Godzilla is a massive feat of CGI and VFX and quite an achievement when done correctly. Most recently, in the MonsterVerse movies, he’s truly been a sight to behold.
Fans and critics got a look at what he’ll look like in Apple TV+’s upcoming MonsterVerse spin-off series, and surprisingly, the Titan looks just as incredible as he did on the big screen. But how was the same blockbuster quality pulled off in a streaming series?
Making Godzilla on a TV Budget
The Direct’s Russ Milheim exclusively spoke with multiple key members of the creative team of Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, talking about bringing Godzilla to life and what makes this new series unique.
Sean Konrad, VFX supervisor, revealed that taking Godzilla to the small screen was “a lot of the same fundamental philosophies:"
“It's a lot of the same fundamental philosophies... I worked as an artist on [a couple of] the features, [and] one of my supervisors who I worked with, Guillaume Rocheron, he had this thing that we used to do when we were looking at shots early on before we really got into polishing the details. We look at it, small on his screen, and he called it the iPhone test, funnily enough, now being on Apple, but we'd shrink it down and be like, 'Okay, can you see the detail? Do you know what's going on with this giant shot?'”
Konrad admitted that many of the same approaches they took in the features, including 2014’s Godzilla, applied for Monarch. He made sure to also put an emphasis on the importance of the “human drama” in the series:
“You know, can you tell that story from a small portion of it, then it's a good composition, and then you can zoom back out, and then start adding all the detail. And so a lot of, the same stuff that we were doing for 'Godzilla' 2014 applied here. We need to make sure that the images are clear, we need to make sure that the compositions are strong. And then, on top of that, this is a human drama, and we need to tell it from the human point of view. And so we need to make our characters part of that action as much as possible.”
According to him, one key approach is looking at the script and thinking about what would make a really great shot—and then “[trying] to embellish and find things in it:”
“You always start thinking about what could be. You read the script, and you think what could be a cool shot. A lot of that comes down to the directors, who then storyboard those things. And then I pick that up and try to embellish and find things in it.”
The VFX supervisor then spoke about a fun moment working on Monarch that saw them adding “a whole bunch of detail into the spines” of Godzilla for a shot taking place in the 1950s:
“One of the great opportunities we got was… we have a scene of him back in the '50s, in the show, and we see that we see that from one of the trailers. But we get this tracking shot going up his spine. And, when we saw that storyboard come through, we're like, 'Oh, we're going to need to add a whole bunch of detail into the spines because you've never been that close to them before.'”
The VFX vendor, Rising Sun, "added a whole bunch of damage and dirt and debris” to help “give them some scale:”
“So the vendor, Rising Sun, added in a whole bunch of damage and dirt and debris and things that got mixed in and well-placed splashes that were dripping water off the spine to give them some scale and things. And those are like the fun little things that you get to work on.”
While Godzilla may still feature in Monarch, the upcoming series is far different than its blockbuster brethren. Executive Producer Matt Fraction noted that they “didn’t want to make ten short, smaller monster movies” with Monarch:
“Yeah, we didn't want to make ten short, small monster movies. We wanted to tell a 10-hour serial narrative. And to do that, it's got to start with people. It's got to start with characters that you care about. And, movies and things, we go out to see, they're giant spectacles, you buy tickets, you sit in the seats in an auditorium, you watch it with the 200 other people. This is the thing you invite into your home.”
Fraction continued, saying how the “virtue of writing for television” is the ability to tell “these long sequential human serial stories:”
“And so, I think something that we get to do just by virtue of writing for television, rather than writing, thinking of it as smaller movies or whatever, is like no, we get to tell these long sequential human serial stories about people that we came to care quite a lot about.”
Showrunner Chris Black backed that sentiment up, sharing how the show was never going to work if it attempted to shrink down a big feature. Instead, they “had to sort of build this from the ground up as a TV series:
“Yeah, and Legendary has been very supportive of that. From the very beginning, there was the sense that we couldn't, if this show was going to work as a show, we couldn't just try to shrink one of the big features down to TV size… So it's a different animal than what a feature film is. And I think in that sense, that's something to me that's unique about it.”
Director Matt Shakman, who helmed the first two episodes of the new series, noted how it being a “multi-generational family drama and mystery” was “such an interesting way in:”
“I have to give credit to Matt Fraction and Chris Black, who created the show. And I was obviously interested when I got a call saying, 'Hey, do you want to talk about Godzilla? I've loved Godzilla since I was a kiddo. But then, when I read the script that Matt and Chris had created, I was so impressed by the fact that it was in the MonsterVerse for sure. But it's a multi-generational family drama and mystery. And it felt like such an interesting way in.”
Using words like “beautiful,” “poetic,” and “emotional,” Shakman continued showering Monarch with praise, a story all “about being down on the ground:”
“It's beautiful, and it's poetic, and it's emotional. It takes place in different time periods and on different continents. But the thing that's so special about it, and what was so interesting to me as a filmmaker, is I love the MonsterVerse movies, and I love being up in the stratosphere with Godzilla battling Kong, but this show is about being down on the ground.”
The director elaborated on how the show explores how those cataclysmic events change one life and the trauma that comes with it:
“And what is it like to be in the middle of one of those battles? And how does an experience with Godzilla change your life? And the trauma of that moment is one of the inciting incidents in our show. And so that's what made it special to me. It was a chance to tell a really human story set against this giant scale and spectacle.”
But what exactly would Executive Producer Tory Tunnell, who leads production company Safehouse Pictures with her husband Joby Harold, say to someone going into this series that hasn’t seen any Godzilla media? She leans on its “globe-trotting adventure” status with some “great juicy family drama” at its center:
“I think that this is a globe-trotting adventure. This is really fun escapist entertainment that will bring you to places on this planet that you don't have the chance to go. And at the heart of it, you have so much great juicy family drama.”
She also pointed out how if someone hasn’t seen any of the features, then they get to witness “the birth of [Monarch]:"
“And if you haven't seen any of the features, you're coming in on the ground floor, and you're seeing the birth of [Monarch], but you're also seeing, Fundamentally, this really juicy character drama that we have the time to tell that story because we have so much runway in a TV show.”
How Godzilla Show Adds to the MonsterVerse
On one hand, given the more recent trend of producing high-budget shows, it shouldn't be too surprising that the team was able to pull off Godzilla on the small screen. Honestly, they did more than pull it off—he looks quite incredible in Monarch.
It probably helped that they were likely able to access assets from the big blockbuster films, which were originally made on those larger budgets.
But, at the end of the day, this show isn't really about Godzilla himself.
Instead, like Matt Shakman noted, it's about the people on the ground having to deal with the fallout of those larger-than-life monsters duking it out. So while audiences won’t ever say no to more Godzilla, it's probably best to taper expectations throughout this first season.
But since the show has officially used Godzilla, what are the odds other previously known Titans will grace the small screen?
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters streams on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 17.