‘King of the Monsters’ VFX supe Guillaume Rocheron on orchestrating this Godzilla vs. Ghidorah clash.
Watching the trailers for Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I saw this shot of Godzilla and Ghidorah coming to a dramatic clash as the camera does a wild zoom-in. I was looking forward to seeing that on the big screen.
I was also looking forward to asking the visual effects team about it, to try and find out how a shot like that was firstly imagined, and how it was finally executed. So during my chat with production VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron, who also hails from MPC (which completed the effects for the shot), we jumped right into talking about just the considerations he had to make as VFX supe for that specific monster clash.
What the shot represented: The shot summed up a lot of the monster scenes. One thing we’ve done on the movie is try to create big lines that establish the scale of the monsters against the environment. This shot was a typical version of this.
How it changed, at first: Our philosophy a lot of the time on the movie was to show the monsters from a human perspective, because that’s really how the viewer gets the sense of scale. But Mike, the director, really wanted us to develop, in specific sections of the movie, these wide shots where we’ve basically framed the environment, and framed the creatures, showing them in a big, wide tableau.
Originally when we designed the clash with the previs team at The Third Floor, we had quite a few more shots and we were from Madison’s (Millie Bobby Brown) point of view in the stadium. As the sequence evolved, we realized it just needed to be Godzilla’s entrance and the final clash between the two creatures. We realized that the human perspective in that case was not necessarily the most cinematic and exciting moment.
Why it was OK to depart from the plan: We found that removing a lot of the shots, and leaving a simpler kind of wide shot of them running towards each other was actually quite acceptable. It didn’t break the rhythm, and it’s a fine balance working with those shots because you don’t want to break the sense of scale. And you don’t want to break the sense of realism. Very often those kind of God-view shots can seem all very CG, so you have to use them very carefully.
My first instinct when I saw it was that the camera’s moving too fast.
That camera zoom: My first instinct when I saw it was that the camera’s moving too fast. No camera will be able to fly towards monsters at that speed. So, you try to kind of slow it down, and, well, it’s more realistic but the shot is not very interesting. It’s an interesting design, slash, realism compromise that you have to do. There’s a pay-off to having a very dynamic shot with the camera rushing towards the monsters and then clashing, if you do it only once in the movie, and that was the only place where we actually did an impossible camera move like that.
Building Boston: For previs, we used a fairly simplified model of Boston. There are companies that specialize in digitizing basic city geo like that. It’s never really used for visual effects, it’s generally used for planning or architecture or visualization. Then we went to Boston and walked through our shots and where we would position the cameras. That’s when you go through your phase of adjusting – you know, ‘Maybe we should move the action two blocks down because it’s more interesting architecture.’
Then we sent a quite large visual effects team to Boston to acquire pretty much everything that we needed based on our previs and scout. We sent a team of ten photographers to strategically go shoot what we call Roundshots – it’s something I’ve been using since Man of Steel. It’s a motorized head that allows to take four 360 degree panoramas with a Canon camera or Sony camera. It’s fully programmable so you get extremely high resolution scenery.
We also had a team that would do laser scans of some city blocks and some of the hero buildings. In the end, we had I would say between 50,000 and 60,000 pictures of the city. We also had an aerial team who took a few aerial photographs and aerial shots. You know, in the final film I think there’s only two real shots of Boston, two real places that we used from our aerial shoots. And every other time that you see Boston, it’s a digital city.
Just out of curiosity I was like, OK, how fast is really Godzilla moving?
The clash: Very early on – early, early in post-production – we took this shot and the team at MPC did a bit of a walk cycle and a run cycle, just to see okay, how are we going to get Godzilla to run? Because seeing a 400 feet creatures run is not always something that you see very often. To get the creature to move at a decent speed, you always have to look at it against details that the human brain understands. So you see the speed against the buildings, but also you see the speed against the rain, or there’s a lot of elements that you give the viewer as a reference.
Just out of curiosity I was like, OK, how fast is really Godzilla moving? We realized that as soon as he was lifting his foot that his leg was travelling at 200 miles an hour. So that’s when you realize well, you can’t be too scientific about how you want to portray the scale. I think it’s all about finding the trick that makes you believe that what you’re seeing is very big.
In these shots where they’re running, you try to find the right balance in getting them to move as quickly as you can, because that’s the point of the shots. But you have to slow things down, and also you have to always take into account what happens when you render something. When you look at a playblast, and then when you render it with motion, things are going to look 15% faster.
Destroying Boston (a bit): In that clash shot, they run at each other and there’s not a lot of buildings they’re breaking down. That’s because there is already a bit of path from the arrival of the creatures, and Godzilla has blasted the floor already with his atomic breath. On this shot in particular, we didn’t simulate the buildings, per se. It was a bunch of rigid body simulation of debris that appears, foot fall debris basically, that would appear so we could be very selective as to what to do with them.
We actually simulated CG clouds to look like cloud tanks.
The stormy skies, and cloud tank sims: We really wanted the storm that Ghidorah generates to look highly unusual. It has saturated yellow lightning. It comes back down to creating a Renaissance kind of quality to the shots. We experimented with a few colors, including just a normal grey, cloudy sky. And we were like, okay, that’s cool and that looks real but there’s nothing really particularly unusual or interesting about that. So we really started to experiment with more of the saturated sky. It’s also something that also we designed quite early on in the previs because you have to be consistent with the lighting on the actor when you’re shooting.
We actually simulated CG clouds to look like cloud tanks, but realized it looked a little too much like a cloud tank. So we decided to slow down the simulation of the cloud tank look. Because if you really look at the motion of the clouds, they move in a fairly unusual way as well. Part of the whole exercise is when you’re in a Ghidorah ecosystem, you’re literally in something that is pretty insane. It’s not just bad weather. Establishing the really strange and almost surreal world that Ghidorah creates around him was important to set up the look of the third act.
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