Creating the Robots of Pacific Rim

By Vince Matthews

Director Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Pacific Rim, hits theaters on July 12. The movie is a labor of love for del Toro, who grew up on Godzilla movies. It should come as no surprise then that the movie features massive steel robots that battle…you guessed it, gigantic monsters.

Director Guillermo del Toro brings his larger-than-life imagination to Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim is one of the most anticipated special-effects movies of 2013 and it’s del Toro’s first in five years. The film features Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Idris Elba (Thor) and Ron Pearlman (Hellboy)—but make no mistake, the robots are the real stars. Called jaegers, the robots are controlled by pilots through a neural bridge and with names like “Cherno Alpha” and “Coyote Tango,” they are just as tough as they sound. And they had better be, because they’re facing ultra-powerful kaiju (giant monsters).

To create the robots, monsters and their mind-blowing battles, del Toro turned to Industrial Light and Magic to produce the visual effects. Legacy Effects was hired to produce the practical effects and Shane Mahan (who created Iron Man‘s armored suits) served as an effects consultant. And if the computer’s voice sounds familiar to you, it’s because it was supplied by Ellen McLain, who is also the voice of GLaDOS, the AI from Portal and Portal 2.

Not to be outdone by the giant robots, the monsters in Pacific Rim are also bigger than any living creature you’ve ever seen.

Here’s how the director describes Pacific Rim:

The Battles: “We take the battles far and above! Two or three of them happen in places where there have never been a battle between kaiju and robots. From the bottom of the ocean to the atmosphere of the Earth. We have a battle in a storm at sea. Every battle we try to do differently. One is seen from the point of view of a single person. We never cut away from that point of view.”

Creating the Robots: “I never ‘bend’ a property to fit me. I just fall in love with the stories and give it my everything. These are proper robots but they obey our own sensibilities in design. I am not making them gear or steampunky at all but I also don’t want them to be just a ‘riff’ on preexisting designs from anime or games.”

Building the Perfect Monster: “We gave them outlandish touches, but we always wanted a vague simile of a species that exists, like a reptile or a crustacean. We used references like iguanas and alligators for texturing. In designing the sound, we used a lot of real animal sounds.” For example, the sound team recorded angry badgers and pitched them down. Director Guillermo del Toro also lent his voice to some of the kaiju. “Because I always voice at least one element of the monsters in my movies.”

Honoring the Heritage: “Even if the anatomy of the kaiju was complicated, I wanted it to feel in keeping with the traditional man-in-a-suit type of puppeteering in the classic kaiju movies.”

Pacific Rim is just one of the thrilling new special effects movies this summer.

But that’s where del Toro is mistaken. Because so far Pacific Rim looks nothing like the original Japanese Godzilla movies of the 50s and 60s, which provided great, goofy fun despite their limited production values and cheap special effects. In comparison, del Toro’s new film looks like a billion bucks.

Pacific Rim is already towering above those earlier films like a giant robot—and we can’t wait until it stomps its way into theaters in July.