It was Godzilla's monumental status (indeed, he stood 400 feet high in the first film) that intrigued Emmerich and Devlin. The filmmakers wanted to deliver a worthy follow up to Independence Day, which established new worldwide boxoffice records.
"Because of the phenomenal reaction to Independence Day, Roland and I were fortunate enough to travel around the world to promote it. It seemed that in every country, we were asked the same question: how do you follow up a movie like Independence Day? It was a really tough question to answer. The only thing that seemed remotely in the ballpark was Godzilla. It afforded us the opportunity to do something bigger, wilder and more amazing than we'd ever attempted before," Devlin says.
TriStar Pictures approached Emmerich and Devlin, but the duo did not immediately commit to the film. "We passed four times," Emmerich recalls. "I just wasn't sure it could be done without being kitschy. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how fascinating it could be."
"The challenge of Godzilla is that when people think of it, they immediately think of something that has a great deal of nostalgic fun but is not to be taken seriously. For us, that posed an intriguing question: How do we reinvent Godzilla?" Devlin adds. "We feel that only with the advances in special effects technology that exist today can we do that."
Emmerich calls Godzilla "the ultimate monster movie. We hope to push the limits of all the visual effects available. The technology is changing every year, and in every movie we use new tools. In many ways, this film was actually more complicated than Independence Day. It was a huge undertaking."
"It's the kind of movie that played to our strengths," adds executive producer Ute Emmerich. "We are very comfortable with films that involve a lot of different kinds of visual and mechanical effects, and this gave us an opportunity to explore that to an even greater degree."
As in Independence Day, the filmmakers used a variety of shot-specific effects to create the mammoth creature, including miniatures, animatronic models and computer-generated images (CGI). As the production progressed, it became clear that CGI provided the best means by which to conjure up the new beast.
"In Independence Day, we went on a shot-by-shot basis, which meant we filmed things as simple as planes on a wire in front of a moving backdrop to in-camera explosions composed with live-action footage to the most complicated computer effects imaginable," notes Bill Fay. "Our philosophy is the same on Godzilla, to use the best technique for the best result. What we found was that the results we got from CG animation were technically so great that they allowed us to do things with Godzilla that we couldn't duplicate with the other processes. The technology has really improved and we had great artists to use the tools."
While advances in effects, particularly in CGI, allowed the filmmakers to reconstruct and, to some extent, reinterpret and reinvigorate the creature, Devlin hastens to add that they did so with an underlying fondness and esteem for the original monster. This regard for the Godzilla series, of course, was coupled with a healthy dose of levity.
"I think that as long as you make these genres with love, the comedy will come naturally because they're inherently fun," says Devlin.
Devlin's personal affection for the films comes directly from his childhood.
"Growing up in Los Angeles, on Sunday afternoons, they would show all the old Godzilla movies and immediately after, they'd have all the 'Star Trek' episodes, so that's how I spent my Sundays," he recalls.
Emmerich says that while he enjoyed the classic Godzilla films, he did not want to recreate them.
"I didn't want to remake the original Godzilla. We took part of [the original movie's] basic storyline, in that the creature becomes created by radiation and it becomes a big challenge. But that's all we took. Then we asked ourselves what we would do today with a monster movie and a story like that. We forgot everything about the original Godzilla right there. Then we had to ask ourselves, what is scary and what is new? Godzilla disturbs the life of a busy city, but it becomes frightening because it behaves like a trapped animal trying to survive. The scariness comes from the sheer fact that you have to deal with a huge, unpredictable animal. The 'new' I left to Patrick Tatopoulos," Emmerich explains.
Emmerich assigned the daunting task of reinventing an icon to Patrick Tatopoulos, who created the aliens in Independence Day. The French-born Tatopoulos obliged and met Emmerich and Devlin in Cannes, where the filmmakers were promoting Independence Day. The intensive ID4 publicity tour, on the heels of the film's grueling post-production schedule and its astonishing, record-breaking opening, all conspired to drain Emmerich and Devlin's interest in immediately beginning another "event" picture. This was the mood Tatopoulos encountered when he arrived with his nascent sketches of the new Godzilla. Fortunately, they proved to be the tonic required to reinvigorate Emmerich and Devlin's enthusiasm for Godzilla.
"They told me that when they took a look at the drawings, they suddenly got a new vision about the film and the sketches made them believe that it could work. It's great to feel that I was a part of that, in some way," Tatopoulos adds. In fact, the filmmakers acknowledged their debt to Tatopoulos by naming Matthew Broderick's character Nick Tatopoulos.
Emmerich commissioned Tatopoulos to create a maquette (a small statue) based on the sketches, gambling that the new creature would also work its magic on Toho.
To that end, the filmmakers, Tatopoulos and Sony executives flew to Japan to meet with the Toho representatives before filming commenced to present their concept of the movie to Godzilla's creators.
"It was very important to Roland to meet with Toho. We did not want to do the picture without Toho's blessing," Fay recalls.
"We met with the Toho executives in Japan, and we brought the maquette with us. We hid it under a black cloth and put it on the middle of the table. It sat there as we presented our ideas for the movie. At the end, we sort of whisked off the cloth," Emmerich says.
This dramatic unveiling of the new Godzilla made an immediate impression.
"They were speechless," Emmerich recalls. "They stared at it, and there was silence for a couple minutes, and then they said, 'Could you come back tomorrow?' I thought for sure we didn't have the movie then."
The creature and Emmerich had charmed Toho, however, and when the filmmakers returned, Toho gave them its approval.
Devlin adds that they had developed a singular bond with Japanese audiences through Independence Day, which contributed to the subsequent goodwill surrounding Godzilla.
"When we were in Japan promoting Independence Day, there was a very strong reaction from the Japanese people and press," Devlin recalls. "It seemed to stem from two elements in the movie: that a president had to make the decision to use nuclear weapons and regretted the decision and the devastation it caused, and that a hero, in a kamikaze-style moment, sacrificed himself to save his family. I think these two aspects really touched the Japanese people in a unique way. So, as we were there promoting the film, we talked to them about Godzilla, and they seemed to be very pleased that the people who had that kind of sensibility in Independence Day would be taking on Godzilla."
Production on the film, which is set primarily in New York City, began in and around Manhattan in May 1997 and then returned to Los Angeles, which doubled for the Big Apple. The filmmakers chose New York because its urban landscape, with its towering skyscrapers and world-famous locales from Wall Street to Central Park, provided a backdrop befitting a creature of such epic proportions.
"We needed a location as big as Godzilla and, after Tokyo, only New York has that kind of scale and drama," notes Fay. Emmerich adds that "there are certain cities and skylines you can cheat by using other locations, but New York is definitely not one of them. It's such a well-known, American landmark."
This is not to say that filming in New York was an easy endeavor.
"Every movie has another set of problems," Emmerich says philosophically. "A lot of the movie takes place in New York and the creature itself, even if it isn't actually there, is so big that we had to light many more buildings and city blocks than we did in Independence Day. A lot of the things we hoped to do in New York we couldn't do there; we had to create total chaos and could only do it for a short period of time."
Specifically, the city only allowed the production, which shot mostly at night, to clear the streets for filming after 8 p.m. All the cameras, lights, trucks, related gear and equipment, personnel and assorted hordes of extras had to evaporate by 6 a.m. A standard film day lasts roughly 12 hours; the city-imposed restrictions, coupled with the short nights typical of spring in New York, could have been terrible setbacks had Emmerich and team not been so organized and efficient.
"We had lots of different, big locations, especially in New York. Essentially, we ended up shooting the wide shots in New York and cheating the tighter ones in Los Angeles," explains cinematographer Ueli Steiger. "Every shot involved a lot of specialized people. Cranes and musco lights were always involved, and whenever we moved or turned around, we always had big, heavy equipment to move as well. There was always a lot of debris and gravel in the street [souvenirs from Godzilla's jaunt through Manhattan], and the art department always had to rearrange it, depending on the angle we were shooting. That made it incredibly complicated. We had to be very clear about what we were shooting."
Steiger and crew approached this challenge with military precision.
"We had to pre-rig and pre-dress the street, which was difficult because we didn't have much time. Because we shot on major streets in New York, like Madison Avenue, it meant that everything had to be planned. For us, lighting-wise, that was a really big deal because at night, we saw a lot of the set in the shot. Roland likes to work so that the scene isn't intercut much, so it means the entire set-which in this case was several blocks in New York-is in the shot. We had to be incredibly organized, like a military operation, in order to pre-rig in such a short time."
While the crew scrambled to set up on the ground, co-producer Peter Winther and visual effects supervisor Volker Engel got a Godzilla's-eye view of the city, shooting it from helicopters mounted with spacecams to mimic the creature's perspective of Manhattan.
Winther also experienced a less glamorous, more terrestrial view of the city as producer of the second unit film crew. This compact unit scoured the city at all hours, filming shots like swooping motion control moves to simulate helicopters zooming through the urban canyons; huge, vaulting pans, from earth to sky and back, representing Godzilla's massive footsteps as he marches through Gotham; and static plate shots, revealing vistas of the city and its world-famous monuments.
The complicated series of effects that conjured up Godzilla was guided by Engel, who won an Academy Award(r) for the stunning effects in Independence Day. While Independence Day featured a variety of digital, mechanical and in-camera effects that were completely separate from the live-action filming and often devoid of principal actors, in Godzilla, the opposite was true.
"In Godzilla, I was involved with the first unit early on and was there pretty much during the whole live-action shoot, especially on location, to make sure we could get the shots in such a way so we could put Godzilla in later," Engel says.
Although the film's eponymous star was never actually on set, Emmerich always directed with him in mind. This meant fashioning actions and reactions, from screaming crowds to crashing cars, as if the giant menace was on set. It also required careful camera positioning so that visual effects could add Godzilla later.
Additionally, Emmerich had to stage sequences so that they could be matched later with models of Godzilla-pulverized buildings or computer images. With his extensive experience in all kinds of effects techniques, in many ways, Godzilla and Emmerich were a perfect match.
"The great thing about working with Roland, at least from a visual effects standpoint, is that he already knows how he will put the effects in when he is shooting his live-action portion of the film, which helps me do my job," says Engel. "At the same time, he's a good communicator and has a very definite idea about the look he wants. You don't end up trying things out five different times because Roland is sure how he wants the shot to look."
The huge scope of his previous films, from StarGate to Independence Day, also prepared Emmerich for this monster adventure, which features many scenes of Godzillian proportions. The first week of shooting alone required between 100 and 200 extras on a daily basis; a convoy of military vehicles, including jeeps and humvees, as well as the requisite armada of tanks, satellite dishes and weapons; assorted giant cranes, including two condor cranes that rose beyond 60 feet into the air; a scissor lift that raised the camera 40 feet high; circling searchlights and powerful mini-musco lights that blazed like beacons in the night sky and carefully synchronized "Huey" helicopters that dove into frame and streaked across the magnificent New York skyline. One shot, achieved at dusk, included all of the aforementioned equipment as well as three cameras strategically positioned about the set.
Almost every sequence filmed in and around New York required several immense lighting rigs, assorted cranes that skimmed the sky, a plethora of cameras positioned at all altitudes and a carefully choreographed màlÇe of cars and extras. A scene at New York's Fulton Fish Market required seven cameras to capture the scene and hundreds of extras. A scene in Wall Street where Godzilla's "approach" incites hysteria and havoc featured 500 fleeing day-players and a phalanx of hydraulically-rigged cars that "jumped" in response to Godzilla's powerful footsteps.
Cinematographer Ueli Steiger frequently used special cranes to get a shot. The Technocrane, a special crane with a telescoping arm and a camera that swiveled 360 degrees, provided an amazing display of New York's Flatiron district. A giant Akela crane, which rose 72 feet into the air, provided Godzilla's point of view of the mayhem resulting from his visit to the world-famous financial district. In addition, at least two 170-foot tall rain cranes perpetually soaked the cast and crew, even when Mother Nature complied by providing her own sprinkles.
"Most of the film is at night and in rain, so that even when the audience sees Godzilla, they don't get a clear view of it," Devlin says. "The look, with the darkness and the rain, is much grittier than anything we've ever done before, and we hope that this will help augment the mystery and danger of Godzilla. Sometimes, what you don't see is almost more terrifying than what you do see."
Devlin promises that when Godzilla does appear, however, "he will be more ferocious and spectacular and surprising than his predecessors. Lethal, fast and agile-a definite monster."
While Godzilla is the film's most conspicuous star, his human co-stars are equally crucial to the success of the film. "I think the biggest mistake that most effects movies make is that they forget about the characters, which is why we try to write characters and cast actors that the audience really cares about," says Devlin. "Otherwise, there is no impact from all the amazing effects around them. Fortunately, with the help of our casting director, April Webster, we've been able to assemble an amazing ensemble of artists."
Both Emmerich and Devlin have been longtime fans of Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno, and Godzilla afforded them the opportunity to finally work with both of these talented actors.
"Ever since Roland and I started working together, we have always wanted to work with Matthew Broderick. It's never worked due to various schedule conflicts. With Godzilla, we were finally in a position where we could make a movie together. It's been a lot of fun... Matthew brought a lot of humor to the part and really got into the spirit of the movie," Devlin says.
They'd admired Jean Reno's work for years, from The Big Blue through La Femme Nikita. As with Broderick, the duo specifically wrote the part for him. "When we started writing the script, we thought, who gets most upset when buildings are destroyed? Well, the insurance companies do. So we thought it would be interesting to have this French insurance investigator trying to find out the cause of all this damage. We immediately thought of Jean Reno."
Although Emmerich and Devlin wrote the parts with Broderick and Reno in mind, they didn't really know if the actors would commit to the movie.
"I liked Dean and Roland very much, had met with them and enjoyed the script," says Broderick. "I like to try different film genres. Although I've done films like War Games and Ladyhawke, which had a lot of effects, or Glory, which was massive but in a different way, I'd never done a movie like Godzilla before."
Although Broderick admits that he probably never saw an entire Godzilla film, "I certainly grew up on them, and I don't think anyone wanted to make a tongue-in-cheek, looking-down-on-them kind of thing. We wanted it to be exciting and scary, but still, you have to have a sense of humor about this enormous lizard knocking over buildings in New York."
A Manhattan resident himself, Broderick particularly enjoyed shooting at home, even if it meant disrupting the city a bit.
"It was great because I live in New York, so it was fun to be at the center of this thing that occasionally paralyzed the city, though not too badly, I don't think. It was amazing, just the size of the movie. It was exciting to watch how they did it... the number of sets, the size of the cast, the amount of New York that was lit for night. It was astonishing and thrilling to be a part of that."
While the scope of the film certainly impressed Jean Reno ("These were the biggest sets I'd ever seen. Even bigger than Mission Impossible"), the film's characters and its director drew him to the project.
"I liked the humanity between the characters and the humor to the story. A lot of it came from Roland. I liked working with him because he is somebody who has a real point of view. To work with someone like that-with a definite perspective but who gives us room to explore-is very nice for an actor... very comfortable."
Hank Azaria was cast in the part of Animal because, says Devlin, "When we met with him, we immediately felt that this was a guy who could create something completely different from what we had in mind and bring a whole lot more to the role than what was on the page. He's just a wonderful actor who comes to the project with an enormous amount of energy and love for Godzilla, because he is a Godzilla fan from way back," Devlin says.
"It's true. For some reason, the Godzilla movies were on every Saturday morning in New York, where I grew up," Azaria says. "When Godzilla vs. King Kong came out, that was a big deal when I was growing up. I remember actively worrying about who would win."
Of all the characters in the film trying to snare Godzilla, Azaria's Animal adopts probably the most reckless approach. Occasionally, Animal's daring led to a few painful moments for the actor playing him.
"My character is a very New York, Italian, sarcastic cameraman. He's one of those guys who will do whatever it takes to get the shot, so he's always running around, trying to photograph Godzilla. Of course, most people are running away from Godzilla, but I'm running toward him. A lot of times, hundreds of extras were running from Godzilla, looking behind them as I was running forward. So, I was constantly smashed by all the extras running forward and looking back. I almost died many times. One of the extras in New York really barreled into me as he was running away. I got banged pretty nicely in the face. That got the biggest laugh that day, and we got it on film."
Azaria discovered that he possessed a skill which helped him follow, photograph and otherwise react to a giant, if invisible, monster. A longtime member of the animated series, "The Simpsons," for which he gives voice to several zany characters, Azaria had ample experience acting with imaginary co-stars.
"For some of the actors, in the beginning, it was a little weird acting to nothing. But it wasn't for me. I wondered why this wasn't a problem for me, but I realized that on 'The Simpsons,' that's all we do. We're always screaming and yelling and being frightened of nothing. It seemed normal to me because I do it all the time on 'The Simpsons.'"
Of course, reacting to a giant reptile stalking the streets of New York made for uniquely absurd moments.
"Most of the time, we just had a lot of production assistants walking around with X's for eyeline purposes and people on megaphones announcing what Godzilla was doing. That got a little silly. 'And he's ANGRY. And he's WALKING.' We started making stuff up, like, 'We're not sure WHAT he's doing, he's HARD to read. Now he's CRYING. Now he's impressed with your NECKTIE,'" Azaria recalls.
Animal's colleague Audrey is played by Maria Pitillo. The filmmakers have a history of casting their female leads at the last possible second, a tradition they began on StarGate and continued on Independence Day. While Pitillo came to the picture in a more timely fashion, it still took a while to find her.
"We had done an exhaustive search to find the right woman to play Audrey. It was very hard because there are a lot of different sides to this character. She's adorable and sweet but she's also ambitious and professional. There must be something about her so that when you meet her, you understand that she's inexperienced in the world of TV journalism, but she ends up surprising you with her capability. Maria came in and just blew us away. She brought a real effervescence to the character, Ö la Goldie Hawn. But when she needs to, she can also become a very tough reporter. Maria had a really fresh comedic take on the part," Devlin comments.
It's no coincidence that the gonzo cameraman Animal and Audrey are friends, Pitillo notes, because they are both ambitious journalists. His particular zeal, however, alarms as much as it inspires her.
"She's striving to get ahead in journalism, to prove herself. In the beginning of the film, reporting is her life and she will do anything to get the story, which, in this case, is Godzilla. Animal is the same way, but his name sort of says it all. She's a little more reserved and nervous about things, and he just goes for it and drags her along, even to places she doesn't want to go," Pitillo remarks.
One of those places is a derailed subway train, another Godzilla-created casualty. One scene called for the intrepid reporters to clamber into the train on their quest for Godzilla. The art/construction departments had rigged the subway station set in Los Angeles and set it into the wall at a steep angle. Gingerly, Pitillo and Azaria stepped into the train and inched down the aisle.
"It was really weird, the angle of the train, the flashing lights inside, I can't explain it, but it felt like immediate vertigo, like being on one of those weird amusement park rides where your brain feels like it's floating in jelly," Pitillo says. A devotee of yoga, Pitillo is accustomed to odd and inverted poses, and she and Azaria gamely attempted to board the subway car a couple more times, but they always emerged nauseated. "That ended up being the scariest thing for me in the entire shoot. At first, I just thought, oh, no problem, I'll just slide down, but my equilibrium, my whole perspective just freaked out. Roland tried to make us feel better, to show us it could be done. So, he got in and then ended up feeling sick as well."
Pitillo notes that this was an example of Emmerich's overall thoughtfulness. She found him to be very helpful in terms of honing her character as the movie progressed.
"I think Roland and I connected early on. We saw Audrey the same way, and he would always encourage me to come up with things as we shot the movie. As I went on with my scenes, he'd give me little notes and ideas and we sort of shaped her together. We found little things that made her funnier."
Pitillo adds that Roland's sanguine disposition also made for a happy shooting experience, no mean feat as the movie filmed for five months in several locations, mostly from sunset to sunrise, in a steady downpour. Coupled with several complicated action sequences that required meticulous preparation, Godzilla did not prove to be an easy shoot. Despite the cold, wet, long hours, very few of the cast and crew complained and attributed the general good cheer to Emmerich and Devlin's joie de vivre.
"Roland and Dean were always having a good time, we could tell. They always kept their sense of humor. I mean, they were tired sometimes, we all got tired, but they kept the fun going," Pitillo says.
Emmerich also conscientiously explained the effects to the cast and mounted the storyboards to cardboard backings that traveled from location to location so the actors could see how the final scene would look. This habit was particularly helpful when the actors had to shoot a scene several times to accommodate their giant unseen nemesis, Godzilla. For example, several scenes were shot on location in Los Angeles and New York, and again on a soundstage on the Sony lot against a green-screen.
"I liked working with Roland very much. I thought he was a wonderful director-one of the best I've ever worked with," Broderick says. "He has a great eye for details and he was always really good about explaining the effects that would come later so we'd understand how the shot would look. It was a great combination-he could do all this massive action and special effects stuff and was also perfectly comfortable with staging a dramatic scene."
Harry Shearer, who plays Charles Caiman, a pompous television reporter with a suspiciously familiar broadcast style, says that Emmerich's enthusiasm was infectious and made for a festive, warm atmosphere, even in the most difficult, freezing shooting conditions.
"We shot in New York in the beginning of May and it was still 36 degrees at night. It was about 2:30 in the morning, and we were making rain. After we finished the shot, they turned the rain machines off and we were standing there in, I swear, this white stuff. It was so cold that the residual rain lingering in the air had turned to snow. Roland was having the time of his life. He was just great, even in the midst of these weather agonies. I just think it's the way he's wired-he just had a great time and sort of swept us along in the flow of it."
Rounding out the cast is Arabella Field, who plays Lucy, Animal's vociferous wife and Audrey's friend and colleague. Casting director April Webster suggested Field and Devlin says that "Arabella just had us on the floor laughing. We actually were considering another actress at the time, but she completely changed our minds."
The other key female role is Dr. Elsie Chapman, who collaborates with Nick Tatopoulos. Chapman, a blunt scientist whose brilliance, in part, compensates for a lack of social grace, is assayed by Vicki Lewis, who is probably best known for her weekly, wacky performances on the NBC series, "NewsRadio."
"Like the other actors, she brought so much to the part that we weren't expecting. She was absolutely wrong for what we were looking for, but she brought such extra life to it that we decided to go in that direction. We found that with her, we weren't so much laughing at the character as with her, and that made it more refreshing."
Dr. Chapman's associate and comic foil is Mendel Craven, a researcher with a chronic sinus condition, better suited to the lab than the wilds of New York. Craven is assayed by Malcolm Danare, a longtime friend of Dean Devlin.
Also in the cast are veteran actor Michael Lerner, who portrays the besieged mayor of New York campaigning for re-election as Godzilla invades Gotham, and Kevin Dunn and Doug Savant, playing Colonel Hicks and Seargant O'Neal, respectively, who head the army that arrives to tackle Godzilla. Dunn routinely entertained the cast and crew with two of his lesser-known talents: he offered up an amazingly accurate rendition of the classic Godzilla scream and a decent facsimile of the out-of-sync, American voice dubbing that accompanied the early Godzilla films. Savant is an old poker playing buddy of Devlin's and a longtime acquaintance of Emmerich's.
Of course, the biggest casting coup was Godzilla, who, much to the chagrin of onlookers and New York City media, usually appeared in the form of three skinny guys from California carrying a pole with a reflector on its end, a video camera and a surveying tool poised on a tripod. This odd assortment of equipment helped "match move specialist" Joe Jackman, under Volker Engel's guidance, plot Godzilla's presence.
"In order to put Godzilla in the movie, we had to know where the camera was in every frame," says Jackman. "To do that, we figured out where everything was by actually taking 3D measurements of everything and then comparing that to the 2D information in the frame. We could mathematically figure out where the camera was, based on reconciling between the 3D and 2D information."
The buildings, coupled with Godzilla's enormous size, obviated the more typical mode of tracking a digital creature in space, Z-tracking. This process usually involves the use of a sphere and a cube, objects the computer recognizes, to determine spatial orientation. Clearly, this was much too puny a method to measure something like Godzilla.
"What we did was to utilize a tracking system, using a Zeiss surveying tool, so we could create a CG (computer graphic) environment in which we have all these points where the buildings actually are and can put the creature into this CG world," Engel explains. "The Zeiss tool is essentially an architectural measuring device; you know exactly where the buildings are, what their altitude is, where you exactly have to place Godzilla so he can move down the street. That helped us a lot, because we were dealing with this gigantic creature, so we couldn't use the standard Z-tracking. Nobody has really ever dealt with a creature this size in a CG environment before," Engel explains.
Jackman adds that they used the pole with the reflector to compensate for the buildings' odd angles. "Sometimes, if the side of a building was really oblique, we'd take the pole to it because, otherwise, it would bounce away from us. With the reflector, we got a bounce back from the building."
The Hi-8 camera gave some shape to the data collected with the pole and the Zeiss tracking tool, and the information went from New York to the visual effects unit in Los Angeles via the web. The data got uploaded to a protected website where visual effects personnel had access to it.
Positioning Godzilla in a shot, already a complicated process, became even trickier because Emmerich typically filmed with multiple cameras and favored a moving frame. To accomplish this, and to expose as broad a vista as possible for the movie's enormous star, cinematographer Ueli Steiger shot in the widescreen Super 35.
"The reason to shoot with Super 35 is that it is easier to get the equipment, and the lenses are lighter. On a film like this, when we had so many cameras rolling on many different locations, that was something to consider," he says. "The other important thing is that Godzilla is a film in which much of the frame will be digitized, whether that be the creature or different elements. Since we only used half of the negative area as we shot it we could actually reposition the frame quite easily and adjust it to the creature. So even the shots with actors in them could be treated like plate shots; we could do moves in the frame, we could tilt up and down to accommodate for the size of the creature."
One of the film's most ambitious shots took place in Central Park. Essentially, the production took over the entire park one stormy night, to film a scene in which Sergeant O'Neal and his troops stalk Godzilla, baiting him with a giant fish pile and firing on him as he approaches. Although the city accommodated the production and allowed a battalion of movie personnel-not to mention tanks and other military vehicles, as well as the requisite weaponry-to roll into the park, it balked at a huge mountain of fish. Godzilla and his cuisine, it turned out, would be added into the shot in post-production.
"We were pretty pumped for that shot," first assistant director Kim Winther recalls. "It was similar to a rooftop shot we had done on Independence Day, where we had four or five cameras shooting simultaneously from different angles and different vignettes happening at various camera positions. Actually, it was about six or seven hours of preparing for about 30 minutes of filming, but after you've completed a shot like that, the buzz you get at the end of the day is great."
Of course, Godzilla arrives in the shot, but only later via the computer. On location, as usual, everyone had to imagine his colossal presence. Only in this case, the troops also had to fire at him. Gunfire was a tricky issue in Manhattan; initially, the production tested a fusillade in the Flatiron district, which proved to be quite deafening. By the time the production moved to Central Park, the effects department had muffled the guns considerably. Still, the troops had to shoot at something.
"One of the landmarks we had to shoot at was the Plaza Hotel, which was right about where Godzilla was supposed to be," Savant recalls. "It was five in the morning, the sun was coming up, the morning commute was beginning and we were fighting Godzilla. We had these beams of light plastered on the Plaza Hotel and guys were shooting off hundreds of rounds while the AD, trying to give us motivation, shouted over the bullhorn, 'We hate the Plaza!' That was the highlight of shooting in Central Park for me."
Another New York landmark graced the production, in the form of an eccentric personality called Radio Man. An expert on all the productions filming in New York, Radio Man adopted Godzilla and appeared at all the movie's New York locations. Robin Williams reputedly based his character in The Fisher King on the garrulous, bicycle-bound Radio Man, and Emmerich developed a fondness for the iconoclastic fellow, who occasionally cornered the director between scenes. Occasionally, Radio Man knew the company's next location even before the crew did, and everyone considered him an entertaining good-luck charm.
The company traveled to Los Angeles after a month in New York and also spent a week filming in Hawaii. In Los Angeles, the production divided its time between downtown locations, Long Beach, the Sony lot and a stint at Falls Lake, at Universal Studios.
One of the most impressive shots took place in downtown Los Angeles at Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue, which served as the Brooklyn Bridge. A carefully orchestrated traffic snarl of epic proportions featuring 450 assorted cars, trucks and buses jammed the incline leading up to the bridge, all behind a barricade of military vehicles that cleared an area at the top of the bridge. There, the "hero" vehicle was to speed up a slight ramp and careen into the pavement, fishtailing to a stop in front of the military. The first take really tested the stunt driver's reflexes; as the car hit the pavement, the electricity died, causing the lights to shut off and the power steering to freeze. The car skidded and screeched to a halt-in this case, a little more authentically than originally intended.
Although this scene and many others took place in the city at night in the rain, the set featured many surprisingly colorful accents. These hues came mostly from the lighting, whether that was the glow of traffic lights and streetlights or the luminance of movie lights and gels.
"Roland, [gaffer] Jim Grce and I talked a lot about how a city looks at night and how to light that. We noticed that even though it is dark and the city is asleep, it isn't colorless. We decided to go with a really warm look for the streets, as if they were lit from the architecture of the city... from street lights and interior buildings," cinematographer Ueli Steiger says. "We also always had to backlight the rain. We lit that separately, in a half-blue, to give a mixture of color to the sets. That color scheme went through the whole film, this mixture of warm and cold light."
Some of the lights, like many of the shots, were kinetic, and the occasional xenon light and electrician became a practical part of the scene.
"One of the key things we used were xenons, hard beams of light that look like searchlights. A few times, we put searchlights in our humvees, which were the key military vehicles chasing Godzilla during a big scene in the Flatiron section. We actually put a couple of our electricians in costume, stuck them in humvees and got battery packs for the xenons. We'd always find a reason to use them or some type of light that moved through frame. Most of the film was lit by a moving light. We'd have electricians shaking or whirling lights. We also used a lot of interactive lighting, like fire lights that pulsed to simulate explosions. We also used a lot of lightning flashes in the rain, so that it could be very dark and the lightning would give a hint as to where we were."
Because Godzilla's size predicated that a vast area of the city would be seen in most shots, Grce and his team not only had to light the immediate set but several blocks beyond it. For a shot that took place in downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square, Grce's team used a variety of lights, from dinos (occasionally controlled by a computerized dimmer board) to xenons to mini-muscos. To ready this array for shooting required a round-the-clock crew.
The second unit film team, overseen by co-producer Peter Winther, worked on a parallel schedule. When the first unit team shot on downtown locations, the second unit was invariably nearby, filming the scenes that would augment the main photography.
"We have large scale chaos scenes where people are running away from Godzilla. Because of the time frame of short nights in New York and the time when we could actually get on the streets and set up the equipment, Roland was only really able to get the action with the principals. He wasn't able to establish a lot of the environment surrounding that action," Winther notes. It was the second unit, therefore, that shot the necessary reactions that Emmerich wasn't able to, providing context in the story.
Winther's second unit also shot on stages at Sony, using the footage he and Engel filmed from the perch of their New York helicopter in a time-honored technique known as rear-screen projection.
"We used a lot of rear-screen projection instead of green-screen on Godzilla. Rear projection is where you take a background plate you've shot beforehand-like, for example, the plate we shot of New York city from the helicopter. You take that film and project it from behind the screen but it's reversed, so when you put it on the screen it runs forward. We put an Apache cockpit in the foreground, and you can see the city going by in the rear projection. The advantage is that it is all an in-camera shot. You can shoot smoke going by, you can shake the camera, whatever you want. It saves money because with green-screen, it becomes a composite (where the background is added in later by computer) and smoke has to be rotoscoped in every time. It's an old technique, but, if it ain't broke..."
Of course, the Apache pilots chased Godzilla, and whenever their gargantuan target appeared in the shot, green-screen had to be employed.
"If Godzilla is in the frame, then we had to go to green-screen," Winther explains. "We would shoot the entire sequence rear projection and then set up a green-screen and project green through the rear projection device. That way, we didn't have to do a whole new set up, and it was all evenly lit and worked just for those moments that Godzilla is in frame. That way, we had to composite only those specific moments when we see Godzilla in shot."
The first unit film team eventually moved back to stages at Sony as well. The company rotated between four stages, each housing various interiors and a few exteriors. Stage 15, reputedly the largest soundstage in Hollywood, harbored eight different sets simultaneously at one point during the production. One of the most challenging sets was the remains of the 23rd Street subway station, a tattered platform that had crumbled into the sewers below due to Godzilla's unique march through Manhattan. Production designer Oliver Scholl built the subway platform and sewer tunnel on stage 29 at Sony, a space with 80-foot tall ceilings. Scholl's team took advantage of the stage's height.
"We tried to create scale with that set, to build something that really transferred Godzilla's scale into reality. So we built the platform 38 feet off the ground, and the tunnel itself 50-feet high. It was about dwarfing people, because Godzilla created this vast trench, so if the subway station set dwarfs the actors, who are standing on top of the platform looking down at this giant hole, it translates into Godzilla's size."
Scholl also had to create smaller settings, from the utilitarian military command center, all corrugated metal and army green, to the cozy interior of Lucy and Animal's apartment. In contrast to the darkness and danger outside, Scholl wanted this to be a welcoming, warm haven. "The idea was that the interior apartment would be homey, juxtaposed against the outside, where the monster is, which becomes cold and eerie," Scholl explains.
Scholl worked closely with Emmerich and costume designer Joseph Porro to determine the movie's color palette and overall tone.
"Color scheme is a funny thing. Sometimes you have a predetermined color in mind. Sometimes you just select colors, based on a general mood. After going through some color combinations and talking with Roland and Joseph, things filtered into place. We found that we had a 1970s touch, from the costumes to the colors to some of the furniture styles," Scholl says.
The concept of using styles from the 70s, Porro adds, was "to give the costumes a hipness. Roland wanted the clothes to be nondescript but to have an edge. I guess you could say that my inspiration was old pattern books from the 1960s and 1970s for the women. For the guys, we worked with Diesel and Hugo Boss, so they had some great stuff."
Much of the movie's color, when not emanating from the lighting, comes from Porro's costumes. "I generally used oranges that go into browns, burgundy that becomes deeper red and a lot of green. Green is usually a color I avoid, but we used it purposely, to add a grittier feel." Occasionally, Porro utilized a bright pop of color, to stand out against the darkness and perpetual rain.
"In my initial conversations with Roland, I commented that once you put rain on clothing, it gets very, very dark, unless you've got neons or really bright waterproof fabrics. So, sometimes, I'd add vivid splashes of color, to make the principal actors stand out from the others. In one scene, we custom-made an umbrella for Maria so she would stand out of the crowd, so that the audience follows her in the scene as she makes her way through a sea of people."
Porro's costumes were also helpful in identifying different parts of the world since Godzilla travels from distant lands before he arrives in New York. Specifically, the production lensed for a week in Hawaii, which doubled for Panama, Tahiti and Jamaica. The extras' garb reflected the various locales. "When you're doing different countries, particularly if you are shooting in one location, not only do you have to convince the audience that you're in that country, but you have to take it a little bit further. Not everyone will have been to Tahiti, for example, but sometimes in an instant, you have to immediately tell the audience where you are in the film."
All these countries actually were separate locations on the north shore of Oahu. The entire week Godzilla shot on the island, there were no trade winds and the temperature was abnormally hot. Shooting began promptly at 6:30 a.m. to maximize as many shooting hours as possible since the sun set by 7 p.m. The first location was in a verdant valley at Kualoa Ranch, where, prior to filming, the entire company was blessed in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony. Although the filmmakers happened upon the ranch by accident on a location scout, the glen and surrounding hills are familiar film spots, as became evident as the cast and crew arrived. At the entrance sits a giant "Jurassic Park" sign. Godzilla added its own mark to the ranch, quite literally. An advance team labored for a month to stamp the monster's huge footprint into the soft grass.
As the first and second units shot the film, the visual effects teams labored to create Godzilla and the explosive results of his visit to New York. In the tradition of Independence Day, several Manhattan landmarks met fiery ends under the supervision of pyrotechnics expert Joseph Viskocil, although the buildings in Godzilla, he notes, imploded more than exploded. Viskocil's pyrotechnics previously caused the demise of the White House in Independence Day and, in one of his first blasts, led to the end of the fabled Death Star in Star Wars. In some ways, however, the eruptions in Godzilla were more challenging than the ones in Independence Day, as visual effects producer Terry Clotiaux notes:
"In Godzilla, we had much more traditional, military, explosive-type pyro, so we were much more concerned about what we actually saw in terms of the building and debris. We had to put a lot more depth of detail into the models. With each model structure, when the explosion happened, you saw much more of it and what was inside; the whole thing was much more realistic."
Because the scenes are predominantly shrouded in rain and wreckage kicked up in Godzilla's wake, Clotiaux's visual effects department had to match those elements established on the first unit shoot and add them to the computer-generated world. This was a complicated proposition.
"The complexity of shots in visual effects is often based on the number of elements involved in the composite or in the visual effects shot. What we had in this project was a lot of performances dependent on visual effects work. We had the creature and various elements, and they all interacted within the photography. So timing was crucial if the illusion was to be achieved," Clotiaux explains. "In Godzilla, we dealt with a lot more stuff that was in-camera and very critical-the creature, smoke, rain, debris. All those elements were not separate pieces that could be composited together later. They had to interact together just right, at exactly the same moment."
Clotiaux notes that many times, the visual effects shot was completed "without the benefit of our star." In fact, Godzilla was almost the last thing to be added to many sequences because he was the result of several different disciplines. As in Independence Day, the film team employed animatronic models in varying sizes, from a 6th-scale model to a 24th-scale. These mechanized representations, their facial and body movements powered by remote control, were 1/6 and 1/24 the size of the actual creature. The 6th-scale and 24th-scale Godzillas corresponded with proportionally scaled miniature buildings. In fact, it was this miniature cityscape and the choppers that dictated the various scales of the animatronic Godzilla.
"For interaction with the models, we built a 6th-scale head, torso and arms, for close-ups of the creature," Patrick Tatopoulos explains.
The 24th-scale incarnation of the creature was not the lumbering monster of the past, but an agile predator brought to life by trained puppeteers, many of whom had backgrounds in dance or performing and were veterans of such sci-fi films as Alien Resurrection and Mimic. Both the 24th-scale and 6th-scale creatures were used primarily for Godzilla's disastrous physical encounters with the urban landscape.
Even so, Bill Fay notes, the effects team married much more computer work to the classic model effects than expected; indeed, the film ended up featuring almost 400 digital shots.
"Even in those cases that would seem to be a natural for animatronics, we sometimes used CG. There was one scene where Godzilla's chin scoops down and smashes into a roadway. We did part of it in CG because the motion of that swooping down was something we couldn't really get with animatronics. We even added digital rain to the practical rain. We discovered that a combination of the two really works best and gives it a consistent look."
Volker Engel adds that Godzilla features much more computer animation because of the creature's new abilities.
"This Godzilla is a very animal-like, fast-moving, fierce creature. With key frame animation, you're 100% free; we can have the creature really move. To give it that really strange creature-feel in terms of motion, you really have to use key frame. We discovered that in the CG realm, for example, we can go a lot closer to the creature than we'd anticipated and it looks really good... really detailed."
Tatopoulos worked closely with the computer wizards at Centropolis Effects early in the process to exactly establish the creature's movements and to synchronize them with those of the animatronic models.
"At that point, there was nothing in the computer yet, just a scan of the creature based on the maquette," Tatopoulos says. "I thought it was important to work both with the mechanical effects department, which was making the animatronic models, as well as with the CG designers to maintain some consistency [in terms of] the textures, the colors and movement. I wanted to make sure the character was rendered in the computer to exactly match our original concept and was moving properly, in the same pattern as Roland and I had discussed."
The creature's swiftness, coupled with Emmerich and Steiger's stylized, constantly moving frame, proved to be an additional visual effects challenge for Engel. Until recently, it was very difficult to put a moving, digital creature into a moving frame. "We made extraordinary leaps in developing new tracking software for this movie that enabled us to use a totally free camera," Devlin says. "In the past, most effects movies had to use the computer-driven motion control rig to accomplish such shots. This software enabled Roland to shoot in a more realistic, near documentary-style way using everything from a handheld camera to a Steadicam."
"In science-fiction films from 10 to 20 years ago, almost every effect shot was done with a locked-off camera," Engel explains. "It's easy to put a creature in a locked-off frame, but to make the creature move together with the frame is the hard part. Fortunately, we have good tracking software available, so that makes it much easier. But we couldn't have done it a couple years ago," Engel says.
This was a critical consideration, Engel adds, because it allowed Godzilla to move and behave like an animal. It enabled Engel, Tatopoulos and the digital effects team to create a credible computerized character.
"Everything was about the creature," Engel observes. "We dealt with a living, breathing creature, and even the destruction had to look like it was done by a real, live thing. So if we failed to establish him as a living animal, then the whole movie wouldn't work. That was the single biggest challenge."
"When you try to capture a creature or hunt it down, if it is
small, then it is easy. But this is a big animal; every footstep is
140 feet and he runs about 500 mph. It's not so easy to catch
something that runs that fast in New York City. You have to figure
out what kind of equipment and weaponry you need to catch the thing
without blowing up the whole city," says Emmerich. "That's the kind
of problem New York has, because every animal is smart and so is
Godzilla. It learns from its mistakes. I see it as a kind of fight
between nature and technology,"
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