Godzilla: King of the Monsters features four kaiju that have become icons over the course of the 65-year-old franchise: Godzilla himself, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. With great Titans, as they're now called, comes great responsibility to detail, and director/co-writer Michael Dougherty, as a Godzilla super-fan, was quite conscious of that: The creatures have been updated, with more colors and textures than what was possible with special effects decades ago.
That same attention can be seen in the actual film. Following a press screening of King of the Monsters, CBR spoke with Dougherty about the personalities of Ghidorah’s heads, giving each Titan a chance to shine, and the film's Easter eggs.
CBR: I'd like to start with King Ghidorah. I read that there were three people involved with the performance-capture process for him. So could you tell me a little bit more about that?
Michael Dougherty: Yeah, most of the performance of the creatures was done by our visual-effects artists and animators. But every now and then, for very particular scenes where I wanted to convey a little bit more emotion from the creatures, we did performance capture to sort of help with that. It's sort of a great, modern-day version of the man-and-suit process they used during the original Toho films. And what I find that it does is it brings just a dash of human body language and human facial expression to the creatures, which again, it's a hallmark of the original films that because the creatures were performed by humans, they had certain human-like qualities.
And so, with Ghidorah, I also wanted to make sure that each head had its own intelligence, its own personality, and that they sort of interact with each other the same way that three brothers might, so they aren’t just mirrors of each other. They've got their own habits and reactions in situations. So I hired Jason Liles, Richard Dorton and Alan Maxson, who were experienced mo-cap performers for other films and video games, and basically, like, tied them together. And Jason was the center head because he's, like, one of the tallest people you'll ever meet, so it made sense, and the other two were his siblings.
And so they would perform these scenes with TJ Storm who played Godzilla. And it was just ridiculous because they're wearing these like skintight mo-cap suits. But, TJ had a big heavy foam Godzilla tail that he would wear, and it just looked like a bunch of overgrown kids playing Godzilla in your backyard, which is how I got started. And it really helped add just an extra spark of soul to the creatures.
You said that each of the three heads had a different personality. So, there's the alpha one in the middle; could you describe the others?
Yes. So, if you're facing Ghidorah, the head to the left is batshit crazy. He will throw down with anybody; he is always ready and ready to go into a fight. And then the head to the right is a little more curious. I would say maybe a little slower on the draw.
By the way, it was important to me that each head reacts differently when he wakes up out of the ice, for example. Because he's kind of like Rip Van Winkle. He's waking up into the modern world for the first time. He had never seen soldiers; he’d never seen human beings with guns before. So, I wanted to make sure that his first reaction wasn't just attack, but actually inspect. That's why the first head that bends down and sniffs at the soldiers is the right head.
He's kind of like genuinely curious and wants to know what are these things. I'm an animal lover, I've had many dogs, and animals displaying signs of curiosity always fascinates me. They don't always instinctively just attack or lunge at something. My dog has many times found lizards in the backyard and will play and sniff at them and nudge them to try and figure out what they are, and then sometimes he'll eat them. So that's why the one head is more curious about human beings, but he's also the head that sort of licks their charred corpses [laughs].
Because there are a lot of personalities, visuals and action, as you were planning out the fight sequences, how did you juggle featuring all of the monsters and giving each of them their deserved screen time?
Starting with the script, my writing partner Zach Shields and I will beat out how we thought the fight should go down and usually work towards the desired outcome of a fight. And then [we] found ways to make the journey to the outcome more exciting, try to make sure that there was some emotion loaded into whatever creatures were duking it out, so that we weren’t watching a fight for fight’s sakes. But we understood that there were consequences to whoever won that particular battle, usually consequences for the humans that were caught in the middle.
And then it would go from the script or a beat sheet to a storyboard artist named Doug Lefler at Third Floor, the company. And he's amazing because he's a former Disney animator, so he just has an instinct for fantastic compositions and dynamic camera angles. And it's great because his boards are very simple. Just black and white line drawings, like even no shading, but they tell a wonderful story.
And then those very simple storyboards would go to the previs animators who would start to bring them to life and actually turn them into rough 3D animations. Concurrently to that, I would also give the sequences to concept artists who would flush out the lighting and the atmosphere, because that was a really big, important part for me.
I caught a number of Easter eggs in the film: Serizawa’s watch, the Oxygen Destroyer, the original Godzilla theme, the twins; are there any other hidden references you'd like to tease for the Godzilla super-fans?
Yes, there are many references. I think you'll have to see the film multiple times to catch all of them. I'm not going to point them out directly because that would be cheating. But I would pay close attention to the weaponry that appears outside the underwater base. I would watch the closing credits sequence.
There’s a lot in that!
There’s a lot there. I would pay close attention to the names of certain news organizations and certain authors for the news organizations, as well as if you're especially sharp, pay close attention to the redacted text.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds and Zhang Ziyi.