Last week, part of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’s cast and crew were interviewed by The Pokémon Company, and the piece ended up getting published on the Pokémon UK site. Taking us behind the curtain, the article focuses on the behind-the-scenes side of making this well loved franchise into a live-action, CGI animation film. Joining Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton were Ali Mendes (Vice President of Development at Legendary Entertainment and Co-Producer of the film), Greg Baxter (Visual Effects Producer), Nigel Phelps (Production Designer), and Suzie Harman (Costume Designer) who shed some light on pre-production and more.
Ali Mendes elaborated on why Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is being made right now. If you think the popularity behind Pokémon GO caused movie studios to start vying for a contract, you’d be wrong. According to Mendes: “[i]t’s so funny, because everybody assumes that Pokémon GO happened, and then we wanted the rights to a Pokémon movie, and truthfully, we’ve been in talks and trying to work with Pokémon for over five years now.”
With that much time to negotiate and bid, special effect technology improved. This tidbit isn’t something to question either, as the design and look of Pokémon could make or break the film. Emulate Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam; or venture out into the world of 3D animation, and make the monsters realistic as possible while including all the cartoon charm — it’s a tough feat to accomplish!
Greg Baxter discussed the direction the crew went and why:
“It’s supposed to feel like all these creatures that you’ve seen mostly in very bright colors and in anime style are sitting in the room with you. [From one Pokémon to the next], they have different textures — some are furry, and some are kind of leathery or snakey. For every creature, we took real-world animals and drew from that. We put all these pieces together to form what that Pokémon would look like. Even though they’re a creature that doesn’t exist in our world, all of the elements of what makes them up in this movie are taken from animals that do.”
Baxter even goes further to mention that camera angles and cuts were used to enhance the appearance by what fans are already familiar with: the games.
“We’re trying to use cameras that have a bit of a throwback to some of the games. [It’s] not really what you’d normally expect from a film camera—kind of quick movements flying through the scene, to try to get some of that look in [and] give fans what they’re expecting from those battles in this particular moment.”
The 800+ Pokémon designs are pretty colorful. Taking advantage of color theory, Ryme City had to help play up film noir/detective genre (taking on a more neo-noir spin) while also complementing its residents and making them shine. Mashing up the aesthetics of Tokyo and London, Nigel Phelps and his team had to juggle that with plenty obstacles: “[Pokémon that] are all sorts of shapes and sizes and very colorful. One of the things I was trying to do to help is to make color palettes [of the sets] quite neutral — grays and blacks and whites — to offset the creatures’ colors.” Throw in some neon highlights, and boom: your eyes are following Tim and Detective Pikachu in each frame.
From all the trailers and clips that have been released up to this point, you’d have to pause and take a closer look to spot what the Pokémon Trainer fashion style is in Ryme City. Noticeable during the “underground” Pokémon Battle scenes, the zaniness of the games’ NPC characters and outfits are brought to life in different ways, always channeling the pizzazz. Suzie Harman briefly discussed her approach in making the costumes not stray too far from reality and the games:
“We kept away from it being ‘someone dresses to match their Pokémon’—it had to feel more real… Lucy’s got her Psyduck, and she complements it. She won’t wear yellow, because Psyduck is yellow, so she’ll wear pale pinks and pale blues to match her Psyduck—but not to contrast too much from it.”
Lastly, it appears even more so with each passing day that a number of Pokémon fans have played a role in making this film a reality. Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton even shared how attached they became to Pokémon. While maybe not old enough to remember Pokémon fever from 1998, they got to experience craze when Generation 2 was in full swing.
Justice Smith luckily had a sibling to play and trade Pokémon with: “[m]y sister and I had all of the original [Pokémon TCG cards], and I used to watch the show [Pokémon the Series] all the time, and we used to play the card game. My favorite Pokémon was Totodile. I had a little Totodile figurine I would carry with me everywhere that I went, so when I got this job, it was like a childhood dream come true.”
Kathryn Newton’s memories rely on the more artistic side. From Newton: “I was into the show. I’m an artist, and it actually got me into drawing the Pokémon characters, which led to me drawing anime characters. And now I’m a fashion illustrator and really into fashion, so it’s kind of interesting that Pokémon really led the way for that for me.”
The full Pokémon UK article includes other anecdotes about other decisions in creating the world of Ryme City, as well as a rough breakdown of the film’s storyline. If you want to go in blind when seeing the film, you might want to skip the section titled “The Primary Suspects.” Everything besides that shouldn’t reveal too much!
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