Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters VFX Supervisor On Making Every Godzilla Shot Count [Exclusive Interview]

Monster movies have been a staple of cinema for most of the medium's lifespan as a form of entertainment for the masses. The king of the genre is, unquestionably, Godzilla, and he pretty much has been ever since he first stomped onto the scene in 1954. Now, Apple TV+ is bringing the King of the Monsters to audiences in a new show, "Monarch: Legacy of Monsters." The series takes place in the MonsterVerse, which kicked off in 2014 with director Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla" and is still going strong, with "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" coming out next year.

The series takes place across two timelines — in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 film, and five decades prior. It tracks two siblings following in their father's footsteps to uncover their family's connection to the secretive organization known as Monarch. There's also Army officer Lee Shaw, played in the two timelines by Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt Russell, respectively. And yes, along the way they encounter a bunch of monsters.

Bringing all of that monster action to the small screen is no small ask. As the visual effects supervisor of the show, Sean Konrad was one of the people chiefly responsible for making it happen. Konrad had worked in the MonsterVerse before on sequences for both "Godzilla" and "Godzilla: King of the Monsters." Here, though? He was the man at the top of the VFX food chain.

I had the good fortune of speaking with Konrad to mark of the release of "Monarch" on Apple TV+ this week. We spoke about scaling Godzilla down for TV, what it was like creating new monsters in such a large franchise, making all of the monster shots in the show count, and much more.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'It needs to be as iconic as possible'

You're bringing Godzilla scale to TV, which I was very compelled by, but you've also worked on the movies. You worked on "Godzilla: King of the Monsters." So how does working on "Monarch" differ from working on something like "King of the Monsters," even though you're playing in the same universe?

I was fortunate enough to work as an artist on "Godzilla" 2014, and I helped supervise a sequence on "King of the Monsters." For me personally, it's very different because working at a company, working on the shots, is different than overseeing it all. But functionally, a lot of this stuff is the same. One of the little tricks that we did when we were working on "Godzilla" 2014, we would do this thing called the iPhone test, where we would shrink down the image while we were doing the rough versions of the shot initially. We'd be like, "Do you understand the composition? Do you understand what's going on in the shot, while it's shrunk down and it's nighttime?" If you do, that means it's a good successful composition. If you don't, that means you've got some more work to do before you can go and finish it off. You're bringing things down to the small screen and so the iPhone test is something I still do. Am I able to understand what creatively is happening with these giant monsters, and these night scenes or in these day scenes? Making sure that those silhouettes are really strong, and compositions are really strong.

But then it's always different, too. We're servicing over eight hours of TV with a really healthy budget, but that budget does need to stretch more than you would for a two-and-a-half hour movie. So how you build those action sequences up is really critical. You need to make every shot count, every story point needs to be really clear, and it needs to be as iconic as possible. Also, because we're telling this human drama, it needs to be grounded in that human point of view. Gareth Edwards figured out a lot of that in "Godzilla" 2014, but we really, really needed to stick to it in the show.

Apple's not going to be shy with the wallet if they're backing something like this, but you're still stretching that budget out over time. That being the case, was there a particular monster that was a little harder to accomplish when bringing it down to TV scale?

There were a lot of challenges that we encountered developing things, and it's a really organic process where sometimes you'll look at something that you've concepted, and you think it's really great, and then you put it into the post-vis that you do. You do pre-vis where you really roughly animate the creature and you're like, "Okay, that looks okay. It's rough, but we think we'll get there." Then you shoot the thing and you take that animation, you put it in the background and you're like, "It doesn't work." The characters are reacting to something and the reaction is so big and serious and authentic, but the thing that they're looking at doesn't feel authentic.

That's the same with the features, but the difference is the timelines that we're working with mean that you have to really quickly pivot and be very brutally honest with yourself about the creative. There's not a lot of time to fix things if it's not working. So that's definitely a difference there. Just in terms of technical approach, I think it's really similar. I feel like it is really fundamentally the same kind of approach.

'We want a lot of it in full daylight, fully exposed'

One of the things I really enjoyed is that it's not a "play the hits" show. We're seeing a lot of new stuff. As a guy who has watched "Godzilla" movies since I was a kid, I always like seeing new monsters. You created new monsters for the show. Is there some intense approval process because you're dealing with a preexisting universe? Or did you just have free rein to create as you guys saw fit for the show?

What we would do is, sometimes the writers would have a really clear idea of what they wanted and sometimes they wouldn't. We would start concepting something out, and we'd get to where we'd want to be, where we were happy with it, and then we'd show it to Legendary and Apple, and they would give their feedback and we work on it a little bit more, and then we'd get in the shot. Sometimes we put in the shots and it's just not working and so you go, and you were fine and you're honest with yourself about it.

The great thing is both the studio and the network are really responsive and easy to work with. Sometimes in this industry, you can get insane comments that make no sense, and we weren't really getting that. Even if something wasn't achievable, everything made sense. So working with them was really easy. Toho has say over their monsters, and the good thing is that Legendary, it's not their first rodeo. They've been doing this for quite a long time with Toho, and they know when to bring them in to comment to make sure that we're staying true to the character. Sometimes they'll have opinions about things that you never thought about and it is never a bad opinion. It's always like, "This is something you never thought about," and only a company that's been working on "Godzilla" for this amount of time could possibly realize something so fundamental.

Godzilla is not a main character in the show, at least in terms of screen time. So when crafting Godzilla for the show as opposed to the movies, did you change your approach at all? Or was it like, "We know who this character is in this universe, we've known since 2014, so we just stick to that"?

A lot of the same philosophy undergirds it all. The way you shoot it is important. He's too big to fit in the frame. That kind of philosophical idea of, "How do you create these frames and framings that feel epic and powerful?" It's like you said: We have a limited screen time for him, so every shot needs to count. Every shot needs to be as good as it can be. Sometimes that meant a lot of the Godzilla scenes are at night in the [movies], or in the rain, and this was like, we want a lot of it in full daylight, fully exposed. We want to see it, and we want to see all that detail of the atmosphere that he's moving through, and debris falling off of him and things like that. That really will give us a sense of scale. That's true in the feature films, too, but it was really critical that every single shot mattered in this.

I noticed that you worked on "Justice League," and that's a fascinating situation. Did you work on both versions of it, or what was your contribution there, if you don't mind me asking?

I worked on one small scene. I worked on the bank scene with Wonder Woman. We didn't get to come back for the Zack [Snyder] version, unfortunately, but I think they only changed six or seven shots in that scene anyway. And I loved everything they did and that team that re-envisioned some of those shots did a great job. So cool.

"Monarch: Legacy of Monsters" premieres November 17, 2023, on Apple TV+.

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