Guillermo del Toro recently tapped L.A. studio Mirada to create a two-minute documentary-style prologue for his robots vs. monsters epic, Pacific Rim. Working closely with del Toro, (who co-founded Mirada with Pacific Rim DP Guillermo Navarro, director Mathew Cullen and Javier Jimenez), the Mirada team designed, created and shot the key sequence, which included more than 80 fast-moving visual effects shots.
Released by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the film includes explosive battle sequences between skyscraper-sized Kaiju invading from the ocean depths and similarly sized robotic Jaegers that were constructed by humans for defense against the beasts. After a dozen ILM shots open the film with an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge, the prologue sequence switches on and, in a distinctive, gritty, documentary style, condenses five years of the Kaiju assault into a backstory/glossary that prepares the audience to enter into the apocalyptic world of Pacific Rim.
To help establish story points that would build a historical narrative and mythology, a Pacific Rim “war room” covered in concept art from del Toro, reference assets from lead VFX vendor ILM, storyboards, stills and video was set up at Mirada’s studio. Designers, technologists, visual effects artists and assorted creative talents handpicked for the project then set to outline the sequence. Constant brainstorming with del Toro often led to the addition of new scenes and images that helped support the prologue story.
“Found footage or gritty docu style is not inherent to what I do,” said Del Toro. “I boarded some stuff and discussed parameters with Mathew Cullen, my partner and a brilliant filmmaker in his own right, and we organized reference archival footage around a temp voice over. We worked and massaged each choice to maximize the use of our team, and the time we had to deliver the scene. Mathew’s nimble imagination and style were instrumental in achieving the look and feel of the piece.”
“Working with Guillermo del Toro, we were able to put all of the company’s resources to use in creating what was essentially a two-minute story-within-a-story to bring audiences into Pacific Rim,” said John Fragomeni, Mirada president and senior VFX supervisor. “This project also gave us the opportunity to build out a fine-tuned visual effects pipeline to construct incredibly detailed and demanding CG creatures, robots, environments and composites – all rendered with documentary-style photo-real precision.”
After about six months of concept planning and preproduction, Mirada began capturing documentary-style footage from locations that included Thailand, Manila, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. Substantial research and development helped establish a VFX pipeline for creatures, hard surface effects and animation, which enabled Mirada to make the appearance of Kaiju, Jaegars and global mass destruction appear to be seamlessly integrated into live-action plates. Regular cineSync sessions with ILM VFX supervisor John Knoll ensured that Mirada’s work also fit within the larger context of the film.
“The prologue montage covers a lot of ground in a short window so we had a lot of information and visuals to pack in,” explained Mirada VFX supervisor Zach Tucker. “Our work also had to look believable and match the quality of ILM’s work. To achieve this, we didn’t take any shortcuts and built a ton of detailed assets from scratch, from Kaiju to Jaegars, with all the animation, lighting and compositing done in house.”