Godzilla Makes Landfall
Like the title character, the story told in the film begins in Japan. "That's
the birthplace of Godzilla, so we thought it would be an appropriate place to
begin our story, which takes us half-way around the world, ultimately reaching
San Francisco, where the big battle plays out," Tull says.
The film was shot on location on the Hawaiian island of Oahu; Las Vegas,
Nevada; and Vancouver, B.C., in Canada, with additional shooting in San Diego,
California, and Tokyo, Japan. Paterson and his art department-led by supervising
art director Grant Van Der Slagt, along with art directors Dan Hermansen, Ross
Dempster and Kristen Franson, and set decorator Elizabeth Wilcox-designed and
created complex, detailed interior and exterior sets on soundstages and backlot
space at the Canadian Moving Picture Park (CMPP), in the Vancouver suburb of
One of the first sequences to be shot was at the Vancouver Convention Center,
with the cavernous structure transformed into both the Honolulu and Tokyo
A number of key Canadian locales became ground zero for some of the film's
most dramatic scenes of devastation. "A giant creature is never going to come
and smash up our cities, but probably every human being on this planet has
either lived through events that create that kind of destruction or seen their
effects on TV," Edwards notes.
The streets of downtown Vancouver were transformed into San Francisco's
besieged financial district for a number of evocative sequences. Elizabeth Olsen
was present for one such scene, which placed her among a flood of refugees
fleeing in terror from the monster-sized clash tearing up their city. "One of
the coolest experiences for me was being a part of these scenes of people trying
to find their way to safety," Olsen remembers. "I was part of this massive group
of people all going in the same direction. I had never been involved in a scene
with so many extras before, but there's something about being a part of a body
of people that hits you at a primal level. It felt very real in the context of
what's going on in the scene."
San Francisco was also pieced together on the backlot at CMPP. On one backlot
set, Paterson redesigned an existing cityscape set to portray a small Chinatown
street, and also built the entrance to a giant sinkhole beneath Chinatown, which
is Ford's target when he plunges with a HALO [High Altitude - Low Opening] team
into the city.
The chaotic sinkhole set itself, which Edwards called the "Dragon's Den," was
built inside a soundstage, and dressed to overflow with crashed cars, chunks of
buildings and other debris. After shooting was completed on this sequence, the
set was repurposed to portray the massive cavern beneath the collapsed
Philippine mine where scientists Graham and Serizawa gain their first insight
that something massive and unknown has been released into the world. "We
discover that this cave isn't really a natural cave-it's a giant ribcage, with
bones that loom 25 feet in the air," Paterson describes. "It's a good place to
start the story, in a sense. The genie has been let out of the bottle."
"That set was beyond amazing, just extraordinary," raves Sally Hawkins. "Even
though we were working with some green screen, a lot of the time we didn't have
to imagine anything. It was there. We were inside this giant structure, and the
detail was phenomenal. It made it very easy for the cast to have these
incredible worlds for you to step onto."
Edwards observes that shooting both sequences within the same soundstage
reflects some of the symmetry woven into the film's DNA. "What Graham and
Serizawa observe within the giant ribcage at the beginning of the film, and what
Ford sees in the Dragon's Den near the end are linked in the story," he says.
"So in a way, it felt like going full circle."
Another exterior set Paterson built on the CMPP backlot was a 400-foot
stretch of the 8,980-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge, where Edwards, aided by
veteran second unit director E.J. Foerster, staged some of the film's exciting
climactic moments, with the city's famous skyline looming in the background.
To achieve this effect, Rygiel dispatched teams to the tops of some of San
Francisco's skyscrapers to shoot high-end panoramas from multiple angles that
took in the entire 360 degrees of the skyline, which, using photogrammetry, they
were able to merge into a 3D city. "This technique gives you a real city that is
accurate down to every piece of mortar in a brick building," he says. "So, using
that, we were able to composite the live action shots with the keyframe-animated
monsters destroying digital buildings into a seamless whole."
Another key site for the production was Finn Slough, a century-old
unincorporated Finnish fishing settlement along the Fraser River in Richmond,
B.C. Now nearly abandoned, Finn Slough's few residents live in crumbling wooden
shacks, both floating and built on stilts, along the marshy river bank. Edwards
used the unique site, as well as pockets of New Westminster dressed to appear
reclaimed by nature, to portray the Tokyo quarantine zone Ford ventures into
with his father to locate his childhood home.
Two other significant Vancouver locations were chosen to portray the Janjira
Nuclear Power Plant: the abandoned and decayed Catalyst paper mill for the
exteriors; and the Annacis Island wastewater treatment facility south of
Vancouver for its interiors, augmented by an evocative soundstage set of the
Other Vancouver locations included the banks of Lake Alouette in Golden Ears
Provincial Park, where Edwards staged a helicopter rescue amidst a landscape of
destruction; and the boat docks of Steveston, Vancouver, which became San
Francisco's famed Fisherman's Wharf.
Once the Canadian portion of production concluded, the company shipped off to
the most populous of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu, to shoot a variety of
locations, from Waikiki Beach to a rock quarry that provided the entrance to the
To capture shots for the film's main title sequence, production traveled to
the Windward (or East) side of Oahu to recreate a Pacific Atoll where hydrogen
bomb tests were conducted in the early 1950s and, in fact, resulted in a tragic
loss of life the same year the original "Godzilla" was released.
The company next touched down on a part of existing World War II history at
Pearl Harbor, which serves as both a working naval base and a somber memorial
for those lost in the event that precipitated America's entry into war. Here,
Edwards staged three scenes onboard the USS Missouri, with the historic
"floating memorial" standing in for the massive USS Saratoga battleship that
tracks Godzilla across the Pacific. Moving to the adjacent Hickam Air Force
Base, Edwards shot Aaron Taylor-Johnson within an actual C-17 aircraft to depict
the moments just prior to his HALO plunge into San Francisco.
James D. Dever, the film's military technical advisor, had participated in
HALO jumps, and worked with HALO Jump stunt coordinator JT Holmes to bring the
highest degree of authenticity to the dramatic free fall. "The stunt performers
were HALO-trained and did an outstanding job," Dever says. "In this movie,
you'll see the Air Force moving ICBM missiles, the Navy running an aircraft
carrier, and a lot of moving parts from Huey helicopters, destroyers and flying
F-35s. My job was to make sure it was all accurately represented."
In addition to consulting on military arcana, such as chain of command,
terminology, gear, weapons, and environments, Dever also liaised with the
Department of Defense to help secure the film's array of military assets, as
well as a full complement of U.S. and Canadian servicemen to portray the
majority of forces seen in the film. "It turns out that a lot of people in the
Department of Defense are massive Godzilla fans too," Edwards smiles, "and I
think they got a kick out of participating in this movie."
A retired Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, Dever also worked with
Aaron Taylor-Johnson to ensure his Navy bearing was up to snuff. "I had three
days of working in boot camp with him, teaching him how to use his weapon, how
to put his gear on, how to move and present himself as an officer in the U.S.
Navy," Dever says. "And Aaron was like a sponge for information because he
wanted to get it right, and he did. It was a pleasure working with him."
The production also took over a stretch of the popular Waikiki Beachfront for
two days to complete sequences tied to the arrival of a tsunami that destroys
one of the beach's most recognizable landmarks, the Hilton Rainbow Tower. The
production accomplished the near-impossible by closing Waikiki's most popular
commercial shopping strip, Lewers Street, for fifteen hours to capture footage
of hundreds of extras fleeing the giant wave.
"Our intentions with this environment and all the scenes of devastation in
the film was absolute reality," says Paterson. "Gareth wanted the sets to feel
so real that people would walk out of the cinema after seeing the movie and
actually not expect to see buildings still standing."
"It's that much more thrilling, intense and ultimately, I think, a more
satisfying movie experience if you believe it," adds Parent. "Godzilla deserves
to have his story told within a movie that's worthy, and Gareth was able to put
together a group of people at the top of their game with the skills and artistry
to do it in a way that has never been seen before. It's a good match, and gives
you a front row seat for an epic adventure, with the iconic Godzilla at the
center of it."
Says Rogers, "I am so proud to be a part of the talented team responsible for
bringing Godzilla back in time for his 60th anniversary, and re-introducing him
to all the faithful fans of the franchise, along with all the new audiences that
have not yet experienced meeting the 'King of the Monsters.'"
"Observing scenes being shot on set or watching dailies doesn't really
compare to watching considered, cut sequences that absolutely verify that your
filmmaker has achieved a certain tone, scale and quality," Jashni observes. "I
remember sitting in the editing room and watching Gareth show us a sampler of
four or five sequences early on and realizing he had 'done it'-he had somehow
made this movie his own. I felt excited for him and for us, as he was clearly
well on his way to achieving what we'd all aspired to."
"Those of us that grew up on Godzilla feel so much affection and nostalgia
for this character that we can't wait to see him stomping across cinema screens
again," says Tull. "The first movie came out 60 years ago. That's a long time
for a fan base to continue to grow, and now there's a whole new generation that
hasn't really had its Godzilla. So, our hope is that we give existing fans and
this new generation the movie they've been waiting for."
With the culmination of his own epic journey to deliver on that promise,
Edwards likens the experience to the moment when the film's central character,
Ford, finally locks eyes on the legendary dinosaur. "Before I started, there was
this ominous and intimidating threat hanging over me," he reflects. "But then,
towards the end of the process of making the movie, I started to realize that
Godzilla has become my savior. I had the benefit of a lot of incredibly talented
people that worked all hours to deliver this thing and make it look flawless,
and they did it. I'm so proud to have directed this film. If I were going to be
known for a genre, I'd happily be trapped in the world of monsters, and there's
no better monster in the world than Godzilla."
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