“Godzilla vs. Kong” VFX Supervisor on Creating Titan Title Match of the Ages
John ‘D.J’. Des Jardin has been a go-to visual effects supervisor in Hollywood for decades, and he’s widely known as one of the best and nicest guys in the business. You can see his inventive, creative touch in The Matrix, X-Men, and Mission Impossible franchises. His work can be seen on Ang Lee’s achingly beautiful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The man’s talents cross all genres—if you need something to exist on screen that doesn’t, or couldn’t, he’s your man.
For years he’s been crafting special effects for the movies of director Zack Snyder, from Watchmen and Sucker Punch to Man of Steel and Justice League. Recently he used his VFX expertise to help bring director Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong to vivid and exciting life. The Credits spoke to Des Jardin about his work on this latest chapter in the cinematic Monsterverse, which pitted our two most iconic movie monsters against one another in an epic battle for the ages.
You created a lot of new visual special effects for Sucker Punch, and since then it seems every film is expanding on those kinds of innovations. Going in, what about Godzilla vs. Kong was the most exciting for you from the perspective of VFX?
It was just another level of stuff we’ve been practicing probably since Sucker Punch. Sims for pyro and smoke and water and fire and destruction, it felt like with Godzilla vs. Kong we took it to another level. I was talking to (VFX Supervisor) Bryan Hirota from ScanLine the other day about that. I’ve worked with Bryan for 25 years. I worked with him on Sucker Punch, and on Godzilla vs. Kong, and we’re working together on The Flash now. We were saying that what’s really fun about right now, and I think Godzilla vs. Kong is a good representation of that, is there have been movies in the past with a lot of difficult things to figure out, and we’ve actually had to limit ourselves in terms of a certain scope, or a type of effect we’ve wanted to do. Godzilla vs. Kong was an example where there were no conceptual limitations to what we thought we could do, especially with these huge creatures. While I know that there are things in Sucker Punch that we busted our heads to try to figure out how to do, what we did on that show made a lot of other things possible. For Man of Steel, a lot of that was a direct descendent of what we did on Sucker Punch, and then that destruction in Man of Steel led to what we did in this movie. Godzilla vs. Kong is an example of using everything we did before, but heightened.
You’ve said there are two categories of VFX, one photographically based, and the other completely CG. What ways did you use photographic elements in this film? Let’s start with Hollow Earth.
Hollow Earth has some photographic basis, but we definitely used it more as a reference and then re-rendered the entire world. That is what’s extraordinary about working with WETA or Scanline, you can build a whole world out. WETA has such a robust system for making jungles and vegetation and cliffs, I knew we could make good use of that. They have a lot of alien vegetation, actually. The reason for the reference is you want people to buy it as a real-world, so we need certain touchstones that you can pick out in the real photography to get your brain to buy the whole picture when you look at it.
What about in Hong Kong?
With the cities, in terms of the challenges, we did a massive month and a half capture of Hong Kong with Enviro Cam expeditions. We would go out with a round shot camera and go to all these different buildings we knew we’d need based on the pre-vis. That was led by MPC, and their supervisor Pier Lefebvre, and we had some of our guys with him to just capture on the ground and high up in the buildings. Then we had a helicopter shoot to get a lot of the rooftops and had another under-the-radar drone operator that got us a lot of great footage that Bryan and Pier used to anchor the daytime fight. It’s good to anchor the most fantastical stuff with something reality-based, so we tried to put that in where we could.
One of the movies that most inspired you is 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a bit of VFX involving travel to Hollow Earth that is a nod to that. Can you talk about that and other moments that were inspired by films of the past?
That one was pretty early, during the Australia shoot when we were developing the whole idea of how you get to Hollow Earth. Adam wanted that to be trippy, so we talked about that sort of Stargate or 2001 sci-fi effect, and then (WETA Digital visual effects supervisor) Kevin Smith and I talked about how we hadn’t done a digital version of the slit-scan technique, and decided to just start with that. They kicked out these really cool slit-scan tests that were digitally fed the same way that you would a slit-scan old animation system that Douglas Trumbull developed, where you’d feed it some artwork and do the streak. That’s exactly how we did it, and Adam loved it. Though we did enhance it, and he wanted even more trippy and more vibrational and staccato, that’s definitely the reference for that little bit of travel to Hollow Earth. We also always have Star Wars references in the landing bay for the HEAVES in the arctic. We thought, ‘Oh good! We get to do a Death Star hanger space ship taking off and going to Hollow Earth!’ That’s what that was. The other one that comes to mind is the John McClane Kong jump from the aircraft carrier, with the strong burst of Godzilla’s breath behind him. That jump is right out of Die Hard, it’s the Kong Die Hard leap from the explosion. That was willful.
Are you on Team Kong or Team Godzilla?
I’ll answer it this way: I’m Team Godzilla because he’s a force of nature, and I really love that about Godzilla. It’s not malevolence, it just is. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m Team Kong for all of the character emotive bits in the movie that really highlight Kong’s sentience. If anything, I want to lock all the humans up, because there’s definitely a certain amount of animal cruelty where Kong is concerned. They are tricking him into doing things for them all the way through the movie. Kong should wipe them out, but he doesn’t. Ultimately though, It doesn’t matter if Godzilla or Kong wins. As long as they fight, we all win.
Godzilla vs Kong is currently in theaters and available on HBO Max.
Featured image: Caption: (L-r) GODZILLA and KONG in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA VS. KONG,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures