Scanline VFX Supervisor Bryan Hirota discusses Godzilla vs Kong’s massive CGI, Easter eggs, Mechagodzilla, and more with Screen Rant.
Godzilla vs Kong marked the first time the titular monsters had faced off on the big screen in almost 60 years. As the fourth installment in Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs Kong had a lot going for it, not just being the crossover film of the franchise. And, of course, the movie required its fair share of visual effects to bring the story to life.
That’s where VFX house Scanline comes in, a studio that worked on several sequences in Godzilla vs Kong, including the design of the older Kong and Mechagodzilla. Screen Rant spoke to VFX Supervisor Bryan Hirota about the film, and here’s what he had to say about the CGI, the Easter eggs, and more.
Godzilla vs. Kong is something that hasn’t happened in 50 or 60 years on screen. And when they did fight before, it was men in suits and not a big CGI fight. What went into designing that, and how do you honor the past while modernizing it for today’s viewers?
Bryan Hirota: I grew up in Southern California, and King Kong vs. Godzilla was something that was on TV when I was a kid. For probably a majority of kids who grew up around my time, those Japanese monster movies were awesome. So, it was really fun and exciting to be able to get a chance to work on an updated version of this. Because as you said, that film was made in the 60s and there hasn’t been another version of that since then.
Specifically in terms of honoring the past, Adam Wingard is a big fan of those old films. He put in a lot of nods from old Godzilla films and King Kong vs. Godzilla, specifically. Shoving the axe [down Godzilla’s throat] as a nod to the tree thing, that was something important to Adam, although we didn’t work on that sequence. Transporting Kong via that big old net was a nod to the balloon thing, and also really important to Adam.
Adam has seen, I think, all of the old Godzilla movies. He would often reference something from these, at least to me, obscure Godzilla stories. He was clearly a fan of the work that had come before.
Building off that, is there any nod that Scanline added in that you think hasn’t been caught yet?
Bryan Hirota: I don’t know if I can think of specific Easter eggs that haven’t been caught. Knocked out, sleeping Kong on the transport ship is also a nod to King Kong vs. Godzilla, but I think people have spotted them all. Adam also has these nods to 80s action stars, like how Kong jumping off the carrier when Godzilla blows it up is a nod to Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and Kong putting his shoulder back into place is a nod to Martin Riggs’ dislocated shoulder bit from Lethal Weapon 2.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any hidden Easter eggs that that haven’t been caught. Most of the Easter eggs and nods are pretty overt, but I haven’t seen a lot of mention of the nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey in there. When they first go into Hollow Earth and cross the gravity barrier, that’s a very 2001-looking thing. And prior to Mecha bursting out of the arena, there’s a very 2001 shot with the sun rising over the Apex headquarters with the moon above it. That’s very reminiscent of the monolith shot from 2001.
If you’re familiar with 2001, there’s a shot of the sun peeking over the top of the black monolith. And then the moon above it; the underside of the moon illuminating it. Adam wanted that referenced for that shot over the Apex pyramid.
Again, they’re not like super subtle references. If you’re a big fan of 2001, when you think about it, that’s very obvious. I can’t think of ones that I haven’t seen really mentioned, but maybe those are a bit more hidden. 2001 is an older film; this Kubrick film and maybe there’s less overlap with the audience for Godzilla vs. Kong.
Speaking of Mechagodzilla, it’s an iconic character and there have been various versions of his origins and arsenal. The one thing that really stood out to me was the tail drill, which seemed like a combination of a previous version’s hand drill and a weaponized tail. What went into designing this particular iteration of Mechagodzilla?
Bryan Hirota: Adam worked out the overall design with the production designer and the artist. When we first got exposed to Mechagodzilla, there was a couple of renderings and paintovers of it that Adam had approved, as well as Legendary and Toho – everybody who needed to approve had approved it. I think the artist that actually designed him has been posting his designs on Twitter.
We got a model and some artwork in an action pose, and that was the starting point for us. We needed to take the model that was given to us and make it functional; make all the joints actually work. If he bends his elbow or bends his knee, he has full range of motion without crashing into each other. We developed a system to move, because he’s covered in these big panels, so that the panels would slide out of the way.
A lot of this stuff isn’t that visible in the film, but if you were to close-up on any of these joints, there are mechanical armatures that move pieces out of the way so that he can close his elbow joints or close the knees. We redesigned the feet to keep within the approved design, but also to add functionality to these points that needed to move. There were some weapons visible on him already, like the rocket packs that were over the shoulders. But as we developed the action sequence with Mecha ultimately fighting both Godzilla and Kong, we were just looking for additional weapons to bring into the fight, because historically Mechagodzilla is armed to the teeth.
So, we added the shoulder rockets that popped up to shoot Godzilla away; we added the rocket thrusters in his back to give him increased mobility and to keep pressing the action on Godzilla. Then we also added the drill when we were going through and talking with DJ and Adam about different ideas to keep Mecha on the attack throughout the whole thing. Adam’s like, “Well, I feel like we could use his tail as a weapon somehow.” And I think it was Adam who suggested turning it and using it like a drill.
To answer your question, these ideas were all inspired by Mechagodzilla’s history, but they specifically came out of the iterative process of refining the final action sequence to keep Mecha in action and on the attack. The idea was that he should be an extremely formidable foe, and on their own, Mechagodzilla would likely defeat either one of them.
While the title of the film is Godzilla vs. Kong, it feels like Kong is really the central emotional figure. He’s had emotional connections with characters before, but he actually communicates in this film, and you can see that emotion on his face and in his actions. What was the development like in order to make as authentic as possible?
Bryan Hirota: Like you said, Kong is the sympathetic character that you follow through the film. Godzilla is presented as a force of nature; he just is, the same as a hurricane or an earthquake. He’s an act of God, while Kong is so human-like. Gorillas already are quite human, and the Skull Island Kong has a lot more human features and characteristics than your average primate does already.
In using them this way in this film. Kong really needed to have the ability to convey emotion, and what that meant on our end was making sure we had a highly developed facial rig that allowed our animation team to have the kind of face acting that was required for the scenes that we had to do. When he was chained up on the ship and Jia went to go visit him at night, and they first revealed that he could sign, you needed to read that he was angry and sad at his predicament. You had to sell that he had a connection with this little girl.
Additionally, we dev’d out a very lifelike and high quality eye model for Kong. That’s the thing that you look at to tell what somebody is thinking; the eyes do a lot of heavy lifting for any kind of creature.
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