While you were watching the Jaegers in Pacific Rim: Uprising bashing the metal out of each other, you probably never realized they were much more human than you would have ever thought.
As VFX studio DNEG, which was behind the Jaeger showdowns in Uprising, has recently revealed in a behind-the-scenes video, motion capture has evolved VFX to the point of making you swear mech warriors actually exist. Mo-cap not only speeds up the animation of a character, but can breathe much more life into it than frame-by-frame animation, especially when recreating the movements of a massive robot that can smash an entire city block with its fist.
“It was really important for us to find the right candidates for the motion capture performers,” said DNEG Animation Supervisor Aaron Gilman in the video. “We wanted people who fulfilled the physical capabilities of these characters, so we were looking for actors who could fight.”
Gilman and his team selected these actors much as a director selects the actors who connect with the characters in a film on a psychological and aesthetic level — but he was looking for fighting capabilities and athleticism. When you see one Jaeger ramming another into a skyscraper, that unreal animation began with a shot of one actor covered in sensors shoving another into a gym mat or punching bag.
In the video, Gilman notes that the most significant example of actors using their athleticism to the max is the fight between Gipsy Danger and Obsidian. Gipsy was originally designed by Guillermo del Toro to be the head-butting badass of the first Pacific Rim movie. When he confronts the sleek ninja-esque Obsidian in Uprising, two actors who had mastered opposite fighting styles needed to create the basis for the opposite Jaegers.
“Our motion capture actors were skilled in those two very different styles of movement, and it was by working with them that we were able to develop fight choreography that really honored the style of those two Jaegers and gave us some pretty cool results,” said Gilman.
You also can’t help but get blown away by how the actors were digitally morphed into insanely detailed fighting machines with color, texture, and light layered on them to look like something that can rip your head off. No wonder they could take on that monster kaiju.