Despite being a Godzilla fan for as long as I can remember, it was never apparent what my favorite Godzilla era was until a few months ago. I always thought the Heisei series was my favorite, and it could very well be someday; it is deserving of praise and recognition—not to mention it had a first impression on me. Then I thought it was the relatively new MonsterVerse. While Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (OK, not a Godzilla film, but it felt wrong not to include it, and it’s arguably the best installment in the MonsterVerse), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) are stellar films that have introduced a whole new generation to the kaiju genre. But aside from a few aesthetics in terms of cinematography, setting, and sound design, it hasn’t yet shaped me as a cinematic storyteller. Finally, the answer became crystal clear, and just so happens to be the one that started it all.
I never appreciated the Showa Godzilla films until I became an adult. I’ve always loved Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla melodies. I’ve held Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda in high regard for the longest time, and special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya inspired me in ways I’ll never be able to explain. But the Showa Godzilla films held both a childlike sense of wonder and nostalgia that prevented me from appreciating them as being more than just Saturday morning monster movies. These films are brimming with rich, compelling stories and subplots, glimpses into a foreign yet relatable culture, groundbreaking cinematic techniques, exciting characters with vibrant personalities and motives, and imaginative ideas and concepts that helped me fall in love with science fiction.
This newfound appreciation for the Showa era came to fruition when I wrapped up production on Godzilla vs. Bambi: The Rematch and my Godzilla Meditation Video. For my next project, I knew I wanted to make a Showa-inspired fan film. At first, I thought of doing something like Destroy All Monsters (1969). But I’d much rather build-up to a massive kaiju battle royal than skip straight to it (I need to earn that right!). It wasn’t long before I knew a crossover was in order. But which kaiju would I use? Or, more accurately, which Showa kaiju action figures do I have can be efficiently utilized in a stop motion?
Selecting the Cast
Around this time, I hopped back and forth between bingeing the original Ultraman series and the Showa Gamera films. Showa Godzilla’s inclusion was a foregone conclusion (I knew I’d either be using the MosuGoji or KingGoji S.H. MonsterArts figures; ultimately, I chose the former). But who would Godzilla face (and would he face this enemy alone, or would he have help)? I’ve wanted to use my S.H. Figuarts Zetton in a project since at least 2017. Zetton is an abnormal-looking monster with a humanlike design that made him a great candidate for articulation. He’s also one of Ultraman’s most dangerous enemies, which was a plus. But as I researched Zetton and realized he might be a bit too powerful for Godzilla to overcome on his own, it became apparent to me that this film needed to be the kaiju equivalent to DC Comics’ World’s Finest. Godzilla needed a famous monster to join him in battle. As it turned out, I had recently acquired Sci-Fi Revoltech’s stupendous Showa Gamera*, and doing a Godzilla/Gamera team-up was a dream come true.
*Cool factoid: For the past month, I’ve been sharing production photos with my YouTube community. Here’s the kicker: I purposely kept Gamera’s inclusion hidden from my subscribers because I wanted his arrival to be a huge surprise—and it was when the film finally premiered. The positive reaction made it all worth it.
OK, so I had my kaiju cast locked and loaded. What’s next?
Location Selection and Storyboarding
For my stop motion projects, I have my subjects move in front of a green screen. That allows them to appear virtually anywhere. But where exactly would I have Godzilla, Zetton and Gamera battle? Seattle was my first and only choice. I have a growing inventory of pictures and footage of places in Japan, but I didn’t have anywhere near enough for this massive project. Because I live near Seattle and have over the years expanded my B-roll of the city from thousands of different locations and vantages, I knew it was the perfect setting.
Knowing the monsters and the environment they’d be battling in allowed me to start storyboarding, which will be the primary focus of this blog. I’ll be showing you official storyboards I drew along with production notes and behind-the-scenes information of what worked and what didn’t, and a screengrab of the finished result to bring us all full circle. Here we go!
I’ll start with the first image that popped into my head at the beginning of this ambitious project. For the record, I do my storyboards in chronological order, but this is without a doubt the first idea that sprang to mind. In this shot, Godzilla and Gamera are startled to see Zetton’s reflection appear on the side of a skyscraper. I couldn’t wait to do this specific shot. For the longest time, I even thought it was going to be the movie poster.
The top image is the first storyboard I made. Even though it’s technically not the first scene in the movie, it still ended up working out great. Zetton was nothing more than a static image in this shot. Unsatisfied, I went back to my green screen studio and added motion.
Helpful tip: Your location determines how you frame your monster subject. This particular shot is from a low, human POV. Therefore, your monster subject should look like he’s looking down at you—the viewer.
Notice the scene is marked 3A? That’s because there was originally a preceding shot (marked 2A and 2B) of the Space Needle blowing up, but since it looked terrible, it didn’t make it into the final cut. In this shot, we see Zetton towering over the burning wreckage of the ‘head’ of the Space Needle. This shot demonstrated Zetton’s destructive impulses, quickly adding character.
We jump to a later point in the battle, and it’s a doozy. In the movie, Zetton chucked Gamera into Godzilla’s face—while blasting his iconic Atomic Breath. In the original story treatment, Godzilla had already fired upon Zetton. In response, Zetton threw Gamera into Godzilla so hard both were sent hurtling–
–through the city! Skyscrapers were uprooted and thrown into the air. Ultimately, this didn’t end up happening, which is a bummer because I’ve always wanted to do a scene like this.
Regardless, I’m happy with what ultimately ended up making the final cut–
–a blazing nuclear blast! It is a Godzilla movie. This ended up being a powerful scene because it escalated the tension while simultaneously giving the audience a break from the constant monster fighting (if by a break, I mean instilling a sense of existential dread).
When the mushroom cloud clears, we see a defiant Godzilla standing in front of a wall of fire and smoke. Gamera is nowhere to be seen, adding an air of mystery surrounding his fate.
But in the original story, we’re not only meant to see more collateral damage but both protagonists in the same shot—and they’re not in good shape. Zetton was also originally meant to share the same screen. Alas, I felt the transition from the mushroom cloud to Godzilla more effectively conveyed what I wanted the audience to feel: Zetton is an apocalyptic threat, and he has our heroes up against a literal wall of fire.
Here we see Zetton kicking Gamera so hard he spits out fire. The first two points in the description happened but not in this specific shot. Otherwise, everything happened about as much as initially planned, and it’s a thing of beauty.
It may look like Zetton is moving, but he’s not; Zetton is a still image that is flying across the screen to hit Gamera. Gamera did have stop motion done to him. But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice because this is a blink-and-you-might-miss-it moment.
It’s hard being the director, VFX artist, and editor on the same project. In a perfect world, I’d never have to trim a shot that has gorgeous visuals to keep the story at a fast pace. C’est la vie.
Somethings changed, somethings didn’t. First, Zetton didn’t teleport in or out of the shot. In the final cut, this took place immediately after the previous image of Zetton kicking Gamera in the gut. The hit sent Gamera flying back into the remains of the Columbia Tower. There he sunk beneath the smoke as Godzilla tackled Zetton offscreen.
In this shot, Gamera was the only subject I did in stop motion. Godzilla and Zetton were recorded separately in front of a green screen. Zetton turned to meet Godzilla (he was standing on an automatic turntable) while Godzilla was pulling an Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) by leaping at Zetton (done by rapidly passing Godzilla off in front of the camera with my hands).
As the battle intensified, Zetton turned Gamera into a trampoline. This was conceived as an extreme wide shot—wide enough to encompass both monsters. I was able to do just that; however, the final version doesn’t look like things panned out that way, but I’ll specify why it all worked out in a moment.
If you’re interested in stop motion, my advice is to make sure your video footage is in the highest-resolution available to you. That way, when it comes to post-production, and you’re editing your movie together, you can, if need be, take a single video file and turn it into different cuts/angles.
Example: This frame was done in an extreme wide shot that encompassed both Zetton and Gamera. Since it’s high-resolution, I was able to take this extreme wide shot video comp and break it up into different aspect ratios. One had only Gamera flailing around (‘Wide Shot’); another was focused on Zetton standing behind a burning building before leaping into the air (‘Medium Shot’). Finally, I cut back to the extreme wide shot, and we see the result.
I’ll go further into detail about this editing technique in just a moment.
After using Gamera as a launchpad, Zetton flew above Seattle like a conquering warlord. Aside from the angle and a few other things, the storyboard and final cut ended up looking very similar. However, there might be something you noticed in the description.
If I plan to revisit the same location in a future scene, I note it in the description.
Same angle and location. Different subject. It’s more effective as opposed to recreating the scene from scratch.
After flying into the storm, Zetton, with the intent of vaporizing the city, supercharged his Trillion Degree Fireball into a weapon of mass destruction.
My wife thought this was a homage to Dragon Ball Z’s Spirit Bomb technique. She was close; it was more like Zetton pulling a Frieza by creating a gigantic death ball of energy.
This scene encapsulates what I meant earlier about shooting in high-resolution. Giant Monster Brawl’s pixel size is 1920 x 1080 (HD). I did the bottom shot in 3840 x 2160 (UHD). It remained at those levels throughout, but because the final cut’s resolution is HD, I can take one 20-second long clip and turn it into two different shots (the top picture is a Medium Shot while the bottom is an Extreme Wide Shot). I had to shrink its dimensions down to match the HD aspect ratio; however, it didn’t lose its visual quality. In the top picture, I didn’t have to adjust that much. Ultimately, the transition was a success, and the final cut is a real sight to behold.
When we began this storyboarding/behind-the-scenes breakdown, I shared an image that captured the first thought about this project. It’s important to understand that it is not the end of the world if your film doesn’t come out looking the way you originally planned. I’m not saying you should give up and accept that nothing turns out the way you planned; no, far from it. By all means, persevere to achieve your goal. But art is like the weather. It changes as if it has a mind of its own. You have to ask yourself if you’re holding it back from becoming something different than you intended it to be. More apropos, you have to ask yourself if you’re holding yourself back from the finish line.
So, this begs the question, ‘What should I do if a better opportunity reveals itself?’
You take it.
Thank you for watching, and thank you for reading.