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'Godzilla' 2014: How VFX pioneer Jim Rygiel remade Japan's most famous monster

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Kimberley French
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

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Sixty years ago, Japanese audiences thrilled to the film debut of a massive monster that ravaged Tokyo with atomic breath, armored plates and a name that combined the Japanese words for "gorilla" and "whale": Gojira, which Americans would come to know as Godzilla.

On Friday, director Gareth Edwards resurrects the King of the Monsters in a new American version of the franchise, which has spawned 28 films, most of which featured a guy in a rubber suit playing the title creature. But Edwards' new version of the monster was created using some of the film industry's most advanced computer technology.


Visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel — a film graphics veteran with three Oscars for his work on the "Lord of the Rings" series — and Edwards mined classic Godzilla films when they were creating this modern-day version. 

"I have a bit of age on me, so I remember seeing the classic ones when they were first coming out," Rygiel told Take Two. "I always had that in the back of my head." 

Interview Highlights:

On how the design of Godzilla has changed throughout the years:

"It's interesting looking at him now, because when you see the one with Raymond Burr in it, for instance, you know its a big guy in a rubber suit that's knocking down miniatures. But I remember when I saw it as a kid that it was quite terrifying and real looking. It's one of those things where I think you're constantly pushing the envelope."


Like the Godzilla of films in the past, this Godzilla is fighting other creatures. How much planning do you do with, say, the fight coordinator to make sure those scenes look natural?

"There wasn't a lot of fight coordinator in this. We do this thing called pre-viz, which is pre-visualization, where before the movie is even [made], we basically create the movie in a Playstation-looking thing, real low-rez graphics, but the monsters are moving, and you'll see fires burning in the background. It's getting more and more sophisticated, but it's pretty sophisticated now.

"One of the things we looked at for the fight sequence was actually animals in battle against each other. We looked at bears wrestling with each other, and komodo dragons wrestling with each other. ... When you look at all these different battle sequences, there's something interesting that you see. It's not like the big, [WWE] or whatever the wrestling federation is called these days, just beating at each other. There's these moments of pause and slight reflection in their pea brains, you know?"

Godzilla is the star, but he does have a couple of other monster costars, tell us about the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, or the M.U.T.O.:

"In the design phases, there was Godzilla. And you would think that Godzilla was the most difficult to design, and he was actually the easiest, because we sort of, like we talked about before, had him based on the '50s basic shape and concept of Godzilla. The M.U.T.O.s were basically created from whole cloth, and that was ... Gareth Edwards, the director of the film, out of his mind as to how he wanted these things to look and move.

"So that was the most difficult because we went through, I'm going to say, literally, thousands of designs on the thing. He wanted something that was crab-like, but ... they had to be menacing enough to take on Godzilla, but sort of facile enough to move around the city. Yet still be based on some sort of natural look. We couldn't just make a  big giant blob with arms on it. We had to somewhat fit into nature, because that's what Godzilla's battling in this film is nature, basically. He's restoring nature back to its playing field."

You worked closely with Andy Serkis on this film. He's best known for his motion-capture roles, like Gollum from "Lord of the Rings." How did he help you nail down the movements of Godzilla?

"We called him in sort of at the end. We had the battle sequence, and getting the creatures expressions and thoughts correct is where Andy excelled. We didn't necessarily do motion capture, but there are more animation references, so he would act out, based on our sequence, what he thought Godzilla would be thinking or doing. We would literally film him, and then we could look at him and use his facial expressions as a reference to add on to our Godzilla or our M.U.T.O.s."

Was there a scene that was particularly difficult to shoot?

"Any time you saw Godzilla, or one of the creatures. It's sort of things that have been done before in CG, the difference with these creatures that we pushed, was their movement through the environment. So when they're fighting in the city, you'll notice as Godzilla swipes his arm, he swipes it through a cloud or fog bank or a dust cloud that he's swiping through vortexes off of his hand. It's to get that interactive environment happening amongst these creatures in the city, which is also the way that Gareth chose to shoot it.

"So when you go on the streets, there's lots of atmosphere and smoke and things burning. We had to carry that to the top, and to do that kind of interaction with that digital smoke simulations is extremely difficult to make it look correct and keep the scale right, and now make it seem like he's moving his hand through cigarette smoke, but its actually going."