Editor’s Note: This story was first published on March 30, 2018. It is reprinted here as part of our year end coverage.
Santa Monica’s civic leaders are concerned about the retail apocalypse damaging the city’s economy but if Hollywood is to be believed, the city’s tech industry can withstand an actual apocalypse.
The Santa Monica pier and some adjacent downtown streets play a role in the recently released Pacific Rim Uprising, with the film’s monsters, known in context as Kaiju, destroying the world-renowned local landmark and fighting a locally built guardian robot.
Executive Producer Cale Boyter said the scene was specifically written with Santa Monica in mind because the iconic location was a natural fit for the world of Pacific Rim where giant monsters hailing from underwater rifts attack the human population.
“We wanted to movie to open in a coastal city that was well known around the world, a location that’s visually iconic,” she said. “Story-wise – we wanted to show how the world has changed since the initial Kaiju invasion, and one of the ideas that we unveil is that folks with resources/money pack up and head in-land towards areas that were less decimated by the Kaiju attack. So, in our story – towns like Santa Monica become more fringe communities while inland towns like Sioux City Iowa expand into tomorrow’s urban centers.”
Santa Monica is not the only city crushed in the film and Boyter said locations are often very willing to participate in a big-budget film, even if it means their digital destruction.
“We shot in cities all over the globe and I was actually surprised by how many locations and even landmarks and companies have wanted to be part of our big battle sequences, including our final, gonzo disaster set-piece,” she said.
The humans of Pacific Rim defend the planet with giant robots, called Jaegers, that stand well over 200 feet tall and the sheer size of the combatants required the scene to extend into the city itself.
“We needed to create a sort of post-apocalyptic Santa Monica of tomorrow,” said Boyter. “And we needed to create a bigger runway for our opening action set-piece where there’s a big Jaeger chase that happens right in the middle of downtown.”
The film’s efforts to capture a realistic depiction of the city extend to surprisingly small details such as real-world accurate street signs.
The production spent time filming in the city, using helicopters and using some Hollywood magic to accomplish shots that were impossible to get in the real world.
“We did aerials via helicopter in and around Santa Monica,” she said. “Then we also did drone work for specialty shots which happened down in the Gold Coast in Australia. We did this because I don’t think it’s possible to legally fly a drone down Lincoln the way we would have needed to achieve the effect that we were hoping for. So, we took the plate from our Australia shoot and essentially joined it with scans of the Santa Monica plates – creating the effect you see in the movie.”
She said the actual filming is relatively easy but the special effects work takes several months to accomplish and becomes more complicated as the film’s settings grow more complicated.
“The process I described with Santa Monica was also duplicated in Tokyo on a much bigger scale,” said Boyter. “We essentially made (what we call) Mega Tokyo out of Seoul, Korea. A ton of detail work was applied to this process – months of it in fact. We were always trying to capture essential elements of the real world aesthetic of a location while finding unique ways to infuse it with touches that ultimately establish the world of the film and the Pacific Rim universe itself.”
Boyter said the paradox in working with science fiction is real-world details are necessary to sell the experience. So, a film about giant robots punching inter-dimensional monsters actually requires accurate street layouts to make it work.
“I think we worked so tirelessly to accurately capture a location like Santa Monica because our movie is so fantastical conceptually, that it becomes essential to tether it to a world that folks in theaters can recognize and relate to in some manner,” she said.
Pacific Rim Uprising is now playing in local theaters.