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Digital Tools Used In Gojira And Godzilla Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3034 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Humans have been around for thousands of years. Today, many movies have been created based on stories and legends of influential people and life-changing events that were recorded in history. Inspiration for the 1954 film ‘Gojira’ came about as a result of World War Two during the twentieth century. The devastation brought on Japan by the two nuclear bombs had inevitably raised a wide spread awareness about nuclear weapons and its radioactive destruction (Ragone 2007).

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Both, Gojira’s and Godzilla’s creation were linked to the nuclear bomb. With reference to the 1998 film Godzilla, it can be seen that the creation of the terrible lizard was linked to French nuclear weapons testing in the French Polynesia. Similarly in the Japanese context, Gojira was shown to be linked not only to the atomic bombs, but the hydrogen ones as well.

With the devastation of the two atomic bombs still fresh in the Japanese minds, further H-bomb tests were carried out near Japan and eventually, the radiation fallout directly impacted on the Japanese fishing industry, causing a sharp decline. With all these tragic events occurring within a short span of time, Gojira was concocted out as an ‘incarnation of the war itself’ (Ragone 2007 pg. 35) as the producers wanted a real-world scenario that reflected the Japanese concerns that time.

In order to effectively protray the nature of destruction caused in the films Gojira and Godzilla, visual effects became increasingly important as it was necessary to provide an acceptable level of realism for audiences who will be watching the film. Therefore, this led to the development and creation of different visual effect techniques. Then with the advancements in technology, some older techniques were modified and re-developed accordingly.

In this investigation, it will bring to light the common, yet contrasting comparisons of filmmaking between the analogue and digital eras.

2| Scene Selection |

I will be comparing two parallel special effects sequences in both Gojira and Godzilla. A breakdown of this complex scene will be accompanied with a description of its technical aspects in layman’s terms. The scenes involve the two animals going on a rampage through a major city at night causing massive damages. It also includes military forces trying to eliminate the creature. These two scenes were specifically chosen as I will like to highlight the core visual effects elements that can be found throughout the films.

3| The Character|

It was called ‘Gojira’, but was later known as ‘Godzilla’ for the American audiences. (Godzilla, King of the Monsters 1998) In the 1954 Gojira, visual effects director Eiji Tsuburaya pioneered a technique called Suit-mation. The main reason for the introduction of Suit-mation was because of the need to complete the job within a short timespan (Ragone 2007). If stop-motion technique was used, it would have taken them seven years to complete the film. The suit was constructed mainly from hand-stirred latex and then refined subsequently. Even after refinements, the suit could only be worn for several minutes due to the unbearable heat and almost “non-existent” ventilation within. Due to its flexibility limitations and tremendous weight, the first suit was scrapped as the actor inside could not even move. In certain scenes where only the legs of Gojira were filmed, the suit was cut into two and attached to suspenders, allowing the actor to be more comfortable while filming (Godzilla, Designing Godzilla featurette 2005).

Figure |Man in halved Gojira suit

Development on analogue visual effect techniques can be seen clearly in the 1998 Godzilla, when Tsuburaya’s technique of Suitmation was used. Trained professional puppeteers were hired for shots that needed more physical realism with the miniatures that they were interacting with. Eventually, the Godzilla suit would be replaced with a CG Godzilla. Animatronics, a technique similar to the Suitmation technique, was introduced. In this case, instead of Human actors in the creature’s costumes, machines were used to replace them. This method allowed many close-up interaction shots which enabled a high level of realism (Aberly 1998).

The suit was not entirely presented as a guy-in-a-suit. Primitive visual effects were added to give Gojira a scarier feel. In the shot where Gojira was tearing up Tokyo and boasting its bright flashing hind fins, hundreds of cells were hand drawn frame by frame (Ryfle 1998). In several shots where Gojira was using its atomic breath, the creature was actually a hand puppet (Godzilla 2005).

With much use for puppetry and animatronics, computer generated graphics still triumphed as the best tool for visual effects in the digital era. In addition, with the developments of computer animation software and techniques, realism took to a new height.

Puppeteers whom took the role of Gojira would soon be replaced with computer animators sitting behind the desk. While the actor in the Gojira suit was acting for the scene, he would be filmed using a high speed camera at around 240 frames-per-second. The film would then be projected at 24 frames-per-second giving the feel of weight and size (Faller 2010). Using modern day tools to make Godzilla (1998) move, instead of shooting a guy-in-a-suit at a high frame rate, Centropolis FX had Godzilla key-frame animated in the computer. Due to the difficulty of animating such a huge creature, the team of animators grew from twelve to sixty (Martin 1998). Subsequently, After many failed attempts of animating a proper walk cycle, the team managed to get the same feel of the high speed camera shots by animating Godzilla’s movement at a slower speed (Martin 1998).

From using chicken wires and glued latex for the construction of the 1954 Gojira (Designing Godzilla featurette 2005), polygons and NURBS took over in the digital era. The Gojira suit was made by wrapping thin wires and bamboo with chicken wire. Cushions and fabric were also added for the actor’s comfort. Hand stirred latex was later applied onto the suit as skin (Designing Godzilla featurette 2005). Even though CGI was of an advanced technology, there were still setbacks. Modelers had to split up their work of digitizing the entire creature by manually using a stylus to “draw” out every single mesh into the computer. Furthermore, the software was not perfect and had its limitations. A Special Projects team was sent from Soft Image to trouble-shoot problems encountered by the CGI crew (Aberly 1998).

Ideally, Gojira was thought to have suffered burns and scars from the H-bomb test. The textures and the suit of Gojira were hand crafted by two people. Tireless hours were spent modeling the skin bumps by using latex and then gluing it onto the skin (Godzilla, Designing Godzilla featurette 2005). However in the modern day Godzilla, there was the technology of displacement mapping whereby the 3D geometry of Godzilla would be displaced using a texture map that contained details of the skin. With the model rendered out in different passes (Martin 1998), the process was more effective and also gave compositors more freedom in manipulating the image to create a realistic Godzilla.

4| The Set |

As the two Godzillas enter the city and begin their trail of destruction, the set they were on had to look real. Although both movies used miniatures for filming, this special effects technique was inevitably developed and refined extensively due to technological advancements.

4.1| Miniatures |

Miniatures for Gojira (1954) were made for use as a city scape. Tsuburaya had the miniatures built mostly in the 1/25 scale, with the exception of the Diet building which was a 1/33 scale (Ragone 2007). With reference to the scale of the Gojira suit with the miniature set scale, it created an illusion of Gojira’s large size. Buildings were made in a forced perspective method where buildings closer to the camera were built bigger and those at the horizon smaller. The sets were actually built on wooden platforms to allow cameramen to do low angle shots, making the buildings look even bigger (Ryfle 1998).

Thin plaster and wood were used for the building’s framework. Elaborate planning of the city’s construction included custom made streets that would create footprints when being stepped on. Plaster was poured over sawdust to create that effect (Ryfle 1998). Digital techniques such as CG effects animation helped the 1998 Godzilla in creating street cracks. With the help of Thomas Hollier, a senior technical director, street impact technology was created. This allowed a pipeline for a more effective way for animating pavements that would crack under Godzilla’s weight (Martin 1998).

Miniatures were also widely used in the making of Godzilla (1998). Huge 1/24 size models were built to accommodate Godzilla’s path of destruction. Huge 1/10 models were also built for close-up shots. The buildings were much more detailed with some featuring plumbing and even desks. There were several miniature buildings that were reused from ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’ and ‘The Fifth Element’. With this, a great amount of production time was saved as redesigning of the rest of the set was no longer required. Although both Godzilla movies incorporated miniatures, Godzilla (1998) added extensive digital compositing over its miniatures to give it more realism (Martin 1998).

Techniques adopted for destroying the miniature buildings were much more sophisticated in the newer film. In the 1954 version, kerosene soaked rags were used to set the miniatures ablaze (Ragone 2007). For those that were to be destroyed by Gojira’s fiery breath, explosives were set behind the buildings. Several buildings even had gasoline sprayed on them to make them burn more easily. For buildings that were supposed to be destroyed by physical contact, small cracks were made in those miniatures so that it would crumble in a more believable fashion when Gojira crushed it. It was a daunting task for the actor inside as he had to get it right on the first take as there was not enough budget and time for a rebuild (Ryfle 1998).

In 1998, there were more types of “pyrotechniques” available and one such example would be the military type. Different methods were developed to be used on the different types of destruction. As Godzilla races through the city with its tail in free motion causing damages to buildings, cable pulls were attached to sandbags in the buildings’ interiors. When they were pulled, a trail of damage would occur as if Godzilla’s tail had swept through them. Mechanical rigs were also used to blast through a building with the CG Godzilla to be composited in later. The Chrysler Building in the scene which was destroyed by a misfire from the attack helicopters were very complex mechanical rigs. Right after the top floors exploded, it was orchestrated to shift and descend towards the camera (Aberly 1998). On the whole, miniature destruction could be choreographed with more control.

Miniature vehicles were also used on the set for both films. The military elements used in the Gojira scene were tanks. Extensive pyrotechnical effects were used for the firing of the tank weapons. When the tank shells hit Gojira, blasts were created by wire rigged charges (Ryfle 1998). Comparing this to a similar scene in the 1998 movie, instead of tanks, CG Apache attack helicopters were used. Tracer fire, blasts including debris and smoke from the damage were all entirely computer generated. In addition of the rain and lighting effects which included the volumetric searchlights, RenderMan shaders were developed solely for the wet look of the helicopter. However, at the shot when Godzilla decides to lash out at the attacking military helicopters, a miniature was used. With creative ingenuity, a 1/8 scale model was made loaded with pyrotechnics and detonated (Martin 1998).

4.2| Atmosphere |

To create the perfect “terrorising” atmosphere, Gojira (1954) was shot using a low-key lighting effect (Biodrowski 2007). This is because Low key lighting would create a darker toned picture with contrasting bright contours which is more suitable for dramatic shots. The grainy cinematography would also feed an extra punch to the eerie effect throughout the film (Ryfle et al. 2007).

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With the advancements in technology, analogue methods would be often replaced by colour grading and compositing. In Godzilla (1998), instead of using a low-key effect to give the dramatic shots, the environment was given a CG rain touch up. This was a complicated scene where many effects animations were applied. Not only was computer generated imagery used, acquisition footage was also being recorded for the environments. From rain to shattering windows, these footages would later be composited at different scales to tie up the scene together with the CG Godzilla (Martin 1998).

Lighting was a key element in creating the perfect environment. Real lights from orange and bluish street lamps had to be reflected onto the CG Godzilla. Due to location shots where real lights were aimed at buildings when Godzilla was supposed to be in the foreground, artists had to rotoscope out the real lights and animate the CG ones. More complications had arisen when Godzilla rampaged and took out the real street lamps. Firstly, lights from the real lamps had to be rotoscoped out. A CG lamp would then be created and animated to flip or be destroyed (Martin 1998). Although this entire sequence would seem small compared to the main character, it made the scene look believable.

Another small detail to add on is the stationary cars from the live action footage that underwent rotoscoping when Godzilla stomped past them. Compositing artists had to create rotoscope mattes for the vehicles and animate their bounce by hand. The add-on of the camera shake at post-production level also helped with the realism (Martin 1998).

5| The Conclusion|

In my chosen scenes which depict the destructions from the streets of Tokyo to Manhattan, both Gojira and Godzilla held similar iconic symbolisms and metaphors.

In the 1950s when Gojira was made, there were many underlying reasons for its creation. The focal point was the atomic bombs. Since Japan had directly experienced the impact of the bombs, it would have held a deep significance for them. To a certain extent, it was believed that without the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira would not have surfaced. Gojira’s rampage through Tokyo would serve as a reminder of the recent devastating nuclear attack on Japan to the survivors of the atomic bombs as well as to the rest of the Japanese. Gojira also created awareness on new nuclear weapon testing and how our interference with Mother Nature might one day prove apocalyptic and leave a trail of death and devastation.

Today, in the modern world context where technological advances are ever improving and as well as relative peace, Godzilla (1998) still carries the same essence as it did 44 years ago. With the threat of existing nuclear weapons and even deforestation which leads to Global Warming, metaphorically, Godzilla still serves as a reminder and warning of an impending disaster if we do not change our ways. Iconically, Godzilla would be referred to as a present doomsday movie.

From comparing the different special effects techniques that were used in 1954 to those used in 1998, one could see how the technology leap into the digital era made a big difference in improving film quality and the workflow efficiency of special effects artists. Even though gone were the days where analogue techniques such as filming in front of glass mattes were regarded as the modern methods of special effects, several analogue techniques are still considered relevant with the present world. The integration of both analogue and digital effects proved to be a success in creating a hyper-real Godzilla. With the age of computers and constant development on digital techniques and tools, no one knows what the future might hold for us as special effects artists. However, like all foundations of buildings, the journey of learning the history and methodology of analogue techniques should be deemed as equally important for future developments.

6| Bilbliography|


Aberly, R., 1998. The making of godzilla. London: Titan books.

Kalat, D., 1997. A critical history and filmography of toho’s godzilla series. 2nd ed. USA: Mcfarland and company, inc.

Ragone, A., 2007. Eiji tsuburaya: masters of monsters. San Francisco: Chronicle books.

Ryfle, S., 1998. Japan’s favourite mon-star: the unauthorised biography of “the big g”. Canada: ECW press.


Martin, K., 1998. The sound and the fury. Cinefex, 74(3), 84-107.


Faller, G., 2010. Tsuburaya, eiji. Available from: http://www.filmreference.com/Writers-and-Production-Artists-Ta-Vi/Tsuburaya-Eiji.html [Accessed 9 October 2010]

Biodrowski, S., 2007. Gojira(1954)/Godzilla, king of the monsters(1954)-Film and DVD review. Available from: http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2007/11/godzilla-1954-film-dvd-review/ [Accessed 25th October 2010]

Ryfle, S. and Goldstein, B., 2007. Godzilla 50th Anniversary Pressbook. Available from: http://www.scifijapan.com/articles/2007/12/06/godzilla-50th-anniversary-pressbook/ [Accessed 1st October 2010]


Godziszewski, E., Ryfle, S. and Aiken, S., 2005. Godzilla. DVD. UK: British Film Institute.

Godziszewski, E., 2005. Godzilla-Designing Godzilla featurette. DVD. UK: British Film Institute.


Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1998. Video. UK: BBC Video.


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