Pacific Rim CG supervisor, Julian Sarmiento, talks to us about the unique experience of making Guillermo del Toro's prologue for his latest film.
Hi Julian, thanks for talking to us! You've worked on some amazing projects since we last spoke, what would you say were the highlights?
It is easy to say that being part of Guillermo del Toro's company, Mirada, for the past 18 months has been one of the most exiting things I have done in years. Mirada has a huge range of opportunities in multiple aspects of visual entertainment and storytelling; within my first 6 months we were already creating VES nominated CG work. After that, all my focus went into making Pacific Rim
. I was extremely privileged to work directly with Mathew Cullen, John Fragomeni and of course, Guillermo del Toro - an opportunity only few get to experience in their lifetime.
Pacific Rim has been one of the most epic releases of the year. How did you find working as CG supervisor on a film with such colossal scale?
It was an amazing experience. There were so many new things we had the opportunity to work on and explore. Generally, as a VFX facility, you receive the footage and you add the VFX elements to the shot. But in this case, CG supervising for Mirada was a completely different experience.
"It was more of a creative development process in which the whole company was able to be a part of Pacific Rim"
With Mathew Cullen as prequel/prologue creative director and under the direction of Guillermo del Toro, we had the unique opportunity to conceptualize, film, edit and create the feel and mood of the prologue. I was able to work in-house with all the concept artists responsible for the conceptualization of the shots, and then once the frames were approved, we created loose 3D versions of them for edit. Once the shots in the edit were approved, the VFX supervisor, Zach Tucker and I had to figure out how to make the shots come to life.
As you can imagine, this was a very different process to the normal 'here are the shots, add VFX on it' workflow. It was more of a creative development process in which the whole company was able to be a part of Pacific Rim
, with Mathew and John overseeing the story, creative and technical integrity.
As a completely new concept, Pacific Rim had to establish its own aesthetics; from a VFX point of view did this freedom make your role easier or harder?
It was a lot harder; usually we can hide behind the elements of live-action plates or use them to our advantage, but in this case we were dealing with a Jaeger (robot) or Kaiju (monster) 300 foot tall, so there wasn't that much room to hide. If we are looking at Jaeger's from far away, they can easily feel like toys, but if we are too close they become difficult to photograph and frame.
In the case of the prologue, it was especially tricky. The prologue takes place in current modern times, so this sequence was not able to be as stylized as the rest of the movie. We had to make sure it looked like the Jaeger and Kaijus were in our backyard at different times of the year, under different weather conditions. We shot in six key locations for this sequence: Thailand, Manila, Germany, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Considering the scale of the Jaegers and Kaiju, how much did you have to bend the laws of physics to maintain scale, yet still have a momentum and speed to the action?
We had to stay within the laws of physics but we learned really fast that the physics at Kaiju scale looks like they move a lot slower. As soon as we slow down the action, your brain quickly adjusts, giving things scale. Beyond character animation, dynamic simulations look a little slower as well, which means more details had to be included in the shot.
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