April 17, 2011 marked the coming of winter. HBO’s Game of Thrones brought George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ to life and introduced us to the opulence and grandeur of the seven kingdoms.
The series aired its sixth season on April 24, 2016, and has continued to live up to the glory of the literary masterpiece, thanks to visionary creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, a brilliant ensemble cast, and outstanding VFX (Visual Effects).
Game of Thrones is filmed at several surreal locations including Northern Ireland, Croatia, Morocco, Spain, Scotland, Iceland, Malta, and the United States. The dreamlike sets make up for only a small part of the magic that we see. Behind the green-screen are a bunch of phenomenal maestros sitting on their well-deserved iron thrones with technology that never fails to intrigue.
Season 1 saw the incredible introduction to G. R. R. Martin’s fantasy world. HBO hired a British and an Irish company for the visual effects.
Here’s a quick look at the extensive hours of work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcqY2AFNa08
Season 2 had increasingly challenging visuals, and HBO brought on board the expertise of a Germany-based visual effects company. The studio won the Primetime Emmy Award for the Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2012 and 2013 for the episodes Valar Morghulis and Valar Dohaeris, respectively. They created the majestic armies spread across the screen, backgrounds with extended cityscapes, BG matte paintings, CG gore (blood splatter, anyone?), crowd simulation, and of course the juvenile dire wolves and dragons.
Other Canada, US and Britain-based studios were involved in the making of the third season. Doug Campbell, one of the VFX supervisors, spoke candidly about his experience during Season 3. “The Ice Wall was one of the most compelling sequences for us. The 3D build provided the camera range required to deliver the drama and fear of the climb, and of course, the realism of the ice slide.”
A 700 ft. wall (a few miles long, real-world scale) was created and the ice slide was simulated, and shot from several different cameras. Comprised of over 80 shots, the sequence exhibited the hold-on-to-your-seats sort of adventure, without compromising on the scale or continuity.
The entirety of The Wall – 3D environment could rise to breathless heights on the shoulders of the quixotic experts. And it would be so unfair if we didn’t mention the enormous Mance Rayder’s camp and the 3D Unsullied Army!
By Season 4, the audience and expected VFX magic had grown considerably; so had the dragons! HBO signed on a Germany-based firm that bagged the Emmy Award for Visual Effects in 2014 (for the season finale). A couple of Canada- and US-based studios also contributed to the season’s production.
A team of 22 to 30 people worked on understanding and conceptualizing Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons. Talk about attention to detail! What resulted was a string of stunning results with the muscle movements of the adolescent dragons in Seasons 4 and 5.
The collision, destruction, and grandiose of the Harpy, the golden statue in Meereen, was a visual delight and the highlight of Season 5. A VFX supervisor at the VFX studio that worked on the fifth season said, “This was a huge CG build and complex work for TV. It is challenging because we’re aiming for feature film quality, but the schedule is not the same as on features. We built on last year’s work… Needing close ups of the pyramid meant we had to build it up brick by brick. Every brick was modelled and textured independently.”
With (VFX Supervisor across the series) Joe Bauer’s work at the foundation, the VFX team worked on adding complexity and life to the CG scenes.
Season 5 gave us the incredible matte paintings across Meereen, the ruins of Old Valyria, the Smoking Sea, and the Stone Men. While we are still settling into the unsettling and unnerving Walk of Atonement, the unveiling of tedious facts and relentlessly-dedicated processes of producing these heart-wrenching visual effects, continues to celebrate the work of the studios devoted to creating Game of Thrones.
With Season 6 proving to be an overwhelming experience, especially with the much-awaited ‘Battle of the Bastards’, it’s a long wait until the final season comes knocking on our doors. Until then, we can keep reminiscing the seasons gone by and drool over the visual effects!
Which was your favorite VFX sequence from the series? Let us know in the comments section below!