Filmmaker Michael Dougherty has been involved with some pretty great films throughout his career, but his efforts on Godzilla: King of the Monsters are truly his most ambitious thus far. During the recent press day for KOTM, Daily Dead spoke with Dougherty about the epic challenges he had to work through while in production on this latest Godzilla, and the importance of nailing the characterizations of the Kaiju creatures for the sequel. Dougherty also discussed why Rodan is his favorite (non-Godzilla) monster, and weighed in on whether or not the spotlight-stealing Mothra deserves her own movie in the future.
I think what you guys did here, in terms of treating Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan like characters and not just monsters, was really great. I was wondering if we could dive into that, because I think these characterizations really add so much to the film.
Michael Dougherty: Oh, thanks a lot. I appreciate that. It was such a huge priority for me to make sure not only that the creatures had personalities, but they had the right personalities. What I mean is that they simply continue the personalities that Toho had established decades ago. As a kid growing up watching these movies, you become keenly aware that you're not just watching giant monsters or big dumb animals, but surprisingly complicated and emotional creatures, and I wanted to make sure that we continued that. It's fine if you just want to watch giant monsters fight, but it's so much better and more rewarding if you're watching monsters fight that you actually feel something for, that you're rooting for Godzilla or rooting against Ghidorah.
And so went back and re-watched all the old movies, and worked really hard with extremely talented animators and VFX houses and performance capture artists to do everything we could to make those personalities shine through in the body language, in their roars, and in their facial expressions, too.
Yeah, absolutely. And I have to say that he was never one of my favorites as a kid, but seeing Rodan here as this nasty little scrapper guy, it gave me a new appreciation for him, and realized that he's kind of badass.
Michael Dougherty: Oh, yeah. That's why I love him, though. Honestly, after Godzilla, he's probably my second favorite, because he is just so insane, and by the way, that goes back to the original Rodan movie. He brought a speed and a velocity and antagonism that you didn't get in the original Godzilla. Godzilla had always been much more of a very slow and deliberate destructive force, and Rodan would just swoop over a city and just level the whole thing, almost like he wasn't even thinking about it, almost like it was accidental. But then, he would have this whole sequence in the original Rodan where he goes after the Japanese Air Force and just rips them to shreds. So I like that he's willing to fight anybody at any point in time, and does not give a shit.
You mentioned the VFX artists and performance capture artists—what was it like to strike a balance between those two different elements in King of the Monsters?
Michael Dougherty: Well, I do want to clarify that the bulk of the creature performance was done by our VFX houses and their extremely talented animators, so that always was the foundation and the main thrust of the creature performances. But what we did with the performance capture artists was use them to sweeten the work that the VFX houses did, and occasionally add some layers of emotion if we felt like we needed it. So, the performance capture was done very surgically, and they're for very specific scenes and moments with the creatures. It was great, because the slight tilt of the head, the random glance between Ghidorah's heads, can add so much more to the performance, and so we did that, and the VFX houses were given the data and the video reference, and we sort of pointed out any key moments, or spontaneous expressions, or gestures that the performance artists came up with, but it really was a wonderful team effort all-around.
For me, it was like a great modern-day version of that “man in suit” process, because I think the “man in suit” process is part of the charm and appeal of the creatures. They were limited with what they could do, and had to use guys in suits, and that added a surprising amount of humanity to the performance versus had they done them with stop motion. I think that unexpected byproduct of emotion is part of what made us emotionally imprint on the creatures back then even more.
I do really believe that this film feels like this really fantastic love letter to the past 65 years of stories. And I’m curious, from your perspective, what was the biggest challenge for you along the way of making King of the Monsters?
Michael Dougherty: There were so many challenges on a daily basis, it's hard to pinpoint one exactly. And it never ends, by the way. It's like even last night, the premiere, there were challenges for me to get through then. If anything, I've just gotten much better at handling these things. Again, it's so hard to pinpoint one, because there were so many and differently weighted, too.
I guess if I had to pick something, I would say that it was a huge challenge to craft a film which satisfies a 65-year-long legacy that has spawned a fan base that is multi-generational. As we all know, fans of the legacy properties can be very vocal and have very strong feelings, and if you don't stick the landing, they are going to let you know. I watched it happen with films that preceded mine, both good and bad, so there's that massive pressure.
But then, you also have to craft a film in which general audiences can walk into and enjoy, that hopefully you can recruit new fans into the Godzilla legacy, so that's a huge challenge in itself, because fans have one set of expectations and general audiences might have a slightly different one, so managing that was very tricky, but I think we might've cracked it.
I know we're almost out of time, and I do know that also we're setting up Kong versus Godzilla for another film, but I feel like Mothra here is going to end up being the fan favorite coming out of this Godzilla. In your opinion, do you feel like there could be more Mothra things to explore? Because I love her. She was everything I wanted and more, and selfishly, I just want more Mothra.
Michael Dougherty: I think so. I do think Mothra has the potential to be a breakout star from this film. I think she's amazingly tempting to do a solo film for, because she's so complicated and appealing. She's got so many rich layers to her. Her history is very mysterious, her origins, but also, she's got an almost magical and mystical quality to her that I think is worth exploring more. Hopefully, that’s an opportunity that presents itself in the future. But I’d love to see more Mothra, too.
Check here to catch up on all of our Godzilla: King of the Monsters coverage, including Heather Wixson's review!