In recent years, Comic-Con International has expanded beyond the borders of the San Diego Convention Center to off-site locations where exhibitors rent spaces to more properly showcase a single product, crafting an experience for fans. This year, Legendary Entertainment has crafted a full Godzilla experience that allows attendees not only to see some of the historical and cultural significance of the monster, but also get a taste of what it might be like to be under siege by the giant lizard.
While none of the elements from Legendary’s upcoming Godzilla film are included in the experience, the studio went all out in designing something unique for Comic-Con: a fully realized Japanese street complete with ramen counter, storefront windows, street signs and overturned police cars chock-full of Godzilla memorabilia and history. A special app allows fans to translate Japanese signs and unlock secret elements hidden within the exhibit.
After a siren sounds, visitors are ushered into a secret bunker full of monitors and switches, and eventually are directed into an elevator headed for the roof. However, what they find there may come as a surprise. The exhibit runs throughout Comic-Con, and is a ticket-only event.
After running through the Godzilla Experience, Spinoff Online spoke with Barnaby Legg, the head designer of the exhibit, about constructing the special event, the research that went into each element of the show and more.
Spinoff Online: Barnaby, how long did it take to set up this Godzilla experience?
Barnaby Legg: We’ve been working on the project for around about three months, from concept to building. We’ve actually just been on site in San Diego for the past week. This whole thing was installed in a week. There’s a longer build, of course, which happens off-site, but we’ve had a pretty amazing team working around the clock to make this work.
How many people are on the team? It seems like it took a great many hands to put this together.
That’s a tough question because the team goes up and down depending on what phase we’re in. We have a large audio/visual team, obviously we have all of our design staff. We’ve accrued a whole bunch of Godzilla private collectors to help us build our store of merchandise. We have a whole team of artists working on unique art pieces. I have to be honest, I haven’t done the total head count because people have been on the project down the weeks. It’s got to be somewhere between 50 and 100 people total.
I saw that you have a bunch of Godzilla DVDs from across the franchise’s history in one of the windows. How much research went into putting together this experience?
A lot of research. First and foremost, we’re fans of Godzilla. The whole team are Godzilla fans and we have many, many fans on staff. But there was a long period of research, talking to private collectors, Godzilla experts, but mainly just talking to the fans and spending a lot of time finding out what were people favorite battles, what were people’s favorite foes. A good example is right here, we’ve got every single movie collected and the filmography of Godzilla can be a little bit unwieldy — 28 movies that Toho produced, it’s a very complex mythology. We tried to look at them the way the fans look at them, which is really kind of the four eras of the character. He started out as this terrifying, atomic-fueled rage monster in the first full movies between ’54 and ’64 that we’re calling “The Terror of Tokyo.” We tried to show the evolution that he went to become “The People’s Monster” — more whimsical, more of a children’s character. As we got to the ’70s, he kept some of the kitsch but became almost more like a superhero character, saving us from the other monsters. In ’84, everything shifted back because there was an entire generation of young Japanese fans that had grown up on the “Terror of Tokyo.” They wanted to reinstate it. In 1985, he was very much re-established as that primal, ferocious monster character.
The goal here is to work on two levels, so that your average fanboy that doesn’t know a lot about Godzilla can come through and get an education into the legacy, but also the people that really know their stuff will see all of those details.
Tell us more about how important it was to have this experience of a decimated Tokyo street. How did Legendary arrive at that particular setting?
That was the point where I think everybody got really excited about the project, when we clicked into that particular idea. We were just talking about how can we kind of — without criticizing other Godzilla exhibits — how can we do something more experiential than that? Those Godzilla exhibits end up being a brilliantly curated collection of artifacts. We wanted it to be something more fun than that. We talked about the idea of how we could take the legacy of Godzilla and physicalize it. He’s had this huge impact on pop culture. What does that look like if you actually physicalize it? If you took a Tokyo street, which is where the legend was born, and we actually have him destroy it — not with his feet or his hands, but with all the pop culture he’s inspired: the movies, the cases, the comic books, the toys, the original suit, the Oxygen Destroyer — we had this idea that we wanted people to feel like they were walking through the pop culture aftermath of Godzilla.
Director Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla opens May 16.