How Godzilla Has Transformed Since 1954—From Dudes in Suits to CGI Lasers

Godzilla has been gracing our screens for more than 60 years. We’ve watched the monster ravage whole cities and fight some memorable adversaries over the years, and thanks to the franchise’s long run, we’ve also seen in these films the progression of cinema history. In particular, the special effects techniques that bring Godzilla to life have changed considerably, from a man in a rubber suit stomping around tiny-Tokyo to miniatures and CG visual effects. With the franchise’s latest film, Shin Godzilla, now in American theaters, Inverse revisits the monster’s significant effects legacy.

An analog beginning

Godzilla’s first outing in 1954 was clearly always going to be a practical affair. But director Ishiro Honda and special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya had something particularly creative in mind for their kaiju monster film. They capitalized on the Japanese shooting style of ‘tokusatsu’ to combine a man wearing a rubber Godzilla suit with miniature buildings crafted in intricate detail.

The classic Godzilla filming technique was to use a ‘full-size’ man-in-suit performer and miniaturized buildings or locations, such as these steel transmission towers.

Suit actor Haruo Nakajima donned a 200 pound-plus suit for the role to depict Godzilla as a 164-meter tall monster weighing 20,000 tons. It turned out that the heavy suit made with a combination of wires, bamboo, chicken wire, fabric, cushions and latex helped make Nakajima move in appropriately lumbering ways. He had also referenced the movement of elephants and even went so far as to not show the soles of Godzilla’s feet while walking, suggesting it would make the character look weak.

In addition, the filmmakers slowed down Godzilla action, sometimes by three times the normal film speed, since slow motion added a sense of scale to the monster action. There were also insert shots of hand-puppeteered Godzilla pieces such as a mouth or eyes that helped sell the scale.

Later, the monster suit photography — which included other suited or puppeted creatures and, over time, more and more complex animatronic suits — would be optically composited into separately filmed miniature elements. This also allowed for the addition of hand-animated atomic breath, explosions and fire into the scenes. It was all pretty cheesy, really, but beloved by audiences around the world.