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July 09
2017

ISSUE

Summer 2017

5 OF THE BIGGEST GAME OF THRONES VFX MOMENTS

Epic storytelling and epic visual effects are now the trademark of Game of Thrones. Here’s a look back at some of the big VFX moments from recent seasons  of the TV show, and the visual effects studios behind them.

By IAN FAILES

1. THE FIGHT TO THE WIGHTS

1. TAKING THE FIGHT TO THE WIGHTS Hodor (Kristian Nairn) is attacked by the Wights.

In the final episode of season four, called The Children, Bran and his companions suddenly encounter a horde of skeletal Wights (reanimated corpses). They fight in hand-to-hand and sword-and-axe combat. This was orchestrated on set with carefully choreographed stunt performers wearing prosthetic make-up and green-screen-covered suits, the idea being that visual effects techniques would be used to remove portions of the performers and achieve the skeleton look.

Scanline VFX handled these shots, beginning with cyber- scans of the performers in their wight get-ups. The studio modeled CG replicas and roto-mated these with the live action to produce the bony and wasting-away limbs. A final touch involved digital snow and some ground and snow simulation for when the Wights first emerge from the ground.

2. HARDHOME HYSTERIA

2. HARDHOME HYSTERIA The Night King observes the battle at Hardhome. Prosthetic creature design by Barrie Gower. Prosthetics sculpted by Tristan Versluis. Makeup applied by Victoria Bancroft Perry, Emma Faulkes and Paula Eden. Visual effects by El Ranchito (environment) and Image Engine (Night King ice treatment).

Battles seem to be a mainstay of Game of Thrones, and the one seen in season five’s Hardhome episode was one of the most elaborate. Here, a band of men from the Night’s Watch join the Wildlings as they are attacked by Wights and White Walkers. As is often the case on the show, plate photography of prosthetic performers was augmented with digital hybrid characters, CG environments and green-screen scale photography to enable the inclusion of the giant Wun Wun.

This work was completed by El Ranchito, taking on shots previs’d by The Third Floor, and then filmed on an Iceland beach. Meanwhile, Image Engine made slight alterations to photography of the Night King. He was portrayed by an actor in prosthetic make-up, and Image Engine turned parts of the King’s skin to ice.

3. DROGON TAKES CHARGE

3. DROGON TAKES CHARGE Drogon wreaks havoc in the stadium.

In “The Dance of Dragons,” also in season five, Rhythm & Hues had a hand in the dragon Drogon’s rescue of Queen Daenerys from the Meereen stadium. Using a dragon model previously made by Pixomondo, artists at Rhythm had the dragon swoop into the stadium and deliver waves of fiery attacks. Digital crowds and stadium extensions were also part of the mix.

The fire breathing was realized also with the aid of a practical flamethrower rig fixed on a motion-controlled Technocrane filmed on location in Spain. The motion-control fire elements had the benefit, of course, of making the flames more realistic and linking them to the environment. It was also augmented by Rhythm & Hues to suit the motion required by an aggressive Drogon.

4. BATTLE OF WINTERFELL

4. BATTLE OF WINTERFELL. Jon Snow readies for battle against Ramsay Bolton’s army.

Jon Snow’s defeat of Lord Ramsay Bolton’s army at Winterfell, a key moment in season six’s “Battle of the Bastards” episode, is not without significant carnage. That came courtesy of the artists at Iloura, who created armies of 3,000 soldiers and, most memorably, close-up horse-and-rider collisions to demonstrate battle at its most visceral. An array of weapons, armor, flags and even body parts were also visual effects creations, as well as added blood, mud, smoke, fire and mist.

Perhaps the most stunning component of Iloura’s work was its digital horses, which involved a deep studio of horse video reference from activities – such as steeple chases, jousting, racing and, unfortunately, accidents – to replicate their behaviors in the battle. A combination of motion-capture, key-frame and some crowd-simulation approaches to animation made the horses and their riders possible.

5. MAKING MEEREEN

5. MAKING MEEREEN. Daenerys rides above Meereen while it’s under attack. All photos courtesy of HBO

In the same “Battle of the Bastards” episode, Queen Daenerys’ dragons help take out a fleet of ships attacking the city of Meereen. This involved shared visual effects by Rodeo FX, which completed the complex city environments, while Rhythm & Hues delivered the dragons. The Third Floor also contributed previs to the Battle of Meereen, as it had done also for the Winterfell scenes.

What made the city shots stand out, in particular, was a major effort on Rodeo’s part to build differentiated areas of Meereen – essentially neighborhoods with distinctive architec- ture, props and other elements. That made the city feel ‘lived in’ and ‘busy’ as it comes under siege

Using a dragon model previously made by Pixomondo, artists at Rhythm & Hues had the dragon swoop into the stadium and deliver waves of fiery attacks. Digital crowds and stadium extensions were also part of the mix. The fire breathing was realized also with the aid of a practical flamethrower rig fixed on a motion-controlled  Technocrane filmed on location in Spain. The motion-control fire elements had the benefit of making the flames more realistic and linking them to the  environment.


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