The goal of Pokemon is to catch ’em all, and you’ll find a lot of them in Detective Pikachu. The live-action adaptation of the video game includes lots of Pokemon from many different games from across the franchise.
In the film, Tim (Justice Smith) has given up Pokemon until his father’s sudden death brings him into contact with Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Tim and Pikachu investigate Ryme City to discover the cause of Tim’s father’s death, and guess what? It involves a lot of other Pokemon.
Rob Letterman directed Detective Pikachu and he spoke with /Film by phone last week about filling the movie with Pokemon Easter eggs. Detective Pikachu opens Friday, May 10.
Is Ryme City very inspired by Japanese cities and architecture?
Absolutely, specifically Shinjuku, Tokyo. I did a lot of trips back and forth to Tokyo. I grew up in Hawaii and there’s a lot of Japanese cultural influences I grew up with and I’m a huge fan of Japanese pop culture. So I just wanted to bridge and merge east and west into our world. So the idea was to come up with a world that is a mashup of London, New York and Tokyo so we shot on location in London and then set dressed that vertical signage styling that you’d see in Japan. We did it on the streets and extended it with visual effects to give it that look.
I love yarn boards in movies, when characters are so obsessed they connect pins with yarn. Did you really take it to the next level by having Pikachu string the yarn across the whole room?
Yeah, I’m laughing at you’re obsessed with yarn boards. That’s amazing. It’s the detective wall but on the floor and all over the place because Pikachu is so small, he had to do it on the floor. But also if anyone bothers to count how many cups of coffee that character had, he got a little crazy. You would’ve loved visiting the set. That was about two days of work by the set decorator to get all that yarn intricately laid out in that apartment.
Were you able to put lots of random Pokemon in the backgrounds?
Yeah, as much as we could afford. There’s over 800 Pokemon characters. We ran out of money at somewhere past 50 or so. Those are just the individual ones. We multiplied it so there’s thousands in our movie, but the unique ones, somewhere over 50. Yeah, we drop them in everywhere. The original older first generation Pokemon, the classics, all the way up to a lot of the new ones.
Were you able to put a lot of Pokemon Easter eggs in the backgrounds?
Yeah, they’re everywhere, all the way down to Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back was the first movie I watched with my kids because they were huge Pokemon fans. They were the ones who got me into Pokemon. So there’s a lot of nods to that in particular, all the way down to the air bubbles in the containment chamber that Mewtoo’s in at the beginning of the movie are literally designed after the anime air bubbles from Pokemon: The First Movie.
Was the theme song Easter egg in the script or improv?
It wasn’t improv’ed. We stumbled across it later in post as a way to kickstart us back into the third act. It was something we were playing around with. There was a scene we never ended up doing. We were going to have him be the drunk at the bar kind of thing singing, an idea that we never could figure out. Then when that scene on the bridge came together as a way into it, we planted that song and had Ryan sing it. It was hilarious and [we] dropped it in.
Is the lighting of the movie across the film inspired by film noir?
100%. There’s a lot of film noir tropes in the movie. There’s a lot of ‘70s detective movie stylings and neo-Tokyo color but yes, very much film noir. John Mathieson, our cinematographer, is a real student of film noir. He spent a lot of time figuring out the light and shadow and that classic composition. For example, when Tim first walks into his father’s apartment, we keep the lights off in the apartment and we let the light from the billboards outside wash in and cast shadows. It’s very classic film noir compositions and dark shadows to give it that vibe.
Do the end titles go through every incarnation of Pokemon?
No, they don’t go through every incarnation but I just wanted to give a nod to what inspired this whole thing and go back to the origins of it. Also, I love those manga comic book covers with the Japanese lettering and how splashy that is. I just thought it would be a really fun sort of throwback to the classic Pokemon games and anime and comic books.
Did your experience with lots of other visual effects movies help you with Detective Pikachu?
Yeah, I think so. Not just visual effects movies I’ve done in the past, but going all the way back to when I worked in animation. A lot of those skill sets all kind of came into this movie. It’s a very complex movie to put together. It’s a real hybrid of a lot of different techniques. It’s a live-action movie but to bring the Pokemon characters to life, it was like making two movies at once: A full live-action movie and an animated movie at the same time. So I had amazing visual effects crews that worked on this. Erik Nordby, our visual effects supervisor was so talented. That got me through that portion of it but also in post when we were just doing the animation, just the straight animation reviews were a real throwback to the first movies I’ve ever worked on.
Did Goosebumps not feel like separate live-action and animated movies?
Of course, for sure. Erik and I worked together on Goosebumps as well but Goosebumps was a really small movie compared to this and it in the case of Goosebumps, for the most part that was live-action and we would replace a stuntman or something with visual effects. We had a couple scenes in there that were very similar to how we did Pokemon. We had these little gnome characters attacking everybody and that scene in particular was very similar to how we shot the Pokemon movie. But it was a small compared to this. This is a much grander scale.
The director of Sonic the Hedgehog announced they’re redesigning their character based on feedback from the trailer. Being experienced with these kinds of visual effects movies, can you imagine going back to a main character a few months before release?
I can’t. I literally just heard that five minutes ago. I feel for them. Everyone makes movies differently. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it. In my case, it wouldn’t have worked. We designed Pikachu and the Pokemon characters for a years before we started shooting and locked into that, and the performance of our human actors would break if we altered it by even an inch. So in our case, we couldn’t have done that but they may be doing things differently. Yeah, that’s a tough position to be in.
If your kids got you into Pokemon, are there any things in Detective Pikachu just for your kids?
There’s a ton of stuff in there for my kids. There’s a lot of references to Pokemon: The First Movie, because we watched that together. They got a lot of swag. They get more stuff, they’re showered with Pokemon gifts. They’re so lucky in that. We’re going to have to donate half of it. Mewtwo is my son’s favorite. My daughter loves Jigglypuff. So selfishly I put a lot of things in there for my kids.
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