Pacific Rim: Uprising is a sumptuous, visual effects-laden feast. Across its runtime, massive, mechanized Jaegers clash with titanic Kaiju in explosions of glorious color. From within the neon striped cockpits of towering mecha, pilots do battle in sequences that see skyscrapers shattered, glaciers torn asunder, and entire skylines shattered into dust by an arsenal of powerful sci-fi weaponry.
Audiences have grown accustomed to visual effects – the otherworldly has become the everyday. But it’s impossible to act aloof to the sheer scale on show throughout Pacific Rim: Uprising. The work completed here by studios such as ILM, Atomic Fiction and Double Negative is nothing short of an enormous achievement.
It couldn’t have been achieved so cohesively without a single mind directing the film’s visual vision. That mind belonged to veteran visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang.
Using cineSync, Chiang collated work pouring in from all corners of the globe, ensuring shots from multiple international studios matched director Steven S. DeKnight’s bold, singular vision. The result is an electrifying experience, one in which every sword slash and booming Kaiju slam lives up to fans’ expectations for the epic sci-fi sequel.
Across his 35-year career, Chiang has overseen visual effects on shows such as Pitch Black, John Carter, Godzilla (2014), and Star Trek: Beyond, and has VFX credits on dozens more movies in that span. He also co-founded VFX giant Double Negative in 1998; a studio with which he continues to work closely in a freelance capacity.
Legendary Entertainment enlisted Chiang for the VFX supervisor role on Pacific Rim: Uprising, knowing his creature feature experience was perfectly suited to the Guillermo del Toro follow-up.
Uprising picks up 10 years after the original. The grotesque Kaiju have returned, and a recovering humanity must rely on a new generation of pilots to command the towering Jaeger robots.
With almost every shot containing some form of visual effect, Chiang needed to work closely with DeKnight throughout all stages of the production.
“As VFX supervisor, your relationship with the director is key,” says Chiang. “My job is to get inside his head and determine what he wants and likes, and assemble the technology to make that happen on screen.”
This task was made all the more complex by the film’s global presence, with robot-meets-monster skirmishes taking places in a variety of real-world locations. “We went all around the world,” says Chiang. “We flew to Sydney, Korea, Tokyo, Iceland and China, and got to shoot in amazing locations such as Shanghai and Qingdao.
“This global shoot schedule, combined with the need to connect and harmonize with Steven, meant cineSync was an absolute necessity on Pacific Rim: Uprising.”
Studio to studio connection…engaged
The numerous facilities working on the project presented a similarly international affair. Chiang was working with Double Negative in London, Atomic Fiction in Los Angeles and Montreal, Turncoat Pictures in Chicago, and the in-house artists at Burbank’s Legendary Entertainment. With artists handling work across multiple latitudes, Chiang and DeKnight had work streaming into their home base in California at a constant clip.
“The relationship with the VFX studios is really important. Once I’ve translated what the director wants, I need to wrangle them to make sure that they’re moving in the right direction and delivering what the director wants to see,” says Chiang. “There’s a limited amount of time, and if we wander too far, we’ll just chew up that time and the quality of work will suffer. cineSync keeps that from happening.”
From previsualization to final delivery, Chiang oversaw all work and delivered clear, actionable feedback via cineSync, ensuring all ideas made their way from concept to reality without deviating from the initial vision.
“We performed reviews out of a theatre in Los Angeles,” says Chiang. “All the files coming in from all over the world would be downloaded into Los Angeles, and I would have everything ready: cineSync loaded, Skype ready, and Wacom pen to hand. We would do video conferencing and cineSync reviews constantly, ensuring the visual effects were constantly moving in the right direction, through every iteration.”
Chiang acted like a conductor from his LA hub, carefully and gracefully directing the rhythm and structure of his artist ensemble.
Chiang would present work-in-progress shots to the assembled directors, producers, and coordinators in each cineSync session, gathering feedback while drawing directly onto shots using his Wacom. “I’d stop sequences, draw around robots or sketch in arrows to showcase movement and illustrate what I’m thinking. Everyone would see those drawings around the world in total real-time. We could communicate and collaborate in the moment. Everyone involved, from the artists to the director and the producers would instantly understand what everyone else was thinking. It’s impossible to overstate how valuable that is.”
Chiang is a big fan of cineSync’s Wacom support in particular. “I come from a drawing background and art college. I am more useful with a pen, and Wacom hardware opens up that avenue to me when using cineSync,” he explains. “It also makes the process far more intuitive for directors who prefer to draw their feedback and ideas on a tablet during cineSync reviews, such as Ridley Scott and Tim Burton.”
Once a session was over, Chiang would share the automatically generated PDF of all notes, forwarding them to vendors as a critical reference. “The cineSync notes would be used as a blueprint for VFX production on Uprising,” he says. “We’d also video record the session, so that we had a video account of what was discussed. Confusion is anathema to VFX production. cineSync ensured it never enters the process by keeping communications clear.”
A truly global tool
Chiang has worked in the film industry long enough to be a first-hand witness to the dramatic evolution of technology. When he first started out, VFX was a compact business – small teams huddled in dark rooms needed communicate only across the room. But over the years the industry has swollen to a gargantuan size, and for Chiang, solutions like cineSync are not only handy, they are absolutely essential.
“Once things got global, and I was in one place and the director in another, we needed to work remotely. Not just to maintain consistency in shots, but to collaborate and ideate with other humans,” recalls Chiang. “cineSync is the core tool that has enabled that process in the industry. You can be anywhere in the world and still have creative discussions. cineSync has made the world smaller, in the best possible way.”
Chiang puts this nicely into context: “I was on holiday in Sri Lanka and I was still able to hop onto cineSync and perform reviews right from the beach!
“For me, there’s no other option out there at the moment. I love cineSync and I always work with it. Every film. We’ve become dependent upon cineSync to be stable and work in a particular way – and I work in a particular way, so I need something tailored to my needs. cineSync is just that.
It’s a totally global, totally universal tool.”