The CGI Titans of Legendary and Warner Bros.’s MonsterVerse stand out in contrast to your traditional Toho suitmation designs. Bearing some similarity to their forbears, they are simultaneously distinct.
That said, you may be surprised – if not flabbergasted – to learn a few of them, Rodan and King Ghidorah in particular, were almost radically different in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Designs by concept artist Ken Barthelmey giving the kaiju more alien and prehistoric appearances surfaced online.
What follows is early concept art for Michael Dougherty’s film that, of course, didn’t get used but is nonetheless stunning.
Here is Barthelmey’s initial idea for Ghidorah’s heads:
And here is a cropped close-up of the cranium:
Much scarier and primordial, it looks decidedly less like a Medieval dragon and more eel-like, bordering on something from Cloverfield rather than Toho. The False King still bears the horns of his natural “crown” but they stick out to the point of overpowering the whole head.
He also has those hairs, or spikes, on his chin which are a new addition to Monster Zero. The features, and arguably more aerodynamic head shape, are more evocative of an aquatic creature, like Godzilla, than an entity from space.
Remember, Ghidorah is less agile in the water. He’s not made for ice either.
If you thought that was strange, take a look at Rodan:
Rodan’s proportions – the shape of his head, the beak, the curve of his neck – and patches of fleshy pink around the throat are more in line with a buzzard or a turkey than a pteranodon.
Like Ghidorah, the Fire Bird has two pronounced devil horns that clash a bit too much. There are also spikes and scales along the neck that would be ideal protection against attacks but don’t fit an avian creature.
It’s certainly not the Rodan we’re used to or that we got in King of the Monsters, which hit that sweet spot of “different enough” without being unfamiliar.
I don’t get Ken Barthelmey’s obsession with horns or crowning features to his monsters. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was copying a little from the MUTOs, especially the Queen variety Dougherty is proud of.
Nicknamed Barb, Dougherty didn’t want the MUTO species to die out so they created her and gave her characteristics signifying royalty.
Dougherty, sharing a 3D sculpt, wrote of the Queen MUTO on Instagram, “this one is different and older than the MUTOs we saw before, hence the ‘crown’ of dorsal ridges to express her royal status.”
Mothra was almost a bit more different too. She could’ve been more realistically insect-like and built more for a “hostile environment” with fewer hints of her fuzzy past at Toho. Dougherty shared an early sculpt by Legacy FX in April.
“Every aspect of her design and personality is meant to evoke a careful balance of beauty, danger, elegance, and ferocity,” he wrote.
Name a kaiju design from Toho’s earliest days, and it changed in the time it moved from page to screen. But, despite this fact, Toho is a big reason why the departures in KOTM weren’t so vast. They’re very protective of their creations.
One thing that made them mad about the 1998 Godzilla was there wasn’t a whole lot they could change about what Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s team cam up with.
The displeasure with the ’98 design was so bad the studio bought the rights to it so they could rename it Zilla and destroy it ignominiously in Godzilla: Final Wars.
KOTM probably wouldn’t have gotten made if Hollywood messed up either Godzilla 2014 or the concept stage between then and 2019. Luckily, we don’t live in a world where that happened.
Do the freakish designs above appeal to you? Why don’t you tell us in a comment?