When it comes to Hollywood’s A-list directors, Hellboy helmer Guillermo del Toro is one of the most devoted gamers out there. He manages to write, produce and direct a large number of movies, but he always makes time to play the latest game releases. And he doesn’t just try out a new game, he plays through it and completes the interactive journey. Del Toro is busy working on his first original video game project with THQ game studio Volition, inSANE. The first game in a planned inSANE trilogy is heading to consoles in 2013, but Del Toro is already excited about this new franchise.
“We are just trying to make the best damn game we can,” said del Toro, who serves as external creative director for the games. “I’m learning a lot about how video games are made. I’m learning the way that the narrative works in video games. It’s interesting how resourceful you have to be in guiding the audience. In a strange way, it’s similar to playing chess with the audience.”
Although video games are an interactive medium, del Toro is using Hollywood tricks to propel inSANE forward.
“The tools that we are using to tell this story give this sense of freedom to the audience, but in reality we are just giving them a limited number of options that seem unlimited,” said del Toro. “In an oblique way, this game is helping me a lot with becoming very nimble in finding solutions for a more linear medium like film. It’s helping me find solutions in writing screenplays.”
Del Toro said that with inSANE, he wants to take players to a place they have never seen before, where every single action makes them question their own senses of morality and reality.
Del Toro is working on a number of new projects. He co-wrote and produced the new horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It’s a remake of the 1973 TV horror movie that scared the hell out of the director.
“For me, the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remained one of the scariest movies I saw as a kid,” said del Toro. “It was a real holy grail of horror for me growing up. And now 37 years after the original was made, we’re introducing a whole new audience to this story.”
Working on horror movies like Cronos, Splice, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and his new Pacific Rim monster movie is influencing inSANE.
“There are certain codes that video games and movies share, but they are completely different mediums,” said del Toro. “I’ve been very, very respectful in approaching the (games) medium. I’m learning a lot.”
It doesn’t hurt that del Toro picks up new games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Portal 2 the day they come out. And then he plays through them. He believes his gaming influences the visuals that come through on the big screen.
“BioShock, which Ken Levine developed, is a really great, intensely-designed, perfectly coherent, beautifully-lit universe,” said del Toro. “I think that you learn a lot from games.”
THQ will own the intellectual property rights to the inSANE games, and del Toro will hold the rights to any filmed entertainment products. Beyond inSANE movies, del Toro is already conjuring bigger transmedia projects that he hopes will change the way we play games and consume entertainment franchises.
“inSANE is just my apprenticeship,” said del Toro. “I want to be able to do it with future projects, but you need to hit the ground running…very much like the Wachowskis would have done in an ideal world with the first Matrix, where they would have had the animated series, the video game, the online experience, the movie, and the novels all coming out as part of the storytelling of the world, as opposed to the way Hollywood usually does it, which is to treat them as merchandise.”
Looking at the potential for video games based on his upcoming projects, del Toro said he tries not to think like that because he doesn’t believe video games should be an ancillary product.
“But since it is inevitable…since you have to do it, I think Pacific Rim, which I’m working on right now, would be perfect,” said del Toro. “But I think that we need to stop thinking about video games as ancillary market products and just treat video games as part of a transmedia world creation when you are developing a property.”
Pacific Rim will hit theaters July 12, 2013. Screenwriter Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans), has worked with del Toro on the story, which is set in a future world in which humans, armed with giant mechs, battle against huge monsters. The movie currently stars Charlie Day, Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Max Martini, and Rinko Kikuchi, with additional cast announcements forthcoming.
Del Toro said that the film will honor the Japanese kaiju monster genre, which means the huge beasts that humans will battle be “highly effective creatures.” So don’t expect those cheesy Godzilla monsters. Del Toro said he’ll blend CGI with other special effects to bring the story to life.
“I still like to stay sort of conservative, which is I intend to still use puppetry, make-up, miniatures and the physical effects and only use CGI when it’s absolutely necessary,” said del Toro. “Sometimes it’s going to be 70 percent of the time, sometimes it’s going to be ten percent of the time, sometimes it’s going to be 90 percent of the time, but definitely I’m just thinking of it as a tool to use.”
Del Toro is also developing a re-imagining of Haunted Mansion for the big screen for Walt Disney Studios. The goal is to erase any memories of the Eddie Murphy film.
“Haunted Mansion will require us to push technology here and there in really creative ways, but it’s going to also require some old-fashioned techniques,” said del Toro.
In addition to being a gamer, del Toro is also a huge comic book and collectible fan. While he makes the annual trek to San Diego Comic-Con every year to promote new films, he also finds time to buy goodies. And even find new talent.
“I’ve been going there for over a decade now and I really think that it’s a great place to find new artists to work in the movies with me,” said del Toro. “For example, Francisco Ruiz Velasco is a kid from Mexico that works with me. We met in Mexico first, but we re-met in Comic-Con San Francisco. He has essentially worked with me on every movie since we met, including second Hellboy and The Hobbit. And many others I’ve come to work with on story board. I always encourage people during my presentations to come to me if you have artwork you want me to see, or a storyboard, come to me and I really make a point of being able to see all that stuff. It’s a great way to find people that you can give a break to.”
So for next year’s Comic-Con, seek out del Toro. He said he normally comes home with boxes filled with toys and collectibles. If you don’t want to talk about video games, you may find a job on his next movie. And he always has a lot of movies that he’s involved with. Moving forward, he may also have many games.