Section:

Godzilla VFX

We talk to MPC's visual effects guru Guillaume Rocheron about creating the monsters for Gareth Edwards' first blockbuster movie, Godzilla

We talk to MPC's visual effects guru Guillaume Rocheron about creating the monsters for Gareth Edwards' first blockbuster movie, Godzilla

© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.   All rights reserved

© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The last time we spoke to MPC's VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron, he'd just finished work on Man of Steel. He told us about the ground-breaking work MPC had contributed to Zack Snyder's Superman movie, especially the thrilling single-shot action sequences made possible with its bespoke Envirocam technology. He concluded the interview by telling us what he was working on next: Gareth Edwards' Godzilla.

12 months later and Godzilla has crashed into cinemas and become a resounding box-office success, much like Man of Steel last year. We had a chat with Rocheron about re-imagining the legendary and iconic creature for an entirely new audience, and working with director Edwards on his first mega-budget feature.

Godzilla Trailer
Warner Bros Pictures/Legendary Pictures

We were involved in Godzilla very early on, a year before principal photography, to help put together the very first clip that got the movie green-lit, and that's what we showed at Comic Con in 2012, says Rocheron. It was done before we had finished character design, but it was really a piece that would show the style and the mood he was going for with the movie.

The Comic Con trailer achieved a remarkable amount of praise, casting aside doubts that Gareth Edwards could handle a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster after his sleeper hit, Monsters.

The Comic Con presentation was more of an atmospheric piece showing devastated landscapes and then you'd get a glimpse of Godzilla through the dust. says Rocheron. It was really just how Gareth wanted to translate the film on screen.

Godzilla makes its way through MPC's digital version of San Francisco
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

After the release of the Comic Con trailer, MPC was employed to create the titular monster in all its humongous glory. The team studied reptiles such as lizards, crocodiles and alligators for the creature's features, and then looked at footage of komodo dragons and fighting bears for its lumbering movements.

Despite its huge size the team concentrated on minuscule details, ensuring scales slid over one another realistically, and rigging Godzilla with an underlying musculature so he moved properly.

Godzilla has some subtle moments well, about as subtle as you can get for a film about a 100-metre tall lizard
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

The man in the suit

Edwards was still keen to homage Godzilla's rather low-tech beginnings in the original 1954 Japanese film and its sequels. There's a legacy of Godzilla being played by a man in a suit in the movies, and it was very important to give him a human element, says Rocheron. Motion capture was considered, with actor Andy Serkis providing different behaviours, but these ended up as reference materials rather than CG performances.

Because of the scale of the creature and the anatomic differences between a human and a giant lizard or MUTO (Massive Unknown Terrestrial Organism), you can't do performance capture per se, he says. The performance capture helped for reference because you could look at the performance and be like, 'we can use that cheek-puff, or that head angle'. But in the end, the creatures are 100-percent computer-animated, it was just visual references.

He was definitely the most complex CG creature we've ever created, just because of the sheer size. One of his fingernails is the size of a car!"

The team soon realised that achieving a sense of scale was rather difficult. He was definitely the most complex CG creature we've ever created, just because of the sheer size, says Rocheron. One of his fingernails is the size of a car! Framing Godzilla alongside common objects such as vehicles and people could give a sense of size, but they found a simpler way to make him look massive: dust.

Because the creatures are fighting through the city they generate a lot of dust, and we used this dust interaction as a scale reference, says Rocheron. It was a very, very, very high-resolution dust simulation with intricate details like dust swirling around the creatures and parting around the arms or the head or the skin. Right away you have this reference of scale, because you're like, 'Okay, I know what dust is, and I know how dust is moving very slowly against them'.

Massive attack

As well as creating Godzilla, MPC also contributed his nemeses: the Massive Unknown Terrestrial Organisms, or MUTOs. Like Godzilla, these are vastly oversized creatures, but their origins are more insectoid than reptilian. Gareth designed them with "simple sleek lines, and MPC used whale skin and cracked shells as reference for their bodies.

The MUTOs act differently to Godzilla, relying on animalistic cunning rather than physical brawn, and the team looked at natural history documentaries to make sure they got it right.

Real footage of skydivers was shot, with MPC replacing the background and adding smoke trails
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

There's a moment in the third act where the MUTOs realise that individually they're not a match for Godzilla, but they strategise and use their strength to combine their forces to fight him, says Rocheron. The male, who is smaller and can fly, tries to destabilise Godzilla, while the female is much bigger and has much more power, and they use that distraction to try and knock Godzilla down at the first opportunity.

MPC was also responsible for Godzilla and the MUTOs' play area: a digital facsimile of San Francisco. The filmmakers considered shooting plates conventionally and then adding the creatures, but with such huge subjects it wasn't going to work.

You can go to San Francisco and shoot empty space and try to fit the action and creatures in that, but we like to structure the frame according to the subject, and we don't really want to do it the other way around, says Rocheron.

Gareth is a very strong visual director, and he likes to structure his frames with masses of contrast, continues Rocheron. It was very important for the San Francisco battle that we were able to see the creatures in there, and move some buildings around to get more interesting framing, and then position the fire and smoke to create that image which is very specific to Gareth's style.

Rocheron also created the HALO jump into a rather decimated vision of San Francisco
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Envirocams in San Fran

To create the digital version of San Francisco, MPC used the Envirocam technique it developed for Man of Steel, capturing very high-resolution panoramas from the rooftops. Shooting back from a lot of different angles and a lot of different places and rooftops we were able to triangulate the images and recreate the geometry and basically recreate all of the city, says Rocheron.

We really had to push it in terms of how much data and detail it handled, because we were destroying entire skyscrapers and city blocks in one shot

Having built a geographically accurate and dizzyingly beautiful version of San Francisco, MPC completely obliterated it. The destruction work was done with Kali, our finite element destruction tool, says Rocheron. We really had to push it in terms of how much data and detail it handled, because we were destroying entire skyscrapers and city blocks in one shot.

It was very gratifying for us and refreshing at the same time because we were working with a director who could use visual effects to serve the story

As Edwards himself comes from a visual effects background, Rocheron found working with him unusual compared with other directors. It was very gratifying for us and refreshing at the same time because we were working with a director who could use visual effects to serve the story, he says.

I think that all that experience in visual effects helped him detach himself from the movie, and really approach visual effects differently, in a smarter and different way because he was not impressed or overwhelmed by the process, says Rocheron. He knows how it works and what it is, and it really allowed him to step back and focus on giving personality to the creature, and dealing with the virtual cinematography.

A background in visual effects allowed director Gareth Edwards to concentrate on character and story development
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Return of the Zack

Godzilla has been seen as a resounding success, so much so that a sequel is already lined up. Edwards, however, has also been confirmed as the director for a standalone Star Wars movie proof, if it were needed, that he is a director with an intimate understanding of how to use visual effects to tell a story.

Rocheron is moving on to another big blockbuster project, again collaborating with Zack Snyder. So what will we be talking to him about next? I'm just starting pre-production on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, he says. I can't really say much about it!

The big lizard receives his big reveal
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Related links

Visit the official Godzilla movie site
See more work by MPC
Check out our Man of Steel feature
Read more features

Fetching comments...

Post a comment