In this exclusive extract from The Illusion Almanac: Creating Godzilla vs Kong, Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Kevin Smith discusses the methodology used to bring the giant ape Kong to life for Godzilla vs Kong. With its track record creating the expressive simians of King Kong (2005) and the Planet of the Apes trilogy, Weta Digital was well-placed to take on the task of animating Kong’s most expressive character moments in Godzilla vs Kong. Moreover, the visual effects team’s experience on films such as Avatar made it the obvious choice to craft the exotic landscapes of Skull Island and the otherworldly realm of Hollow Earth.
Read the full story about the design, cinematography and visual effects of Godzilla vs Kong in Issue 1 of The Illusion Almanac, available now as an 80-page* digital magazine formatted for Kindle. Download it from Amazon online stores worldwide — just search for “illusion almanac.”
- The Illusion Almanac: Creating Godzilla vs Kong — Amazon UK
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Shots of Kong typically began with blocking animation passes to establish overall pace and performance. Once this broad action was established, Dave Clayton directed performer Allan Henry who acted out Kong’s moves wearing a motion capture suit. “We would basically treat it like a regular shoot,” Kevin Smith related, “which is how we prefer to work. They would do a bunch of different takes on the mocap stage, exploring different ideas. We would run everything out long and turn it over to the client, so they could put it in editorial and find the action they wanted in the performances they liked. It was very collaborative: if they wanted to go in a different direction on a certain part, Dave and Allan would just go back to the mocap stage and we would capture the new performance.”
Based on the approved edit, animators refined the motion capture into the finished performance. Kong’s facial expressions, however, were achieved entirely by hand using keyframe animation. “We found some reference of actual gorillas and monkeys,” commented Smith. “We matched that to give ourselves a library of interesting ape expressions to mix in with the more human performance we needed to convey all the right beats of emotion. It was a fine line between making him human enough that you connect with him emotionally, but not making him so human that he just looks like a weird person with hair.” The animation team explored different modes of locomotion for Kong. “Early on we did tests where he was running on two legs. It was hysterical! Gorillas just don’t work that way. So, whenever he was in a hurry to get somewhere, we would drop him down on all fours.”
Animators also came up with a number of spontaneous character moments, such as when Kong lazily scratches his butt having just woken on Skull Island at the beginning of the film. “That’s pure Weta gold, right there!” said production visual effects supervisor John DesJardin. “I remember when they presented that to us, and we were like, “Well, that’s in the movie!”Extract from “The Illusion Almanac: Creating Godzilla vs Kong” — available now for Kindle from Amazon
*Print equivalent. “Godzilla vs Kong” images © 2021 Legendary and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla TM & © Toho Co., Ltd.