Godzilla! (Eats Las Vegas)
Oakton High School Marching Cougars’ 2019 show was titled ‘Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!’ As part of the show, the band director wanted a giant flyover flag carried over the marching band as part of the finale. In the show, the flag flown over the band, dressed in Elvis costumes, represented Godzilla ‘eating’ Las Vegas.
The band director noted the job was: ‘Easy for a pro, but not a band director’. The Band Boosters president reached out to me, on band director’s behalf, to see if I could create the graphic needed.
The initial concept presented to me was a photo of a Godzilla statue located in Japan. The band director wanted it cropped to just the head.
The two main problems with this approach was securing rights to use the photo and photo quality. The first issue made that approach pretty much a no go.
So if not using an existing image, then that meant creating one (which was exciting). Note the question became:
I was aware--but had never really delved into--the fact there were many iterations of the Godzilla character. Of course, that became quickly apparent as soon as I Googled images of Godzilla.
Faced with this, what is the ‘iconic’ Godzilla image? I consulted with my friend, Paul Awad, who teaches film history at NVCC and is a monster movie buff. His recommendation: the original Japanese version of Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla was the most iconic Godzilla.
On with the show!
I started with sketches of Godzilla's head, based on reference images of Godzilla from the 1962 Japanese version of Hong Kong vs. Godzilla.
I wanted to have Godzilla’s arm and claw in the image to help communicate this was Godzilla and not a T-Rex. I struggled with this, initially, because the source images didn’t have either the pose I was looking for or even a clear image of Godzilla’s claws. Eventually, I had my son model his hand and arm in a clawing pose or action. Based on his modeling photographs, I was able sketch out the arm in the pose I wanted.
Another friend of mine and former colleague, Elvin Hernandez, graciously gave me feedback on the sketches.
I created the vector art using Affinity Designer. Creating the illustration in Designer gave me an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the software. One feature Designer has that I really like is how fluidly it handles clipping paths allowing nesting shapes within each other. It allowed me to approach this illustration in a looser way than I typically use for vector-based illustrations. Here, I used a drawing tablet to trace and freehand draw my shapes, followed by a clean up where necessary by manipulating the points.
I went back and forth with the company that was printing the flag, Band Today, about formats and viability of the exported image. Once I had nailed down the format and size that was acceptable for printing, I sent the final illustration to the band director for feedback.
Overall, he liked the illustration. His one feedback was having the image cropped closer to the head with less of the arm and claw. He felt that, since the show was titled ‘Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!’ that the audience would get the image on the flyover flag was Godzilla and not a T-Rex. And he really wanted to get across that Godzilla was ‘eating’ the band. I made the changes he requested and that version is displayed on the flag.
A video of the band’s performance with the flyover flag is available here: Marching Band Competition Oct 19, 2019 @ James Madison University - Parade of Champions. The flyover flag appears near the 9:05 mark. Also, since we're here, I'll mention I also designed and directed the painting of the Vegas skyline backdrop in the back field.
That's a wrap
It was very gratifying to see my work produced and published in the real world--and at such a large scale!
I didn’t really understand the director’s preference to have just the head on the flag. I feel like that was something I could have or should have explored more or sought more clarification and understanding on.
Personally, I feel the illustration worked better compositionally with the arm included and more of the back visible. I’m not sure if this is one of those ‘kill your darlings’ things or ‘respect the client’s preferences’ things.
I don’t know if selling that point to the band director would have been effective or useful. I had my own preferences and he had his own creative vision for the show. Both points of view are valid.
In the end though, whether the image of Godzilla had an arm or not was irrelevant and not really worth the effort to be ‘right’. The effect of the flyover flag was still amazing and the feedback from it was all positive.
This is, by far, the largest thing I have ever created. It was so much fun to see my worked used in part of the show.