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‘Godzilla Minus One’ VFX Oscar Nom Seemed to Be an “Unreachable” Goal

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A joyful clip of an ecstatic Godzilla Minus One visual effects team recently went viral, featuring the moment Jan. 23 when it was announced that their film had earned a VFX Oscar nomination — something that must have seemed improbable, or impossible, when the lean 35-person team tackled the Toho Studios’ film that was made on a budget estimated to be in the $9 million to $15 million range.

The announcement was made about 10:30 p.m. in Tokyo, where most of the team and reps from Toho were gathered around a TV at their VFX studio, Shirogumi. As their title was revealed, they jumped out of the seats and cheered. Streamers flew around the room. The camera capturing the moment could barely stay steady. They celebrated with sushi, beer and saké — and after losing track of time, many staffers missed the final train of the night. “We ended up drinking all the way until morning, and then the Japanese morning news programs picked up that Godzilla was nominated,” says the film’s writer-director, Takashi Yamazaki, speaking to THR with the aid of a translator.

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Yamazaki also was VFX supervisor and as such is an Oscar nominee (the last time the Academy recognized a film’s director for VFX was when Stanley Kubrick received an Oscar for 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). Yamazaki is nominated alongside decades-long collaborator Kiyoko Shibuya, who was VFX supervisor and VFX producer and is only the fifth woman nominated in the category (just two women, Suzanne M. Benson for Aliens in 1987 and Sara Bennett for Ex Machina in 2016, have won). CG director Masaki Takahashi, a senior member of the company, and Tatsuji Nojima, a 25-year-old effects artist and compositor, also earned noms.

Yamazaki says he was heavily influenced by Ishirō Honda’s original Godzilla — which kept the balance between the story’s human drama and the monster itself — as he created a film in the Kaiju tradition that felt real enough to provoke the type of fear moviegoers surely experienced in the ’50s. A highly detailed model of the team’s fully CG Godzilla was created for extreme close-ups.

The team says the director’s hands-on role in the VFX helped with planning, reduced the back-and-forth and streamlined the work. That proved valuable as the film comprises 610 VFX shots that account for roughly two-thirds of the movie’s 124-minute running time.

In a few instances, a single artist would take a shot all the way to completion — including some of the frames of the CG monster interacting with digital water. Nojima’s skill gave Yamazaki the confidence to increase the number of shots set on the ocean.

Now, the team is awaiting their trip to the Dolby Theatre, home of the 96th Academy Awards on March 10. “I’ve seen it on TV for so many years, and I thought it was this unreachable place,” says Takahashi. “To be able to share that same space even for a brief moment is very humbling

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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