Going Big: Guillermo del Toro Creates Bot Vs. Monster Spectacle For “Pacific Rim”

Director del Toro talks about creating a large-scale spectacle–the kind his childhood self would have appreciated.


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.

Guillermo del Toro

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.”

Mutant Influences

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.

Getting On Board A Giant Machine

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.”


Devilish Details

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]

About the author

Los Angeles freelancer Hugh Hart covers movies, television, art, design and the wild wild web (for San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and New York Times). A former Chicagoan, Hugh also walks his Afghan Hound many times a day and writes twisted pop songs.