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May 08
2024

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

ADDING AN EXTRA LAYER OF CREATIVE TO GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE

By OLIVER WEBB

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Entertainment. GODZILLA TM & © Toho Co., Ltd.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, the fifth entry in the MonsterVerse franchise and the sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, follows Godzilla and King Kong as they face a new threat hidden deep within the planet and must come together to help the survival of the human race.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire was directed by Adam Wingard, who also directed the most recent movie in the franchise, Godzilla vs. Kong, and developed a distinctive visual style.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire was directed by Adam Wingard, who also directed the most recent movie in the franchise, Godzilla vs. Kong, and developed a distinctive visual style.

Paul Franklin, who served as Visual effects Supervisor on the film, is the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at DNEG and one of the founders of the company.  “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire was already in post by the time [DNEG Visual Effects Supervisor] Aleks Pejic and I joined the show,” Franklin explains. “The work that we were awarded was very diverse and complex. It became pretty clear that we needed a bit of extra firepower in the team. The movie was shot during the summer of 2022, and a lot of the design had already been completed. We were brought on to really add an extra layer of creative, specifically for some of the bigger environments, in particular the Hollow Earth sequences, which from a design point of view are quite challenging. While the production had done a lot of concept work themselves and had a lot of creative exploration of that space, I think they developed their thinking as the movie moved through post.”

“There is also a heightened aspect to everything, particularly when we go into the mysterious world of Hollow Earth. The clarity of photorealism with the stylings is what I would describe as neon pop art. There is very much an electric quality to all of the imagery that Adam brings in there, but also in terms of the way the storytelling works.”

—Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Godzilla and Kong were already created by another vendor and DNEG picked up the assets.

Godzilla and Kong were already created by another vendor and DNEG picked up the assets.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire was directed by Adam Wingard who also directed Godzilla vs. Kong. “I think Adam had developed a very distinctive visual style with that film,” Franklin says. “There is also a heightened aspect to everything, particularly when we go into the mysterious world of Hollow Earth. The clarity of photorealism with the stylings is what I would describe as neon pop art. There is very much an electric quality to all of the imagery that Adam brings in there, but also in terms of the way the storytelling works. A lot of the storytelling in these films is through the creatures themselves. They are not just giant raging monsters smashing everything up; they have a personality and a distinct character. Kong is very distinct, and Godzilla has different aspects to his character. He’s not just a belligerent, raging monster all the time. There are moments of pathos and introspection, which I know sounds a bit strange when you are talking about a 400-foot-tall radioactive dinosaur, but that’s very definitely there and was something we could see from looking at the previous film. I think Adam was quite keen to explore that. We were keen to bring as much as that as possible to the performance of the creatures in our sequences.”

Much of the workload for DNEG consisted of creature work.

Much of the workload for DNEG consisted of creature work.

In terms of references, Franklin and his team focused on real footage of demolitions, collapsing buildings and earthquakes, and looked at the way buildings had been destroyed and cities in past films. “Obviously, we were doing a lot of real-world environments as well as fantasy environments,” Franklin notes. “We had a big sequence set in Rome, which opens the movie, when Godzilla is facing a monster called Charybdis, which is a giant spider-lobster creature. We also spent a lot of time looking at the way places like Rome are actually photographed and how you show off the architecture in its best light. There is a lot of plate photography in that sequence, live-action photography from the location, but quite a bit of it is created in the computer. You are wanting to capture the character of what you see in the live action but do it in a creative and stylistic fashion. So that was pretty important.”

DNEG Visual Effects Supervisors Paul Franklin and Aleks Pejic spent a lot of time looking at natural crystals and the stylizations that people bring to the depiction of crystals in big visual effects movies.

DNEG Visual Effects Supervisors Paul Franklin and Aleks Pejic spent a lot of time looking at natural crystals and the stylizations that people bring to the depiction of crystals in big visual effects movies.

“A lot of the storytelling in these films is through the creatures themselves. They are not just giant raging monsters smashing everything up; they have a personality and a distinct character. Kong is very distinct and Godzilla has different aspects to his character. He’s not just a belligerent, raging monster all the time. There are moments of pathos and introspection, which I know sounds a bit strange when you are talking about a 400-foot-tall radioactive dinosaur, but that’s very definitely there and was something we could see from looking at the previous film.”

—Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

The workload was split across three locations. Pejic notes, “It started with the team in Montreal and Mumbai and then London as well. We also had artists in Vancouver and Toronto, but it was all led by the Montreal office. Paul and I are both based in London. We had key people in each location, and they all took on board the briefs and notes from the client. With the time difference, where we wouldn’t be able to accommodate Zoom calls and review sessions, they would just step in and help the team.”

Kong is very distinct, and Godzilla has different aspects to his character. They aren't just giant raging monsters; they have a personality and a distinct character.

Kong is very distinct, and Godzilla has different aspects to his character. They aren’t just giant raging monsters; they have a personality and a distinct character.

When it came to creating the fantasy environments, the biggest and most challenging one was the Iwi realm. “That’s where we meet the Iwi people, in the village at the base of the trio of glowing pyramids,” Franklin explains. “That was something that had been extensively explored by the concept work that the production had done, but I think they felt they wanted to take it to a new place. So we spent a lot of time looking at natural crystals and the stylizations that people bring to the depiction of crystals in big visual effects movies. We tried to capture something that was somewhere between a natural-looking rock crystal and something that embodied this sense of mystical power and energy that the Iwi people were able to control. Then, of course, there are a couple of subsidiary environments there. We go inside what’s called the engineering room, which is a large cave carved with hieroglyphs and filled with a lake of liquid mercury, which rises into these giant crystals columns. Later, we go inside the pyramid itself and into what’s called the ceremonial chamber, which is a large space and void within the pyramid where you meet another even bigger crystal that controls mystical energies. Figuring all that out was quite a challenge because there are no real-world references that you can draw from and no single reference. You are thinking about ideas of architecture and how crystals look, and you are trying to tell this story of this magical world they’re in. Then you have all the challenges of integrating it with the live-action as well.”

A lot of the storytelling in these films is told through the creatures themselves. Neither speaks, so it’s all done with the eyes, particularly with Kong.

A lot of the storytelling in these films is told through the creatures themselves. Neither speaks, so it’s all done with the eyes, particularly with Kong.

When it came to creating the fantasy environments, the biggest and most challenging one was the Iwi realm.

When it came to creating the fantasy environments, the biggest and most challenging one was the Iwi realm.

There are two flavors of Godzilla: Godzilla and Godzilla evolved, which is the version with pink spines as opposed to blue spines.

There are two flavors of Godzilla: Godzilla and Godzilla evolved, which is the version with pink spines as opposed to blue spines.

“There was also a short sequence called ‘the veil’ that was just as challenging, which is this sort of reflective organic energy barrier that protects the Iwi realm from the rest of Hollow Earth and hides it,” Franklin continues. “This was described as being a reflective barrier that was somehow organic, as if it had grown there and had this energetic reaction to anybody that interacts with it. That went through many iterations. It took lots of work from our internal art department to come up with all sorts of different ideas and concepts, and a lot of hard work from the visual effects team, especially the team in Montreal who did the work where we see the veil reacting to Trapper (Dan Stevens) when he’s pressing against it. Eventually, when they pull the veil apart, the look of the tearing fibers were very complex cloth simulations, and there were all sorts of things going into it to create that moment.”

Director Adam Wingard wanted to change up the way the giant spider-lobster creature Charybdis looked and make it more exotic-looking, so the DNEG team gave it a more vivid color scheme. The big sequence, which opens the movie, was set in Rome.

Director Adam Wingard wanted to change up the way the giant spider-lobster creature Charybdis looked and make it more exotic-looking, so the DNEG team gave it a more vivid color scheme. The big sequence, which opens the movie, was set in Rome.

Much of the workload for DNEG consisted of creature work. “Godzilla and Kong were already created by another vendor,” Pejic details. “We picked up the assets. They delivered the data, but our renderer calculated the data slightly differently. On one hand you get everything delivered, but on the other hand, it’s the bare bones that you need to put together and references provided that we needed to match. So there is still a lot of work involved in order to make it like-for-like because of the different software involved. That took a while for both Godzilla and Kong, when it comes to using the different tools that bring a completely different level of expertise in order to match it like-for-like.”

“There’s a lot of character moments in this,  and it’s not just about creature action. It’s about personality and the soul of the character. Of course, neither of these characters speak. They might roar and bellow, but they don’t speak, so it’s all done with the eyes, particularly with Kong. We really had to pay attention to the subtle differences in eye shapes and the way the light was hitting the eyes and reflecting inside the irises that really capture that sense of who Kong is. That took a little while to get right, but once we figured that out it started coming out really well.”

—Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Although Kong is a gorilla, he’s not a regular gorilla. His skin is a lot lighter and a lot less shiny.

Although Kong is a gorilla, he’s not a regular gorilla. His skin is a lot lighter and a lot less shiny.

Alessandro Ongaro was the Overall Visual Effects Supervisor on the film. “He is also a former colleague of ours,” Franklin adds. “He started his earlier career at DNEG, so we know him very well. He’s got incredible attention to detail, and he was scrutinizing our version of Kong right down to the individual placements of hair. We had to match that perfectly because you want these sequences to cut back and forth with material that has been produced by the folks over at Wētā Workshop and Scanline, who were the principal vendors on the show. Our work has to slot right in there.”

Alessandro Ongaro was the Overall Visual Effects Supervisor on the film and also a former colleague of Franklin and Pejic.

Alessandro Ongaro was the Overall Visual Effects Supervisor on the film and also a former colleague of Franklin and Pejic.

The workload was split across three DNEG locations: Montreal, Mumbai and London. DNEG provided over 300 visual effects shots for the film.

The workload was split across three DNEG locations: Montreal, Mumbai and London. DNEG provided over 300 visual effects shots for the film.

“[In the Iwi realm] we go inside what’s called the engineering room, which is a large cave carved with hieroglyphs and filled with a lake of liquid mercury, which rises into these giant crystals columns. Later, we go inside the pyramid itself and into what’s called the ceremonial chamber, which is a large space and void within the pyramid where you meet another even bigger crystal that controls mystical energies. Figuring all that out was quite a challenge because there are no real-world references that you can draw from and no single reference.”

—Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

DNEG provided over 300 visual effects shots for the film. “One of the other things that we had to pay attention to was not just matching the assets on a technical level, but also understanding the cinematic language that has been developed to portray these characters, in particular in the way that they were lensing up Kong,” Franklin adds. “There was a sequence on Monarch Island with Kong where he is getting his tooth pulled. We are very close to Kong, and there are more close-ups of Kong in that sequence than in any other part of the movie. It was all these tight close-ups of his face, and it’s an IMAX sequence, so it’s delivered at very high resolution in the large format. One of the things that is important to bear in mind is that although Kong is a gorilla, he’s not a regular gorilla. His skin is a lot lighter and a lot less shiny. Once we understood that, we started getting good results. There’s a lot of character moments in this,  and it’s not just about creature action. It’s about personality and the soul of the character. Of course, neither of these characters speak. They might roar and bellow, but they don’t speak, so it’s all done with the eyes, particularly with Kong. We really had to pay attention to the subtle differences in eye shapes and the way the light was hitting the eyes and reflecting inside the irises that really capture that sense of who Kong is. That took a little while to get right, but once we figured that out it started coming out really well.”

DNEG paid specific attention to the subtle differences in eye shapes and the way the light was hitting Kong’s eyes.

DNEG paid specific attention to the subtle differences in eye shapes and the way the light was hitting Kong’s eyes.

Franklin and his team wanted the effects to be bigger and better than the last film, not just more of the same.

Franklin and his team wanted the effects to be bigger and better than the last film, not just more of the same.

Concludes Franklin: “While we have seen Kong, Godzilla and Charybdis in other movies, there is a slightly different take each time. For example, Adam wanted to change up the way Charybdis looked and make it more exotic-looking, so we gave Charybdis a more vivid color scheme and that was interesting, but you also want to bring ever increasing levels of spectacle to these films. I always describe it as a spectacle arms race. You don’t want to do what they just did in the last movie because people have already seen it; they want to come to this film and see something new. If you just go through the motions, you won’t get stuff that is worthy of going into a film of this type. Anyone working on these sorts of films always faces the same situation. We always want them to be bigger and better than the last one, not just more of the same.”



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