Fresh off his cameo appearance in the critically acclaimed Oscar nominated drama "The Fighter" last year, boxing icon Sugar Ray Leonard said he's proud to be championing another movie set in the ring with "Real Steel."
While Leonard -- the winner of world titles in five different weight divisions and the welterweight gold medal winner in the 1976 Olympics -- doesn't make an appearance in "Real Steel," his influence is all over the screen. As the boxing consultant for the film, not only did Leonard help star Hugh Jackman shape his boxer-turned-trainer character, he choreographed the fight moves for the robots in the ring.
In a recent interview, Leonard said he was knocked out by how the robot boxers turned out on screen because the visual effects artists were able to capture the nuances of the fight styles he was trying to project.
Boxing Champ Coaches Jackman, Choreographs Robot Ring Moves For Film
"The technology has advanced so incredibly well," Leonard said. "I was thrilled how the effects show the flexibility, the agility, the speed and even the facial expressions of the robot boxers."
But these weren't just any moves Leonard gave these massive well-oiled machines. They were moves the champ based on his own time in the ring with other boxing greats.
"I gave the robots all their own particular style," said Leonard. "When I choreographed their moves, I thought about all the guys that I have faced, including Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran."
Opening Friday in theaters and on IMAX screens nationwide, "Real Steel" is set in the not-too-distant future, where boxing has replaced humans with robots. For former boxer Charlie Kenton (Jackman), it means that, despite coming close before as the No. 2 contender in the world, he'll never have a shot at becoming the champ -- that is, until he reunites with his estranged son, Max (Dakota Goyo), a precocious 11-year-old who has the heart and stubborn determination of his father.
After Max reignites his passion for the fight game, Charlie helps his son train an under-sized, older-model robot named Atom for some brutal matches in the boxing underground to see if the robot -- a training bot left for scrap in a junk yard -- has what it takes for shot at a professional title in the World Robot Boxing league.
While Leonard was privy to the movie magic that brought such characters as Atom to life via the wonders of motion capture using stunt performers (full-scale robots were also built for the film and operated by puppeteers), he admits he was still taken aback by how real the character felt to him while watching the film. After all, Atom is a robot, but he's a robot with the heart of a champion -- and Leonard thinks the character will inspire people.
"When my wife and my mother-in-law started crying watching the film, I got a little teary-eyed. I'm not afraid to say that I got emotional because you felt his determination," Leonard said. "There are so many people in the world now who are at that same point of in their lives, each trying to become somebody and they're at a crossroads. They'll also relate to Atom, even though he's a robot, because of the look in his eyes. Those eyes will grab you."
Leonard said while teaching the fight game from the perspectives of someone outside of the ring -- a "corner man" -- he recalled his time working with legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
"When I took Hugh into the ring, I wanted him to feel what is felt between a trainer and a fighter," Leonard said. "That relationship is so special and so intimate. There's a connection between a trainer and a fighter.
Hugh Jackman spars with the robot Atom in "Real Steel."
Sugar Ray Leonard and Hugh Jackman on the set of 'Real Steel.'
Leonard said that he told Jackman that the connection didn't always involve words, but eye contact -- a crucial means of communication between the fighter and Dundee.
"You could see what was going on between me and Angelo Dundee in the eyes," Leonard recalled. "When I was fighting Tommy Hearns, he didn't have to go crazy, I saw and felt the sense of urgency in his eyes to pick things up a bit."
"Real Steel" Featurette: "Training With Sugar Ray"