Godzilla: King of the Monsters is taking great pains to bring back a little of the monstrous Toho magic that was missing from its predecessor. Gareth Edwards’ 2014 movie had plenty of city stompin’ action to go around but lacked the whimsy that hs defined so much of the classic Godzilla franchise over its lifespan. That’s all going to change with Michael Dougherty at the helm, who has decided to bring some of the most iconic kaiju in cinematic history to this year’s monster party, with Rodan and Mothra showing up to help Godzilla take on King Ghidorah.
And while you can expect slightly updated looks for all the monsters in question, they’ll always be recognizable. Much in the same way that the classic Godzilla design was lightly tweaked and updated for his 2014 outing, so have Rodan and Mothra been given subtle overhauls. Mothra in particular is beautiful, with a delicate bioluminescence to her massive wings (concept art from a “Mothra temple” appears to reveal her Shobijin priestesses in heiroglyphs). Rodan, always the oddly proportioned, weird little brother in the classic Toho days, has been given flourishes that recall a mythological griffin. And Ghidorah, the most ornate of them all, is massive in scale (even by kaiju standards), seemingly dwarfing all three of his co-stars in scale.
“It’s really important that the silhouette of the creatures are the originals,” Godzilla: King of the Monsters director Michael Dougherty says. “That’s always the basis of any good creature design. In the same way that you have to be able to listen to the creature noises and identify the creature without seeing it, you need to be able to look at the silhouette of the monster whether it’s the alien [from Alien], Godzilla or whatever and be able to identify it.”
It was those silhouettes that provided the basis for any new design work done on the classic monsters. “We started with silhouettes, just to make sure we get their very distinct shapes,” Dougherty says. “You can’t have Ghidorah without the two tails and the three heads. It’s got to have the right amount of horns, and then the wings are a very distinct shape.”
Ghidorah has always had a rather dragon-esque appearance, and with dragons currently having a pop culture moment of their own thanks to a certain HBO series, the Godzilla: King of the Monsters production laid out some rules about how he should be presented.
“Those were marching orders from the beginning, to make sure that Ghidorah looks more like an eastern dragon versus a western,” Dougherty says. “We don’t want it to look like Game of Thrones’ dragons.”
The other monsters had some more obvious rules to follow.
“The good news too is Toho has very specific requirements, all of which I completely agree with,” Dougherty says.
But it was Mothra who really challenged the team.
“How do you take a giant moth and make it look cool?” Dougherty says. “It can’t be a moth magnified big. The beauty of it is, I had to go down a rabbit hole and really research moths. It turns out moths are very different from butterflies. They are super cool insects. There are so many different species of moths [that] very different shapes, some of which almost look predatory. Some are much more sleek and a little more scary looking than the typical Mothra design. So the approach for Mothra is to create an insectoid, huge creature that looks believable from every angle, and especially in motion, but also looking at the different kinds of aspects we can draw from nature like bioluminescence and moth dust.”
One of the ideas explored in Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the concept that the kaiju are ancient creatures who would have been worshipped as gods back in the days of early man.
“What would [Mothra] look like flying in the sky at night?” Doughtery says. “I wanted to jump off of this idea that if you saw Mothra in the sky at night you would think you were looking at an angel or a god. Primitive man saw these creatures, and you want to give them a presence that would make him drop to his knees and bow to this god. Same thing with Rodan. It can’t just look like big dinosaurs. Jurassic Park has that covered. They have to be distinct. They have to be their own thing. They’re Titans.”
Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens on May 30.