MAJOR SPOILER WARNING!
From Warner Bros
For the filmmakers overseeing such a complex operation, there was perhaps nothing more challenging or exhilarating than the creation of its main event. “Toho had given us their blessing to re-envision the character, but it was equally important to us as well as Toho that Godzilla look like Godzilla,” Tull says. “We wanted to bring him into contemporary reality while not steering too far from the classic silhouette that so many of us grew up with, and Gareth and the entire team walked that line with passion and inspiration.”
The effort to make Godzilla live onscreen with as much detail and realism as possible engendered a broad coalition of creative minds, incorporating the talents of lead creature and concept designer Matt Allsopp, and Weta Workshop, Ltd.’s creature designers Andrew Baker, Christian Pearce and Greg Broadmore, as well as storyboard illustrators, keyframe animation and texture artists at Moving Picture Company (MPC), and specialists in sound, movement and performance, all unified through Edwards’ vision for the character.
“Everybody chipped in,” the director remembers. “What we were trying to find was what Godzilla would look like if you actually saw him in the real world. One of the conversations we’d have quite often was asking, ‘If this was a person, who would it be?’
And after thinking about it for a while, what we came up with was the idea that he was like the last Samurai—a lone, ancient warrior that would prefer to not be part of the world if he could, but events force him to resurface. We did lots of illustrations and concepts, and it took us over a year to really get it right.”
Standing 355-feet-tall—the largest of any big screen incarnation—Godzilla was conceived from the start as an entirely digital creation that would maintain the character’s classic form and identity. A bipedal, amphibious, radioactive leviathan with armored dorsal fins spiking menacingly all the way down to his long, sweeping tail, Godzilla belongs to the imagined species Godzillasaurus, which paleontologists have jokingly linked with the Tyrannosaurus Rex or Ceratosaurus families, only much larger.
The filmmakers’ efforts to capture the essence of Godzilla ultimately took them back to 1954—to the iconic latex suit designed by Toho’s Teizo Toshimitsu, which he built with Eizo Kaimai, Kanju Yagi and Yasue Yagi. Worn to great effect by actor Haruo Nakajima, the inspired costume was transformed through Ishiro Honda’s lens into a nuclear disaster made flesh, breathing a visible atomic blast upon a decimated Tokyo. Though these early effects were groundbreaking for their time, the filmmakers knew that 60 years later they had the tools to make Godzilla truly live.
“It was incredibly exciting to take inspiration from those early movies, but Gareth’s edict from the beginning was that everything we were creating had to look absolutely real,” confirms visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel. “You want to believe that there’s this 355-foot beast crashing through the streets of San Francisco.”
Early in production, Rygiel screened for the filmmakers the first complete tests of the creature in motion. “You heard this gasp go through the room,” Tull recalls. “Gareth and the visual effects team did an amazing job giving the character a level of detail and natural movement that wasn’t possible even five years ago. It felt almost like you were seeing Godzilla in the flesh for the first time.”
But beneath the skin, what has always set Godzilla apart is his unique persona and presence. “He has an amazing effect on people in that you’re both terrified and drawn to him, which is part of the reason the character has endured for so long,” says Mary Parent. “Godzilla is clearly a badass, but there’s also an innocence and an integrity to him. On a primal level, you never quite know what he’s going to do. At the same time, he’s also got very heroic elements, and that dichotomy is what makes him so interesting and compelling.”
Like his human co-stars, Godzilla’s soul is etched in his face. While the new incarnation hews closely to the dimensions of his short, steep skull, broad snout and carnivore’s mouth, to imbue it with a full range of expression in battle, the filmmakers studied the faces of dogs and bears, while also incorporating the nobility of an eagle.
To direct the character on the subtleties of performance, Edwards had a powerful assist from Rygiel’s “The Lord of the Rings” collaborator, performance capture pioneer Andy Serkis, who has brought his unique art form to digital characters like Gollum, Caesar and King Kong, and helped shape the title character’s emotional arc.
“At the start of the process, I felt that in some way we could decide and control who Godzilla was,” Edwards reflects, “but, as we went along, we started to realize that Godzilla was going to tell us who he was, just like actors who have their own take on their characters. We couldn’t totally dictate what it was going to be; it was more about just trying different ideas and permutations. And, slowly, he revealed himself to us."
The final element in the alchemy of Godzilla is not his look but his sound. Akira Ifukube, who composed the haunting score that accompanied Godzilla’s 1954 introduction to movie screens, had an idea to create the famous roar by taking a resin-covered leather glove and dragging it along the loosened strings of a double bass instrument, with the final effect being achieved by sound and musical effects designer Ichiro Minawa, using playback speed to personalize each utterance.
“Godzilla’s roar is not something you can fake or shortchange,” says Tull. “There is only one sound, and it is nearly impossible to recreate, no matter what you try.”
Long before production had even commenced, the filmmakers enlisted Oscar®-winning sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn (“Transformers”) to experiment with different techniques with the ultimate goal of recreating Godzilla’s chilling, heartrending roar, as well as a whole universe of sounds that would give the action a visceral, theatre-shaking feel. "If you imagined that Godzilla was real, then what we hear in the 1954 film is just what it sounds like on 1950s tapedecks,” Edwards describes. “We wanted to capture that live sound in its full power with all the fidelity we’re capable of today.”
The sound designers employed a variety of different techniques, even trying out a pine tar-coated leather glove on a double bass, to achieve the seemingly impossible. “That roar is probably the most famous sound effect in film history and we wanted to pay homage to it while creating something new," Aadahl says. “We wound up recording hundreds of different sounds that had the same qualities and timbres as the original and finally stumbled upon the combination that gave us all goose bumps. Ultimately, we wanted for it to convey all of the power and ferocity of Godzilla as a force nature, for people to close their eyes, hear it and instantly know, 'That’s Godzilla!'”
Breaking the original sound into three parts—a metallic shriek, followed by an earth-shattering wail and a bellowing finish—the sound designers conducted extensive experiments with a wide variety of sounds until they achieved a combination with all the texture and earth-shattering drama of Godzilla's original roar. Tull offers, “What they produced will send chills up your spine. It was the huge, awe-inspiring roar that Godzilla has always deserved.”
The film's plethora of otherworldly sound effects were recorded at a high resolution 192-kilohertz 192 kHz sample rate—beyond the range of human hearing—which they then slowed down to a range that's audible to the human ear. The "Godzilla" soundscape also encompassed realistic environments in which the story unfolds, and Aadahl and Van der Ryn traveled on location to record within tunnels and on aircraft carriers. "Gareth is a visionary and a perfectionist, and always pushed us to experiment and go farther," Van der Ryn remarks. "Working on ‘Godzilla’ was a truly special adventure that we all took together, and one of the best experiences of our career."
One of their goals was to bring Godzilla's roar into the real world, so the sound designers set up a 12-foot-high, boulevard-wide sound system on a street on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. Blasting the roar through 100,000-watt speakers lined in an array, they recorded the reverberations from a number of angles, such as inside cars, behind store windows, in alleyways. It not only rattled pipes and rooftops but could be heard up to three miles away.
In the animal kingdom, a roar can express a spectrum of emotions, but is perhaps most effectively used as an assertion of dominance when the Alpha Predator is threatened, “which definitely happens in our film,” Edwards hints. “In our story, Godzilla isn’t the one trying to destroy the world. He is completely unaware of our presence; we’re just like ants to him. But we do share a home, and our actions play a role in manifesting this enormous threat to the planet and to Godzilla himself. We wanted to build the ultimate nemesis for Godzilla, and hopefully in the process, we’ve created something brand new for the audience.”
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