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April 11
2018

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Pacific Rim Uprising: Filming the Battle of Tokyo

By IAN FAILES

The third act of Steven S. DeKnight’s Pacific Rim Uprising, the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 hit, Pacific Rim, features a massive showdown that builds for almost the entire film: giant robots versus giant alien creatures. Here, several robot Jaegers seek to stop three alien Kaiju as they tear apart the city of Tokyo on their way to Mt. Fuji and what could be certain doom for planet Earth.

The ensuing battle wreaks havoc on many buildings and a number of the Jaegers and Kaiju, too. Tasked with overseeing the VFX for this incredible sequence and the rest of the film was Production Visual Effects Supervisor Peter Chiang from Double Negative. He tells VFX Voice how the Tokyo fight, in particular, was realized.

Watch a scene from the Jaeger versus Kaiju Tokyo showdown.

The design of the battle sequence, which takes place in the near future in ‘Mega Tokyo’, began with concept art. There was, says Chiang, a distinctive holographic and neon look for the city, even though the fight occurs in the daytime. In fact, that was one of the key differences in this sequel: the action mostly takes place during the day.

“The first film obviously took place at night in rain, in darkness and underwater,” observes Chiang. “So it had a very cheated ambient light. You could almost justify the light from anywhere you like. The studio and Steven DeKnight wanted to make this film stick out and wanted to move it on from the previous film. And so they decided to stage a lot of it in daylight.”

Jaeger mechs Saber Athena, Bracer Phoenix, Gispy Avenger and Guardian Bravo.

“The studio and Steven DeKnight wanted to make this film stick out and wanted to move it on from the previous film. And so they decided to stage a lot of it in daylight.”

―Peter Chiang, Production Visual Effects Supervisor, Double Negative

“Basically it meant we had nowhere to hide,” adds Chiang. “You have to make all of your shaders and model work and definition and detail really up to scratch, because we’re zooming into a leg of a Jaeger or going wide. And so the definition and resolution of all the work that you’re doing has to be to a certain standard in order to make it convincing for the screen.”

Production filmed in Seoul and Busan in South Korea as a stand-in for Tokyo. “We wanted to find the physical space available,” explains Chiang. “If you think about it, in order for the Jaegers to run down a street, we needed a 70-foot-wide boulevard in order to accommodate just their legs running down the street. And then if you think about the amount of action that’s covered within just a few footfalls, that’s a very large area of Korea that we needed to block off in order to shoot a plate.”

Bracer Phoenix unleashes its M-19 Morning Star weapon.

“In order for the Jaegers to run down a street, we needed a 70-foot-wide boulevard in order to accommodate just their legs running down the street. And then if you think about the amount of action that’s covered within just a few footfalls, that’s a very large area of Korea that we needed to block off in order to shoot a plate.”

―Peter Chiang, Production Visual Effects Supervisor, Double Negative

To deal with that kind of issue, the team broke down the sequence into individual cuts where they would create layouts within four or five blocks of road that could be cordoned off at any one time. The on-set visual effects team acquired background plates and reference photography, including with the use of a camera-fitted drone orchestrated by aerial cinematography firm XM2.

“The team would take that,” says Chiang, “then look at the plate that had been shot, which obviously is referenced from the wonderful previs that the companies did (previs on the film was handled by Halon, The Third Floor and Day for Night), and we’d try to emulate the camera movement, or put in a more realistic camera. We always wanted to feel like it’d been photographed by a real camera team.”

The Kaiju attack Tokyo.

“We always wanted to feel like it’d been photographed by a real camera team.”

―Peter Chiang, Production Visual Effects Supervisor, Double Negative

Indeed, a substantial effort was required to gather plates of the city, and other locations in the film, for use as real background plates and for starting points for digital buildings and extensions. Drones were used because helicopters generally could not go into a city below 500 feet, with the robots extending upwards of 240 feet tall.

Several CG buildings were made for the purposes of being smashed up by the giant Kaiju and for moments when the Jaegers are forcibly crashed into them. “The CG team would determine if a certain building was going to get destroyed,” notes Chiang. “If that was the case, they’d start substituting the buildings inside the plate for CG ones. And when it got to a point where they were using over a certain percentage of CG, it would be more realistic to lose the plate, use it just as a lighting reference, and then go entirely CG. And that was basically the principal for determining how it was shot and what was used in the Tokyo sequence.”


Read more about the Oscar-winning visual effects work created by Double Negative in Double Negative: Double Decades of Double Positives.

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