build them from the inside out in diagrams,” reveals del Toro. “We determined the way the pistons, the relays, the torque, the transmission, the engines, and every other element worked in detail. Then we pulled back and started figuring out the vents, the thermal insulation, the outer skin and so on.”

With the designs of the Kaiju and Jaegers in place, it was up to the visual effects team at ILM, headed by visual effects supervisor John Knoll, to pit them against each other using state-of-the-art computer animation.

Knoll says, “We knew this was going to be a large and very complex project. Every effects sequence had its own challenges, not only in bringing to life these characters but in their interaction with the environments: from the large-scale fluid simulation on the ocean; to the solid surfaces of the cities’ buildings and pavements; and going completely underwater, where we have silt and plankton and hydrothermal vents. Each shot presented an intricate cocktail of elements that had to be blended just so.”

James E. Price, who also served as a visual effects supervisor, says, “We were excited about working with ILM because they not only have an incredible character animation team but also the production pipeline needed to accomplish the sophisticated effects for the interaction between the Kaiju and Jaegers, as well as the water and urban environments where the battles take place.”

Tull remarks, “When you think about the pedigree of ILM, from “Star Wars” on, and then you marry that up with a director like Guillermo del Toro…we felt very fortunate. The first time we went up to ILM and saw some of the finished shots, it was awe inspiring.”

“Guillermo is the ideal director to work with on something like this. He had a very clear vision of what he wanted to see, could articulate it well, and was consistent in his pursuit of that vision,” says Knoll, who worked alongside animation supervisor Hal Hickel at ILM.

“I had the best experience working with ILM,” del Toro states. “John and Hal are two people I respect and admire so much—real creative partners. I knew I could count on them, as well as Jamie, to help us deliver something amazing.”

The sheer size of the combatants posed a major obstacle. Knoll offers, “A big hurdle for us was to try and strike the right balance between speed and scale, because if you think about how big these things are, the physics would dictate that they would need to move slower. But then if they move too slowly, the action is not as exciting, so we had to find a way to make them go fast enough without blowing the scale. And that was made harder by the different environments they were in, whether it’s splashing water or shattering concrete. All of these things had to be simulated in the computer with a believable sense of gravity and scale, so we had to constantly make adjustments to make it all work well together.”

Price confirms, “How do you frame up a Kaiju or a Jaeger that’s 250 feet high and get the audience to identify with something that large? We needed to convey the scale, both in water and on land. Having them together in any one arena required very specific effects.”

That was largely due to the juxtaposition of the mechanical Jaegers with the organic Kaiju. Putting the Jaegers in motion proved the more complicated process, because Hickel’s team had to impart a suggestion of robotic movement while avoiding anything too herky-jerky.

In order to make the warfare look more theatrical, del Toro determined that there should always be something tangible in the atmosphere, whether rain, snow, fog, smoke or embers. The running lights on the Jaegers would then illuminate the particles in the air, generating a radiant dome.
Del Toro also used the robots’ own perimeter lights to great effect, clarifying, “Throwing too much light on them would actually seem to miniaturize them.” Instead, by limiting the light source to what was on the Jaegers and brightening the background a bit, they projected a more imposing silhouette.

The VFX team often took cues from what was being accomplished on set, never more so than in the Conn-pod—the Jaeger cockpit located in the head of the robot, from which the pilots controlled its every move. Price explains, “We watched what the actors were doing in the Conn-pod and, to a certain extent, could extrapolate that to the movement of the Jaeger. Just as the pilots’ motion informs the Jaegers, the actors’ performances were a springboard for us.”