The special effects team behind “Godzilla Minus One‘s” jaw-dropping final battle wanted the spectacle to be a “religious” experience. The climax of that vitally important sequence in the Oscar-nominated monster movie involves the total destruction of the titular titan.
“That moment was probably the one we discussed the most and had a hard time landing it,” explained director, writer, and visual effects supervisor Takashi Yamazaki. The 35-strong team of artists considered 100 different ways of getting the desired result, an exercise he considered the most challenging to achieve.
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“We wanted to make it a sacred, almost religious moment, where you see the light rays and imagine what this moment would be like. There was this photo-realism happening but also this ceremony, and we needed them to integrate those feelings,” the filmmaker recalled, recounting the sequence where Godzilla crumbles into the ocean.
The result is one of the reasons “Godzilla Minus One” earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. While many VFX-driven films boast of using thousands of VFX shots, the $15 million kaiju film, the first Godzilla movie to ever receive an Oscar nomination, used only 610 VFX shots. The lion’s share were in the ten-plus-minute finale showdown.
Another creative pinch point for the team who had eight months to deliver their work was during the finale.
In the scene, Godzilla’s head explodes after the film’s hero, Shikishima, flies a plane into the beast’s mouth. Pulling that off was a battle to the finish in its own right.
“We didn’t have the bandwidth or the luxury of time and resources, but we were heading towards the point where we knew that we had to blow up his head,” said 3D CG director and CG team lead Masaki Takahashi. He added they had a clear vision but “not a lot of time to try things out.”
“After we simulated it, we had maybe two trials, and out of those, one worked and ended up in the film,” he confirmed.
Of the 600 VFX shots, over 100 were water effects, something that is “almost unheard of” in Japan, according to visual effects director Kiyoko Shibuya. “It’s not like we were intentionally trying to reach a big number, but people were saying, ‘We don’t know what you guys are thinking or doing. You must be out of your mind to make that many,'” she laughed.
A breakthrough moment for the team came when they were doing tests for the moment Godzilla erupted in a violent rage while in the water, and it looked credible.
“We were going through all the movements to see how it would look and feel, and we were like, ‘Oh, it actually works. Godzilla and water together is doable.’ That allowed all the other parts to fall into place,” said effects artist and compositor Tatsuji Nojima enthused.
There was one moment in the finale when creativity and necessity trumped authenticity: using pressurized gas to submerge Godzilla at speed.
“In the end, with that scene in particular, it was all about the visuals,” Takahashi relented. “In reality, if we did the math and the science, Godzilla would not stink with the amount of bubbles that are in the film so that is not a calculated visual; it was more about making it work.”
However, when asked what element of the chaos the team was most proud of, the clear winner was a few seconds of breathtaking majesty as the gigantic antagonist rose from the depths.
“When Godzilla emerges from the water, he’s in his stance position and the camera circles. For me, there is a great amount of tension built around that,” Yamazaki remembered. “I heard voices from the sidelines saying that the speed and the movement might be a little too fast, but the camerawork and everything else in that shot are brilliant.”
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