Director Shawn Levy talks Real Steel, it's visual effects and the state of the sequel

3 min read
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When I first saw the trailer for robot boxing movie Real Steel, I rolled my eyes so hard that I could see down the back of my throat. It looked cheesier than a mouse buffet.

And then I actually watched the film and discovered a charming father-son story with tons of heart. It also happened to be a special fx extravaganza with some of the best visuals of recent memory.

Now director Shawn Levy speaks to Collider about the surprise success of the film, how they did those amazing effects and what’s happening next.

For those of you who don’t want to watch the entire thing, or perhaps you’re just stuck at work with an internet connection slower than a snail on crutches, Collider have also given a full text description of the video. Here are a few of my higlights:

4:30 – The status of the Real Steel sequel: “I speak to [DreamWorks Co-Chariman/CEO] Stacey Snider every week and we’re getting our script within the next two weeks. I’ll just say that—I mean look, $300 million worldwide, that’s a good number for a movie that cost just north of $100 million. The DVD seems to be articulating, the sales of the DVD seems to be speaking to a fanbase that now exists, whether it’s from having seen the feature or being curious and seeking it out on Blu-ray. I’ll just say that those numbers with the box office, with the toy sales, they’ve all got us thinking and they do have us talking. So it’s a maybe with a capital ‘M’ (laughs). I just made up that incredibly pretentious expression.”

6:04 – Talks about the hybrid of practical and computer-generated visual effects. In order to make the seamless blend of the old school approach, they built the actual robots complete with hydrolic remote controls and used the practical robot for every shot that was possible with a real robot. The fighting, dancing, etc. of the robots was done using motion-capture and CG. They blended the old school craftsmanship of great practical effects work done by puppeteers with the outer edge of motion-capture technology to give Real Steel a textural realism.

10:48 Explains what Simulcam is and how the process works. The computer captures the movement of the fights, stores the data, and converts it into a robot. Each robot is a different fighter so the robots have distinctive styles. When he’s filming a fight between two human boxers, the computer shows him onset the robot versions of each fighter moving. The Simulcam is a real-time comp and playback of the motion capture data.

11:58 – How much has the story they’re working on now for the sequel changed from their initial idea for the follow-up. “The question you can and should be asking is how much is that story gonna be tweaked based on what we now know is the fanbase of the franchise. Because what I now know is, yeah maybe teenagers were into Real Steel but not nearly as passionately as kids and their parents. Which is interesting because I’m like ‘the family film guy’ and here I made a movie that doesn’t look like anything else I’ve made, that’s tonally different, and yet we never escape what we are.”

Last Updated: February 15, 2012

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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