The Monsterverse has given us a plethora of enormous creatures of all stripes since it began in 2014. Not only Godzilla, Kong, and Mothra, but brand new and memorable ones, like the MUTOs and Skullcrawlers. The Apple TV+ series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters not only expands the lore of the Monsterverse with mysteries behind the organization’s creation, but has also shown us a number of awesome new Titans in only a few episodes.
We spoke to Sean Konrad, the show’s visual effects supervisor, about some of these new creatures, and revisiting the Golden Gate Bridge scene from ’14’s Godzilla.
“That sequence,” Konrad explained, “the way that Gareth [Edwards] had shot it was very much meant to be from the human point of view. That was one of the really cool things he did. You’re able to get a sense of movement and build the scale of Godzilla by moving through the environment from that point of view of the bus. We definitely wanted to stay true to that when we approached the scene [for Monarch].
The scene in the show, which depicts Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) looking up at the enormous visage of Godzilla while her bus of school children rests precariously next to her, is an iconic moment in the first episode. It was also an iconic moment in the movie, which Konrad explains was almost going to just be what we saw. “There was early talks,” he said, “like, should we just reuse some of the footage from the movie? And ultimately, we came down on the side of that would feel really cheap, and we wanted to do something that really allowed Cate to have an emotional moment.”
But simply showing Godzilla, or the Titans, is not going to ensure they work on-screen. Konrad told us, “It’s a lot of the same problems that existed in the feature films where you have to build up scale. The way you do that is you take atmospherics—rain—and that helps us give some sense of reference to the size of a thing. Explosions then sort of dot in and give you that scale.”
But that’s only part of it. Konrad explained so much of the believability of the monsters comes down to practical filming. “You’re not going to put kids on a bus rig that will tilt back,” he said. “So we had a kid physically in a bus and he was okay to fall backwards onto a mat. But we couldn’t actually have him tip and go over the edge, so we had to digitally take over the bus in a lot of shots in order to make it do that, and then to keep it rocking and rolling on the edge as it’s precariously perched there. Fortunately, we had a lot of stuff in the scene, like rain and smoke that could help us hide details when we were concerned about showing too much of the interior of the bus and making that not work with the exterior.”
Konrad also let us in on a major trick for these Titans that seems obvious in retrospect. It’s all about location. Where is the creature? What would the environment have to say about how the creatures look, move, and behave? “The crab [a.k.a. Mantleclaw] you see in the first scene in episode one, we were standing on this wonderful peninsula made of lava rock and we’re like, ‘Well, this is a cool material. Let’s make a crab made of this!’ So it’s looking at your environment and trying to make them feel like they seamlessly fit in.”
For the Ion Dragon, the creature we meet at the end of episode two, Konrad and team had to go a different direction. “With this one, we wanted it to be incongruent. We want it to be like, why the heck is that thing here? So we took the mouth of an angler fish—which belongs in the bottom of the ocean, where it should stay—and you put that into the middle of the jungle and then we give it wings. Then you’re like, ‘Why the hell does this fish have wings?'”
This explains the rest of its distinctive physique. “[We gave] it this almost gargoyle-ish body with this big, spiny tail,” Konrad said. “Really what you’re trying to do is do the same philosophical ideas of, okay, we’re going to use the natural world as inspiration for our creatures for the initial concept. We want to tie it to these concepts. But ultimately, what we want to do is make it really weird and crazy and tie into mythological creatures and the forms and silhouettes that they have.”
“We wanted a dragon,” he continued, “and so we’re kind of going into that direction. But we didn’t want to make it a dragon that has already been seen on TV a million times. And so finding that unique carve-out is hugely challenging, because you don’t want to step on the features’ toes or the comics’ toes or any of those kinds of things. So you find something that feels unique to your universe.”
Another such critter made its first appearance in episode three. The “Frost-Vark” is a giant mole-like creature that lives underground in Alaska. It can emit freezing energy. This is very unlike anything in our world. That proved quite difficult to for the teams of designers. “That was a creature where we had a design that we loved and we put it into the shots and we were like, this is just fundamentally not working,” Konrad explained. “We went back to the drawing board, literally, and our concept artists at Wētā re-concepted. And then the Framestore team kind of picked up on that and added more detail. And even as we were finishing it, we were like, ‘There’s still things missing.'”
“One of our Apple executives had made a couple of suggestions of, ‘Okay. Well, let’s add a little bit more like snow and blood on it and make it look like it’s just been through a little bit more.’ And that sort of ended up being the sweetening thing that made it feel a lot more realistic.” It paid off for Konrad, who cites the Frost-Vark as his favorite on the show.
“I really love the ice mole creature that we’ve got in there,” he said. “We really get to linger on the ice creature a little bit more. He’s in two episodes back to back, and you get a whole Jaws-like chase scene with it. And that’s kind of the fun of it. I really love being able to explore it and get that personality.”
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters drops episode three Wednesday, November 22, on Apple TV+.
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