Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
One of the most iconic movie monsters of all time, Godzilla is storming his way back onto the big screen, and it takes a surprising amount of work to craft a creature that can level a city in minutes. Luckily, the latest take on Godzilla has a secret weapon: director Gareth Edwards, who has spent much of his career working in the visual effects world. His experience was not only vital to creating a monster for the ages, but also to helping the film’s stars act opposite it when they have no idea what they’re looking at. Edwards, producer Thomas Tull and stars Ken Watanabe and Elisabeth Olsen sat down to talk about the “obvious” inspiration for Godzilla, the challenges of acting with only your imagination, and Olsen’s unexpected reaction to seeing the finished film.
Director Gareth Edwards and producer revealed the initial inspiration behind the monster himself, and talked a little bit about the process of creating Godzilla:
Edwards: “In terms of his movement, we initially had got hold of – we had a researcher get hundreds of different clips of animals fighting and animal behavior because I felt that the obvious thing to do is like, “Okay we’re just gonna use nature as a reference, we’re gonna do this realistically, let’s look at animals, let’s just copy that, that’s all we have to do.” So we got bears fighting and wolves hunting and animated him based on that and then sort of sat and watched it and were like ‘Oh, there’s a problem here,’ which is if you watch nature, a natural history documentary or a wildlife documentary and you don’t have any narration, you don’t know what the hell is going on…And so we ended up dialing in a lot more human performance to him and he slightly went incrementally from being purely animalistic to a lot more like a guy in a suit doing a performance because you needed to understand, in his body language, whether he was tired or angry.”
The actors themselves never got to see Godzilla until the film was completed, so they had to base their performance based on the mockup animations that Edwards showed them before filming began. Ken Watanabe and Elisabeth Olsen discussed what they had to work with:
Watanabe: “[It’s] just imagination and a point. Gareth had an iPad with the animation, something like that, a point.”
Olsen: “Gareth, before we shot anything that had special effects, he showed me previs, which I learned about, and it’s just these basic funny cartoons making terrible reactions to things. But you understand what they’re looking at and what the angles are, and that what was so exciting to me about doing a project like this is that imagination aspect.”
However, having to rely solely on your imagination can be difficult for an actor, especially one who has never worked with CGI before, like Olsen. She went into what she found challenging about the process, and what she hopes to take with her to The Avengers:
Olsen: “It’s difficult, because you think it’s just going to be full make-believe, and then it’s pouring rain and you have to walk seven steps that way and three steps that way and you have to get a verbal cue when you know that the camera guy has panned down from whatever is going to be there back to you, so you can turn. It’s very technical and so it’s was definitely something I’ve never really done before, but you still have to hit your marks and all that stuff. It surprisingly looks easy to me. I think that’s what I was surprised by when I saw it. I think now that I’ve done it once I have confidence knowing that I understand how it’s gonna be edited, because it’s a little scary when you’re a fish in new waters.”
In order to create an environment that Godzilla could interact with, Edwards and his team used CGI for various elements on the film, which were added to the physical set in order to create the final product. According to producer Thomas Tull, Edwards did such a good job with both aspects that the audience shouldn’t be able to tell what was built by hand and what was added in post-production:
Tull: “Gareth is, in a way, an old fashioned filmmaker. We share the passion for Amblin’s movies back in the ‘80s, things like that. So there were some things that he wanted to do practical, that I think were great. Hopefully you couldn’t tell the difference, and tell me which — other than Godzilla, probably — we didn’t do practical. It’s really looking at each set piece or each item and deciding what you can get away with and not have people bump on.”
Finally, Olsen spoke about her experience seeing everything come together in the finished film for the first time. Since Godzilla is her first effect-heavy film, she wasn’t sure what to expect from the film, and her reaction took her by surprise:
Olsen: “I was actually shocked that I wanted to cry like twice in the film, and usually I’m quite removed from the films I watch and really get critical if I’m in them, and I was amazed at how moved I was so quickly, especially with Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche. I think that shocked me. It’s just always fun, because I never really worked with anyone but Carson [Bolde], who played my son, and Aaron [Taylor-Johnson] very briefly and this other actress Jill [Teed], who played one of the nurses, so it’s just nice to see what everyone else is doing. There was part of me that was like “Maybe I should have gone to see what everyone else was doing,” because part of me was like “Oh, it’s so crazy. They’re getting such crazy stuff!” but it’s good I didn’t because I’m also not seeing everything they’re seeing. I’m seeing it from a different perspective so it was just eye-opening to see what everyone else did, and I just really liked it. I saw it with one of my best friends, and we were so excited afterwards. We were like, “Good one!”
Godzilla is now playing in theaters.