WonderCon: ‘Godzilla’ director Gareth Edwards shares monster secrets

April 19, 2014 | 4:46 p.m.
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Aaron Taylor-Johnson, center, as Ford Brody on the set of "Godzilla." (Kimberley French / Warner Bros./Legendary)

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Director Gareth Edwards, left, and Bryan Cranston on the set of "Godzilla." (Kimberley French / Warner Bros./Legendary)

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Bryan Cranston, left, as Joe Brody and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody in "Godzilla." (Warner Bros./Legendary)

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and David Straithairn as Adm. William Stenz in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Director Gareth Edwards and Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the set of "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Juliette Binoche as Sandra Brody in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "Godzilla." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Director Gareth Edwards appeared at the Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures presentation at WonderCon in Anaheim on Saturday to unveil footage from his upcoming “Godzilla” remake, due in theaters May 16. The glimpse fans saw provoked a wild reaction.

“And that’s why we make movies,” he said as the lights came up after the screening of the footage.

What drove the fans into a frenzy? It wasn’t just the glimpses of Godzilla rising from the Pacific to lay waste to Honolulu, although the footage, even with incomplete visual effects, was impressive.

It was the presence of a creature that, until now, has not been seen in any of the film’s marketing. In the new film, fans will get to see their Godzilla fight Mothra, or at least a giant winged creature that bears a vague resemblance to a moth. Edwards did not utter the M word during his appearance.

Edwards spoke of his adoration of Steven Spielberg’s films, and the influence was apparent in the scene showed to the WonderCon crowd, which paid homage to the famous shot in “Jaws” that revealed the outline of the giant shark swimming beneath Quint’s boat. Replace Quint’s boat with an aircraft carrier and the shark with Godzilla, and the scope of Edwards’ film becomes clear.

“I grew up watching Spielberg movies,” he said. “What they did so well — as well as having epic, fantastic spectacle — they made the characters feel real and human. We were trying to do the same thing here.”

The clip climaxed with Godzilla confronting the Mothra-like creature on the tarmac at Honolulu’s airport. For the first time, fans got to see the new Godzilla facing the camera directly and letting loose with its distinctive roar.

Edwards said that going into the film, he thought designing Godzilla’s new look would be the easiest thing to do, since everyone already has an idea of what Godzilla looks like. But that turned out to make designing Godzilla one of the trickiest tasks for the film’s crew.

“I feel the best designs are strongest when they work in silhouette,” Edwards said. “We built him in 3-D and designed him in black and rotated him. If you saw a sign warning ‘Godzilla crossing,’ you’d know right away it was not a deer or a bear.”

Creating the monster’s new look took the better part of a year, Edwards said. It was a puzzle, but “it’s not a Rubik’s Cube,” he said. “You can’t cheat and pull off the stickers.”

The film sees Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson leading an ensemble cast, but Edwards said he specifically told the performers not to approach the film as a big, commercial blockbuster.

“Forget the giant monsters,” he told them. “If this really happened, it would be a life-changing experience. You have to take it seriously.”

Edwards said he couldn’t describe the film the way most other directors discuss their big-budget remakes, talking about how they were making things gritty and grounded. He said the original 1954 film was as real as it gets, with its direct and sustained metaphor for the nuclear horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Edwards didn’t reveal exactly what Godzilla’s motivation throughout the film would be, but he definitely hinted that the movie would include more than one creature.

“The other thing, whatever it is, is very much related to the life cycle of Godzilla,” he said. “Everything Godzilla does in the film feels animalistic and natural.”

Many of “Godzilla’s” secrets were divulged at the panel, but one that Edwards is keeping to himself, at least for now, is how the monster’s distinctive roar was created.

According to film lore, the original roar came about by rubbing a hand in a leather glove over the resin-coated strings of a double bass. But when sound designer Eric Aadahl tried that, he couldn’t re-create the effect. Eventually, he hit on a method, but he refused to tell Edwards what it was until the final week of work on the film.

“It’s as crazy as the double bass thing,” was all he would say.

– Patrick Kevin Day

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