For many die-hard G-Fans, the idea of portraying Godzilla has always been a dream. Godzilla wasn't merely brought to life through special effects, but also through the many talented, expressive and physically able suit actors who played him. The first was the legendary Haruo Nakajima (1929-2017). He played Godzilla in the original 1954 film through 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. After he retired, others took up the mantle, including Hiroshi Sekida, Seiji Onaka, Shinji Takagi, Isao Zushi, Toru Kawai, and Katsumi Tezuka. From 1984-1995, Kenpachiro Satsuma portrayed Godzilla. The martial arts master started his career in the 1971 film Godzilla vs. Hedorah, playing the title adversary. The Millennium series saw Tsutomu Kitagawa and Mizuho Yoshida continue the legacy from 1999-2004. Suitmation became a technique that defined Godzilla and solidified him as the undeniable king of tokusatsu. It wasn't until 2014 that Godzilla was brought to life via motion capture. (This same technique would be used for 2016’s Japanese Academy Award-Winning Shin Godzilla, via Mansai Nomura.)
In 2014 the King of the Monsters had returned after a ten year hiatus. Only this time, it was on a huge American budget--The comeback was Hollywood’s second attempt and Juan Ricardo Ojeda, professionally known as TJ Storm, was given the honor of playing the legendary monster. Storm portrayed characters in Deadpool (2016), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Mortal Kombat (1995), and Punisher: War Zone (2008). On television he worked on Conan the Adventurer (1997-1998), Martial Law (2000), and Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight (2009).
So how does one portray such an iconic monster via motion capture? Storm talks about his experiences in film, his involvement with Legendary & Warner Brothers and what it’s like to be the King of the Monsters.
(TJ Storm as Godzilla)
TJ Storm, I sincerely have to thank you for allowing this interview to happen. It's very generous of you to allow me to speak with Godzilla himself.
Absolutely, Ben! Thank you so much for doing this.
How did you come about working with Legendary and Warner Brothers?
With Godzilla (2014), a friend of mine, his name is Garrett Warren, he did a lot of the action design on Godzilla for the kaiju, he asked me, “Hey man, do you know people who are good at creature moving and acting?”
Now, the thing you need to know is the difference between performance capture and motion capture. Motion capture is the technology. Performance capture is the acting--[What] the actors and stunt performers will often do with that technology--those jobs are always super top-secret. I've worked on over a hundred video games and movies doing motion capture, and that's aside from all the live-action stuff that I've done. But in most cases it is top-secret. I won't even know what I am working on until I get there. I didn't know I was Iron Man. I didn't know I was Rocket Raccoon. Or Baby Groot. Or Teenage Groot. We walk in and they tell us what we're doing, and then we start to get to work.
So weeks before, Garrett Warren called me up … I told him, “Yeah, I know some people.” So, I gave him some names and I forgot about it. So, he calls me up again a few week later, and he says, “Hey, could you come down? We need some help with these beast performers and stuff.” I told him, “Yeah, sure.” Now, I was working on a lot of other things during this time, so I thought he was calling about having me help with the creature performers he already had. I have a performance capture school, and it's called the Minds Eye Tribe. You can check us out at mindseyetribe.com. I thought, “he wants me to teach these people or brush up a bit to perfect their creature performance.” So, I went down there one morning, somewhere in the valley in Los Angeles, and it was just me and two other guys walking up on a big stage. He [Warren] turns to us and he points at this guy and told him, “You're Muto #1.” He points to the next guy and told him, "You're Muto #2.” And he points to me and says, “And you're Godzilla.” I said, “Wait, What?” (laughs)
I didn't know how to react. It didn't make sense. It was awesome! It was one of the best things ever! It was spectacular! That was definitely a good way to start your morning. I had no clue that I was going to be Godzilla. I will tell you that my first Godzilla movie my dad took me to see in the theater was Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster and he actually pointed at me and said, “You're going to be Godzilla!” Of course I was like, “What?” (laughs) This is awesome! So, that's how it all went down and we started shooting that morning.
(Behind the scenes of Godzilla (2014). Photo provided by TJ Storm.)
That's so cool. Your dad telling you that you were going to be Godzilla and then that coming to a reality is awesome. Did you have an audition and an interview for the role of Godzilla?
That was the audition and the interview. Now, granted, we had worked on other things, including Avatar. I was the amp-suit for the Mech that the general climbs into. So I moved like a robot--we kind of mapped out this fight where I fought against a really big guy wielding a giant plush cat, beating me up with it. We did the fight in motion capture and we captured it all and that was maybe a year or two earlier. That's why he [Garrett] felt comfortable calling me, I guess. And that's how I got into Godzilla.
For Godzilla: King of the Monsters, again they called me and I wasn't exactly sure how it was going to go. But I walked into a huge interview room at Legendary Studios. This place is a little intimidating. You walk out and can see you're on this high floor, and you can see all over Burbank, and then they take you down this impressive staircase after you pass these huge statues of Godzilla ... There's a very large movie-sized meeting room with a giant meeting table and several people sitting around waiting for you behind the glass walls--I was like, “Nope!” (laughs) I walked in and they said, “Hey, we want to talk to you about Godzilla.” I said, “Yeah, that's a great thing to talk about, let's talk about Godzilla!” So, that was how we kind of got into it. It was Mike Dougherty and a lot of other people, and it was really fun.
I'm so fortunate to continue to play Godzilla and it is absolutely one of the best things in my entire life. I've gotten to play a lot of superheroes and a lot of monsters and lots of video games, but wow! Godzilla. Literally the King of the Monsters and that is spectacular!
At what age did your professional career begin?
I don't know. I'm horrible at keeping time and judging time. I have very little sense of it. If I were a superhero, it would be one of my kryptonite weaknesses. I can tell you that I grew up as a dancer. I was a break dancer. I got a scholarship to dance school and with that I had to learn ballet and jazz. I was the only guy in class and I've got to tell you it made my dancing and martial arts stronger. I was doing martial arts since I was a little kid and the ballet made my martial arts better and stronger ... made me more aware of my body.
When I came to Los Angeles, I danced professionally out here for a little while and I got a record deal. I did that for a little while then I got screwed out of the record deal because I didn't know what I was signing. I was like, “Eh, if I'm gonna work in the business, maybe I'll try acting. How hard can that be?” Well… that was an entirely different story, but I started doing kickboxing movies because I could do choreography and I can do action. I can do martial arts and that worked out well. I had a good look for that kind of thing and I did a lot of those. One day in a directing class, a guy I was sitting next to said, “Hey, I got this thing called motion capture class. Would you be interested in trying it out?” I replied, “Wait, what is this? It's not weird is it?” So, yeah, that's kinda how I got into it.
(Behind the scenes photo of Godzilla (2014). Photo provided by TJ Storm.)
So, how exciting was it for you to learn that you were gonna portray Godzilla?
Dude… I'm Godzilla! That's freakin' awesome, man! It's the best thing ever! I grew up reading comic books, watching Night Gallery and Thundercats and X-Men, and I love all of that stuff. I was a geek in school.
I was [also] the tallest person in almost every class that I was in when I was a kid, and I was super clumsy as a result. I had grown too fast. My brain couldn't handle or control that height, so I would just bump into things. I was too clumsy to be able to play sports until later when I was in high school and so I read comic books and kept to myself for the most part. I read fantasy novels, I would go to the library and bury myself into the mythology section. I just love geeky stuff, it's what I grew up doing. So to get to do, and be able to do this stuff - play superheroes, play monsters, play Godzilla, play villains - I can't express how awesome it is--every day to wake up and either read tweets about how excited people are for the movie, and see the trailers.
I went to go see Captain Marvel and I'm sitting there in the IMAX theater, and they started playing this thing with piano music. I kinda recognized some of the words and I was like, “What is this?” It was the 5-minute trailer of Godzilla; King of the Monsters! I was watching it like I had never worked on it. I knew what happened in this scene and I'm watching it like, “Woah!” Then, when you're out of it and it's finally over, I’m looking at the people I went with, and said to them, “Did you see that?'” They replied, “Dude, that was you, man!” The best part was people were actually clapping. There's people in the audience clapping at what they had just seen. And it was surreal. This is the coolest thing ever! I love it! It's awesome!
(Behind the scenes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Photo provided by TJ Storm.)
How long have you been working in the motion capture business now?
About 25 years now. I'm probably the longest motion capture actor working at the industry and I love it.
Being a martial artist, do you apply those skills and techniques to the work you do?
I do. Every single day. The martial arts are mind, body and spirit. You need all of those things to be good at performance capture. And you know, a lot of things require that. Mind: You need to be able to focus. You need to be able to take in information, remain flexible with what you are hearing and come up with new ideas while being creative. That's all mind stuff. Body: Your balance has got to be excellent. You've got to be able to portray hundreds of different kinds of people, creatures, postures and personality types all through your movement. Sometimes you're a very old man, sometimes you're a perky young woman - that's a whole other story, not gonna get into that - and sometimes you're a 400-foot-tall 90,000-metric-ton super-monster. Those are all very different. Then there's spirit: You're working 8 hours which turns into 10 hours, which turns into 12 hours, which turns into 14 hours--man, those days can get long! Yes, it's fun, but it's also serious business. Millions of dollars are on the line. You have lots of people talking to you all at the same time. You have politics and all that stuff. You can't let any of that get to you. And that's after you've made it. That's the easy part. It takes sometimes a decade or more to make it.
Your spirit has got to remain strong! If you believe that you were made for this, if you love this more than anything - you love performing, you love acting, if you love the business or whatever your thing is - you gotta have the spirit to stick with it through the good and the bad. The good can distract you. You can go to a party and have fun, but the bad can crush your spirit, it can crush your soul. You got to know that you were born for this.
So, thank you to all the martial artists, the teachers, the senseis and all the great masters. And thank you to my mom who kept me to stick with the martial arts. It was her contributions and the masters that gave me the mind, body, and spirit of martial arts that have made me strong and helped make me who I am today.
Great shout out there, TJ. How many rehearsals did it take to portray Godzilla in 2014?
It was an on-stage work. We just did it there. We just threw it together and we made mistakes along the way. There was no concept art on the stage when we started which is kind of a big deal. I needed to see the creature and there's all kinds of Godzilla's out there. So I pulled up in my mind without thinking about it, something like a tyrannosaurus rex, and I made the small t-rex arms, and they said, “No, he's got arms. He's got shoulders and is able to knock things over and can grab stuff.” My response was, “Oh!'” So then I changed the position, played with the posture, played with the speed and it was a collaborative effort. It's not all me. I get tons of notes from everybody.
We eventually settled upon what you see on the screen now and it doesn't end with me either. I do the initial movement then there's an army of artists--who never get the shout out they deserve. I would love to send a shout out to all the amazing digital artists who've spent a lifetime learning not only how to use the programs, but to master the programs. And use their art and their talent to make my movements work realistic on screen--people who do the lighting, people who do the buildings that are breaking, people who do the environments, people who do my skin, people who do the bones under my skin which you never see. Without the bones, what is called the rigging, Godzilla and the other characters I do can't move. So, all those people, thank you for making me and the creature look freakin' awesome!
Do you think these skills help you learn something new while working at the motion capture business?
Yes. I mean, you learn something new every day. Every character's a little bit different. You learn their emotional state because that affects their posture, that affects their movements, their reaction--you learn all kinds of stuff. Occasionally, you learn entirely new skill sets because you have to. The character might require something that you've never been able to do until someone wrote it down and told you, “Do this!” So, I learn all kinds of things.
I never put much thought into being a tyrannosaurus rex with shoulders and atomic breath. That was new, and I wasn't a fluid moving amp-suit for the Mecha in Avatar until... I was an amp-suit mecha for Avatar. You learn something new every single time.
I love learning, and I love to share that learning. That's what we do at the Tribe, we teach people the skills they'll need as actors to do new things. We were working on Call of Duty--there's literally hundreds of different types of guns. We have to learn how to shoot, how to hold, how to reload, how to chamber--that is a lot of a learning experience. How to move like a Navy Seal, how to move like an Army Ranger--how do those things affect each other? How are they different? How to move in a tactical formation. We teach those things at the Mind’s Eye Tribe because I had to learn them. It made me realize, “Hey, this is hard!” People need to know this before they get to the audition. Because I was learning it while on set for Call of Duty or Resident Evil or Battlefield or one of the hundreds of video games I got to work on. Most people have to audition for these and they don't have a single chance unless they have some sort of understanding of it. So, yes, we absolutely learn, and you should seek to learn new skills as an actor or just as a human. There's so much great stuff out there and it's fun.
Is it a safe bet that you are returning for Godzilla vs. Kong (2020)?
I don't know. I know nothing. I speak of nothing. (laughs)
What can you tell me about working with Alan Maxson, Jason Liles and other talents in the mo-cap industry? Alan Maxson has said that you all have done some work together before.
Yes! It's great working with those guys! Jason Liles is freakin' cool and we've played Dungeons & Dragons together. By the way, I may have said that I am a nerd as a kid, [but] I’m still a super-geek. I love playing video games, I play Dungeons & Dragons regularly--I run three campaigns a week when I’m not away shooting. I’m the game master. So we game as much as we can and sometimes we’ll just play board games too. We play all kinds of stuff. I absolutely love it. It is the most fun because it all feeds itself.
I work in an industry where sci-fi, fantasy and action all come together and then I go home and we talk about sci-fi, fantasy and action. We have been watching Game of Thrones and we’re all cheering at the TV and stuff like that. So, getting to work with your friends who happen to be a giant white ape in Rampage is spectacular!
Alan Maxson is one of the best creature actors in the business. He is super cool, he’s super fun. Also, he won’t brag but, he’s also a very good editor as well. He understands filmmaking from a different perspective and that’s the kind of thing you want in your performer--someone who understands more than just their little piece of the pie. Because it’s a collaborative effort and if you can understand where a scene should end or where an angle should be added to a scene, that really helps the overall project. Working with Alan Maxson and working with Jason Liles, wow! They are some of the best and they’re just great people. I’m happy that I get to work with them.
What was it like to work under Gareth Edwards?
I met him at a screening of Star Wars: Rogue One well after Godzilla was done. I said to him, “Gareth, congratulations on Rogue One. That was fun and cool. I’m Godzilla.” And he said, “Holy Shit!” (laughs) We had never met before then because he was working with the actors. He’s making all the actors run their paces and making sure all the scenes are going as planned. But they are tiny in comparison to me in the background. So, we’re not filmed at the same time. I never was on the set while any of the actors were because they’re reacting to something that appears later--and that something was me. So, yeah, I didn’t get to meet him until Rogue One a year later. He said, “Dude, you have to let people know that you’re Godzilla! You were great, man!” I told him, “Yeah, that was cool. I appreciate that, and I will. Thank you! So, I’m going to go do an interview right now.” Gareth was awesome!
What was it like to work under Michael Dougherty?
Michael Dougherty… Dude! I got to say… How do I put this? I watch a lot of superhero movies and, as a fan of the genre, they always miss the mark just by a little bit, right? So, if you’re a fan of superhero movies, especially before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they miss the mark. And then came along Iron Man, and Jon Favreau that directed Iron Man, and from the very first frame of the movie you could tell that somebody was directing it that was a fan. That changes everything.
Michael Dougherty is a fan of these genres. He loves horror, he loves monsters, he loves sci-fi--you can tell. And you can see the passion in every frame when someone is a fan. Now, you don’t have to be a fan, but I want to watch films made by someone who is skilled, talented and a fan who is passionate about the work. Guillermo Del Toro, he’s a fan of the genre, and he nails it bullseye every single time. And now Michael Dougherty is in that league. He does amazing work because not only is he a fan, but he is skilled at this medium of filmmaking which is a huge thing. You have to be good with people. You have to be smart. You have to be creative, you have to have so many skills.
Directors are so wildly underappreciated at least by the public… I’m happy to have worked with a super-fan and somebody who gets it and somebody who has nailed it. Michael Dougherty has nailed Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Thank you, Michael Dougherty, for kicking massive ass!
How fun has it been for you to work with so many talents involved with the making of both films?
Like I said, I get to work with some of the best of the best and, this cast is amazing! Ken Watanabe, Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, and, holy smokes! Are you Serious? Charles Dance! Ah man! It’s the best thing ever! The best!
TJ Storm working behind the scenes in the mo-cap industry. (Photo provided by TJ Storm.)
What insight can you tell me about the motion capture industry?
I can tell you a lot. We teach people about the motion capture and performance capture and it’s super top-secret when we go into the jobs. If you don’t already know, motion capture is where you put on a really tight suit--the suit can’t move around much. Then they put little markers that reflect light onto all of your joints, and then you walk into a room that’s flooded with infrared light and that light bounces off those markers and goes back into the cameras, fed into a computer. In the computer they can see your wire-framed skeleton and then they can attach whatever creature, actor, monster, or villain that they want on that wire-frame. And that is basically motion capture. It’s a kind of animation. It is a life-saver when you can consider it would take an army of artists to key-frame it.
It is a rewarding and a spectacularly fun medium. It doesn’t care what you look like, which is awesome. I have played everybody from Iron Man to Godzilla. You can be anything and that appeals to a lot of people. You can dream … you can become anything in this medium and that is a beautiful thing. It’s a place forged of dreams and a place where you can dream--you are the dream engine. That’s what we get to do. I am fortunate and happy to be a part of filmmaking and this technology right now. Thank you everybody who watches these films and we’re all apart of the same tribe. We are part of the same geeky nation that absolutely loves our current mythology which we’re all building together. And we’re all keeping it alive. It’s just fun to be a part of that.
TJ thank you so much for this great insight, for portraying Godzilla for us fans, and, thank you for all your time for this interview. Really appreciate chatting with you.
Dude, thank you so much Benjamin, for doing this interview! Long live the King! Thank you!
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This article was written By Huge-Ben and published on 2019-06-03 07:03:39
More about upcoming Godzilla movies
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) is the sequel to Michael Dougherty's Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters and will be the fourth and final installment in the Monsterverse movie quadrilogy. It will also bridge both the Godzilla movies and Kong: Skull Island by bringing Godzilla and Kong face-to-face for an epic match-up. To learn more about Godzilla vs. Kong, check out the Godzilla vs. Kong about page here!
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