“When mankind falls into conflict with nature, monsters are born.” The king of monsters returns this week, but before you hit the theaters, see the evolution of Godzilla over the past 60 years.
A generation of monster-movie devotees grew up watching — and loving — a guy in a Godzilla rubber suit.
While that’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in line next to you at Comic-Con nowadays, that classic low-tech design is still integral to the 350-foot-tall nuclear-powered creature laying waste again to cinematic landscapes 60 years after the first Japanese Godzilla picture.
That original design — a melding of dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Iguanodon and the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex — has gone through many changes since 1954, “but there is a somewhat consistent theme throughout that, and it evolved as cinema has evolved,” says Andrew Baker, creature designer for the Godzilla reboot, in theaters today.
When director Ishiro Honda hatched Godzilla for the Toho company’s original Gojirafilm, he decided against the usual stop-motion “claymation” of the time to create his reptilian star. Instead, he put stunt actor Haruo Nakajima in that infamous rubber suit, which allowed audiences to relate to the monster in a critical way, says William Tsutsui, author of Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters.
“It was bottom-heavy, had great big hips and heavy thighs,” he says. “When you heard its footfalls walking through Tokyo, it was really the resonance of this giant creature walking on the earth.”
Then, it was hard to find a boy’s toy box without a Godzilla action figure. And in the movies of the 1960s and ’70s, when the big lizard battled foes such as King Kong,Mothra, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla, large Japanese anime-style eyes and a face that only a mom would love reflected the kid-friendly nature of the movies.
“That Godzilla wasn’t scaring anybody,” Tsutsui says. “In fact, you wanted to take it home as a pet.”
When Toho relaunched the monster in Japan with 1984’sThe Return of Godzilla, he was fiercer and scarier than ever, and in the ’90s, Godzilla’s face “almost looks like a samurai helmet — cold and hard, reflecting the mood of those films,” says Tsutsui, adding that the dinosaur-like creature in Roland Emmerich’s American Godzillaremake left a lot to be desired in 1998. “The less said, the better.”
One of Baker’s favorite Godzilla designs was the fierce giant seen in 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. “He was meant to be this formidable god. It was the first one for me that felt really terrifying.”
When new Godzilla director Gareth Edwards unleashed Baker and co-designer Christian Pearce to hatch the next version, he wanted them to imagine it was a real animal that existed 60 years ago and was witnessed by people in Japan who went running and screaming to Toho describing what they saw.
The result would be “the guy in the suit we all know and love,” Edwards says.
To make this Godzilla state-of-the-art, designers added extra texture to his gigantic spiky scales so they looked good up close and from afar, and they played with proportions, shrinking his head to make his body seem gigantic.
Plus, they added gills that nodded to his aquatic origins and would explain how he can come out of nowhere from underwater and start breaking civilization. “Justifying that seemed like a good idea,” Baker says, “and one that fans would like.”
And because there was something “potentially cute” about Godzilla’s mug, Edwards adds that his team made the face less rounded and straightened some of the lines “so he felt more aggressive and noble.”
However, staying true to the iconic look from the ’50s was always a driving force to the overall design, says Baker.
“The innovation in film always seems to make such a leap,” he says, “and little did they know at the time they were going to create a whole series of cult movies that would become what we’re working on today.”