When director Gareth Edwards began the task of tackling a new on-screen version of Godzilla, he looked to famed studio Weta Workshop to help flesh out initial designs. fxguide spoke to key Weta Workshop artists about their design process for the famous creature.
fxg: Can you talk about working with Gareth Edwards on this film?
Richard Taylor (Design and Effects Supevisor, Weta Workshop): Gareth has really come through the madness of production and been able to focus on the daily magic that’s required of a director when you’re working with a large crew. Thomas Tull (one of the film’s producers) is also an individual who is so supportive of a person like Gareth. To take a person from a $500,000 feature film to be able to see the genius in this particular director and understand that in the movie Monsters is all the elements of a grand and such a huge film as Godzilla.
But Gareth always had Godzilla in him as far as we were concerned. We never ever hesitated, questioned or gave it a second thought, ‘Oh shit that young guy that came and visited is going to get to make Godzila.’ After you meet Gareth and see his early work you just know that his capacity for awesomeness is in him. We do encounter some directors who haven’t had any technical training and that can sometimes be a challenge, as opposed to someone like Gareth. It’s actually his first language.
fxg: You get the sense that when Gareth works he doesn’t waste any energy – was that happening at the design stage too?
Taylor: You’ve encapsulated it in one. Normally you would expect that a young director who doesn’t have a huge scope of experience would be more requiring of deep exploration because of the need to apply multiple options in case he’s misjudged or mis-guessed his own instincts. Completely the opposite with Gareth. He has such an initial and strong vision and therefore wants to work in an extraordinarily efficient way to get to the end point without wasting resources and energy and losing people’s enthusiasm by wearing them out on needless ideas down dead ends.
Christian Pearce (Godzilla Creature design): Almost right from the start he was really comfortable. He did give us that free range to go right out to extremes to do ridiculous stuff to find those boundaries. We were all on the same wavelength about what Godzilla should be. He was more than happy to encourage us to go way out there.
Andrew Baker (Godzilla Creature design): It was one of those designs where we would scratch every itch to see or at least know where we were going – we all had the idea but Gareth wanted us to try what shouldn’t be done, just to see if it was the right direction. We all thought that was a good journey for this particular character.
fxg: One of the things Gareth had originally looked at, he told us, was animal reference but then soon realized that animals themselves don’t make for very interesting imagery – that’s why in nature docos there’s a lot of narration. Did that come up in your design process?
Pearce: One of the first conversations we had about Godzilla was that we all agreed that Godzilla is fundamentally impossible – there’s nothing you could do to logically rationalize a creature of that size and standing and physiology. We had to take the lead and hope that the audience would take it with us – he’s impossible – but it’s Godzilla. We were almost detailing him from the outside, which is the opposite to how we usually work where we design creatures from their environment outwards. We did look at the natural world, including marine creatures. Godzilla spends 99 per cent of his life underwater so we looked at marine iguanas and large oceanic mammals, even by adding gills.
Baker: Gareth also wanted him to be relatable as a character from the get-go – the goal was not a monster or a T-Rex. The defining factor of Godzilla is that he is a character. He may not have lines, but the film revolves around him as a character.
Pearce: We were also thinking about the metaphor of the creature, almost the idea that he is the walking apocalypse, rather than a character so much.
fxg: Did you examine in your designs his atomic blue breath?
Pearce: We’re pretty big Godzilla fans, and there were a few things we were sort of fighting Gareth a little bit on to keep in – the blue breath being one of them and the shape of the dorsal fins. They’re things we wanted to get in there right from the start. We actually got an email from Gareth later, saying, “You won…”
Baker: Naturally, it’s a design solution when you think about something that’s got to move underwater – so you think the fins are going to take an elegant shape that would complement that movement, whereas Godzilla has a defined look with the spikes on his back.
fxg: How did you approach the forearms, because one of the dangers of the character is to fall into the T-Rex comical sort of look?
Pearce: I think we both thought of Godzilla as a human in a suit still, so I think the general proportions of a human are there, so the leg to hip to arm proportions are still pretty close. Obviously his face is going to be different.
fxg: And his tail – were there many variations on that?
Pearce: We did a lot of variations on tail length, and some were a lot longer than what he ended up being. I like the idea of a really un-dynamic Godzilla where he’s colossal and slow, and just he’s very movement is destructive. He’s not really built to whip his tail around and punch people – just by the fact that he’s existing and moving, there’s colossal destruction going on.
fxg: What were your deliverables on this – what things left the Workshop?
Baker: There was a digital sculpt which was the ideas board where everything got thrown on. If there was something in Christian’s artwork that Gareth responded to, I incorporated it into the sculpts. Gareth is efficient in ZBrush as well and was taking it over too. There was also a handful of concept art which had a lot of ideas Gareth liked. He would play around with them on the final model and incorporate them as he saw fit.
fxg: Can you talk about the time span working on Godzilla?
Baker: We worked on the designs for six months. Our biggest deadline for Godzilla was the Comic-Con trailer, because, for our side of it, he had to have that iconic silhouette that carried through right to the end. We really had to have that design worked out before that trailer came out so they could do all the effects work.
Pearce: I remember getting the rough previs that came through and Gus Hunter painted up a couple of frames that they based their animation on from the sculpt Andrew had done.
fxg: And for you as artists, how fun was the project to work on?
Pearce: It’s probably the most fun thing. I’ve been here for 12 years and I don’t think there’s been a project I’ve been more excited about and felt luckier to have worked on. The very first thing I put together for the film was a document that said why we shouldn’t change it and I think all of us went into this with our egos very much in check and we were trying to do a respectful version of Godzilla without trying to put our own spin on it.
All images © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. & © Legendary.
GODZILLA is a trademark of Toho Co., Ltd. The GODZILLA character and design are trademarks of and copyrighted by Toho Co., Ltd. Used with permission.