20 Things to Know About REAL STEEL From Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap

     September 6, 2011

If you’ve been reading the site for the past two years, you know we’ve been following Real Steel since its inception.  When the movie was first announced, I was one of many who thought that director Shawn Levy making a robot boxing movie sounded like a really stupid idea.  After all, the guy who made Pink Panther and the Night at the Museum movies taking on robot boxing?  Um…no thanks.  However, after visiting the set in June of 2010 and the editing room last December, I’m convinced Real Steel is going to be one of the surprises of 2011.

What you need to know is that Real Steel is not just about robot boxing.  It’s about a father and son finally coming together.  It’s about someone that’s always been down on his luck getting the chance to win it all.  And the way they are telling the story is pushing the limits of motion picture technology.  Finally, Real Steel is produced by Steven Spielberg and the story is loaded with little touches that he put in.  Again, I really think this movie is going to surprise all of you, and Levy might end up being a director you want on a future comic book movie.  For more on the film, hit the jump for “20 Things to Know About Real Steel” from our set visit and you can also watch my video blog recap.

Before going further, for those of you that don’t know that much about Real Steel, I suggest watching this featurette.  It’s a great primer for the world of robot boxing.

Real-Steel-posterAnyway, rather than write up a recap of what I recorded on the video blog (further down the page), here’s the “20 Things to Know About Real Steel.”  All the info came from being on set.

20 Things to Know About Real Steel

  • When Levy sat down to discuss the project with producer Steven Spielberg, he told him that he wanted to make the emotional version of the movie, and he wanted it to come out in the fourth quarter. Shawn Levy likens the emotionality of the film to The Champ.
  • Spielberg told Levy he chose him because his films are always commercial and big-hearted, and that’s what the project needed.
  • Levy used the same motion-capture technology from Tintin and Avatar in Real Steel with one key difference: he used real environments. They would take the data of the motion-captured performance and plug it into the live-action set with the actual actors.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard actually choreographed the boxing fight scenes in the film.
  • They shot and edited all the motion-captured performances months before they began shooting the live-action scenes on the film, so they would have a frame of reference when shooting the scenes with the actors.
  • Levy says the film is not as commercial-looking as Transformers. It’s a realistic, unvarnished America.
  • His production designer worked from the mantra “retro-forward” with the idea of having everything reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s intermingled with forward technology.
  • Levy set out to make a more dramatic and less varnished film that the one’s he’s made before.
  • He and Spielberg decided not to do the movie in 3D because of the amount of character drama that made up the film. Levy said they felt it would be a disservice to the 70% of the film that’s drama to let the 30% that’s robot-boxing action drive the 3D decision.
  • Real-Steel-image-hugh-jackmanAfter looking at movies like Transformers and Terminator Salvation, Levy was struck by the fact that there were so many movies that had machines fighting machines, so he decided to set Real Steel in the year 2020 with the idea being that humans have become bored by the limitations of the human body so they started manufacturing machines for limitless carnage.
  • Instead of having his actors perform opposite tennis balls and negative space, Levy filmed most of the movie using practical robots or already complete motion-capture, so the actors had something to play off of.
  • Levy had practical versions of their three main robots built to enhance the performances and also to keep the visual effects guys on their toes. If every fifth shot in the finished film was going to be a practical robot, they had to really nail the effects shots.
  • Robots fight in two different arenas in the Real Steel universe: league and non-league. In league boxing, it’s only punching and there’s a high amount of corporate sponsorship and money. In non-league fighting, it’s basically anything goes and all fights are to the death.
  • Hugh Jackman was blown away by the locations they were shooting in Michigan. They shot in the Ford Motor Plant and he said it’s sad because when you see it on film people will think it’s an extension to make the set look larger, but it’s that big in actuality.
  • NoisyBoy-Real-Steel-posterJackman was drawn to the project because of the arc and emotion of the story.
  • He said the technology allows the actors to have much more trust in the film. They can actually see what they’re acting opposite and are able to adlib and change things on the spot.
  • Jackman said that Levy would direct scenes to music in order to get the tone or mood of a scene.
  • Jackman worked with Sugar Ray Leonard, who choreographed the film’s fight scenes.
  • He describes the ratio of drama to fighting as similar to the first Rocky movie. It’s very character story driven, and when there are fights they’re emotionally engaging.
  • There are 5 major fight scenes and each one is between 2 and a half to 10 minutes. The film also has 2 fight montages.

For more on the film, here’s the full interviews with Shawn Levy and Hugh Jackman.

As most of you know, after doing a set visit, I always record a video blog.  For Real Steel, once Peter (from Slashfilm) and I got back to Los Angeles, we recorded one via Skype.  Since it’s a long one, I’ve time indexed the conversation so you can watch the parts that interest you.  It’s below the video.  Real Steel opens October 7, 2011.  Again, I have a feeling Shawn Levy’s standing in geekdom is going to change after they see this movie…

Real-Steel-posterReal Steel Video Blog Time Index

  • How we recorded it on July 4, 2010 and to put it in perspective…Andrew Garfield had just been announced as Spider-Man.
  • 1:50 – How Shawn Levy is finally doing a project that might excite fandom
  • 2:15 – What is Real Steel about (thank you synopsis)
  • 3:30 – How this set visit revealed a lot about the movie
  • 4:10 – The dinner with Shawn Levy
  • 6:30 – How Real Steel is a sci-fi film…but it’s not a sci-fi film.  We also talk about how involved Steven Spielberg was in the film
  • 7:50 – How the movie is 70/30.  Meaning it’s 70% character and 30% action
  • 8:30 – How they shot all the fights before filming began using motion capture actors and everything was choreographed
  • 10:50 – What was it like being on set.  We talk about the incredible sets in Detroit (we were in the original factory for making Model T Ford’s) and how they got tremendous production value due to filming there.  We describe the scene we saw being filmed and how Shawn described it as an underground opera house.
  • 13:30 – The world of Real Steel. How there is an underground league and a professional league.
  • 14:00 – So what did we ultimately think of the movie and the set visit.  Also, why is the movie coming out in the fall and not in the summer.
  • 16:20 – The “Brain Bar.” The group that worked on Avatar worked on Real Steel.  We describe what they did and what we saw.  How they were able to plug in the motion capture footage/robots they shot in pre-production and have it appear on the monitors on set.  It was stuff we had never seen on a movie set before and it’s the future of movie making.
  • 20:55 – Where do journalists sit while on set.  We talk about the two monitors that we got to watch while on set and the footage Shawn Levy showed us in between takes
  • 21:44 – The look of the film and how they’re trying to make it feel retro.  They’re showing the future but not trying to make it feel revolutionary.  It’ll have a timeless feel.
  • Shawn Levy and Hugh Jackman on the set of REAL STEEL23:30 – How they build practical robots and this way the actors could work with something that was actually there.  The practical robots will also help the animators when bringing them to life.  All together they built 40 practical robots.
  • 24:55 – We talk about another scene we watched being filmed.  It was backstage at Crash Palace.  Many practical robots were being used.
  • 27:10 – How humans control the robots in the ring. Each of the battles is two and a half to three minutes.  When we were on set, Levy wasn’t sure how it would all cut together.
  • 28:50 – The post production schedule and how they could do 3D. Thankfully, it’s a 2D release.
  • 30:15 – More details on the scene and how we saw Hugh Jackman and his son
  • 33:25 – What we did on our lunch break…I got the group to go to Dunkin Donuts (we don’t have them in L.A.)
  • 35:00 – What we first thought when we heard about Real Steel
  • 35:45 – The different robots of Real Steel
  • 36:45 – Our thoughts on what Real Steel could be.  How it has a good story, how they’re filming it the right way (practical stuff) and this way the animators won’t be able to cheat it.
  • 39:45 – Shawn Levy’s infectious enthusiasm on set
  • 41:00 – How sometimes a filmmaker is trapped by limitations that are out of their control
  • 42:30 – How Real Steel has a touch of the Amblin magic





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