It turns out Game of Thrones is full of interesting nods to engineering history.
In this article, we will try to figure out which technologies are used in creating the magic of the popular series, fantasy locations, and action, and which companies are behind it. After all, “Game of Thrones” is incredible. As for the series budget, last season was $10 million only for production, and the lion’s share of this money went to visual effects.
Only a couple of minutes of screen time is devoted to the setting, but here it is especially evident how much work the team invests in creating the show. During the setting, the viewer is introduced to the geography of the seven kingdoms, showing their deployable 3D models under the recognizable Ramin Javadi track. The Rock Paper Scissors production group has been responsible for this great introduction for many years. Its Elastic division works on the design, a52 – computer graphics and Rock Paper Scissors – editing.
It takes three months to create an intro for a 10-episode season, because, at the beginning of each episode, the setting slightly changes (yes, not every episode is the same), depending on in which locations the action will take place, as well as changes in the kingdoms. After the filming of each season is complete, the production team receives a list of locations where the filming took place.
It all starts with artists’ sketches, then 3D models are created. The team begins with the design of mechanisms, gears, and chains, then thinks about how, from a physics point of view, these mechanisms should interact in order to lift miniature buildings. “Someone thinks that we are actually creating these locations from wood and metal, but this is all done on a computer to emulate real physical textures and materials,” says Angus Wall, the head of the company.
There is a separate specialist on the team just to verify the correctness of the shadows that cast mechanical buildings.
Fire-breathing Dragons and Other Creatures
Although the film crew adheres to a strict rule: to shoot with maximum use of nature – it is clear that the dragons in the series are artificial creatures created with computer graphics. But nobody draws them from scratch. Sven Martin, the visual effects supervisor at Pixomondo, the company that helped HBO with dragons, says that in creating dragons, the company is also inspired by nature. It all starts by studying the movements of real lizards and bats, from the lizards they take the movement of the body, from bats – the muscles of the wing and its structure.
“We wanted the visual effects to look realistic, not artificial. Everything you see is based on real animals. We took the best of what nature has to offer” says Martin
About 14 contractors work on the visual effects of the show, one of the companies – Rhythm & Hues – helped create dragons on the eighth season of the show. 71 employees worked on the project, including 10 animators (it was their responsibility to make the skin and muscles look as natural as possible on the screen), one person responsible for creating the dragon’s skeleton, three illuminators, 10 specialists who put the dragons together.
Dragons must be able to breathe fire, but his magical flame on the screen is the result of real shooting. It is simulated by a robotic rail chamber to which a flamethrower is attached – it simulates all movements of the animal’s head so that the flame has directionality.
Creating other fantastic creatures in the “Game of Thrones” requires the same amount of work. On-screen fly straights appear as a result of shooting Husky dogs and wolves, with the use of visual effects. Fans joked that the little girl Nymeria did not go with Arya because the money ran out for visual effects. After the show went mainstream, the popularity of the Husky dog in the United States sharply took off, they were bought out of love for the show, not for animals, which led to an increase in the number of huskies abandoned in shelters. One of the lead actors of the series, Peter Dinklage, called on viewers to take a more responsible approach to choose a pet.
Wayne Stables from Weta Digital, the company that did the zombie bear from the penultimate episode of season seven says that the project employed 20 people. “Bears often look pleased. We needed to create a bear that would terrify the public,” he says. By the way, his company was engaged in the creation of another famous fantasy dragon – Smaug in the film adaptation of “The Hobbit”.
Visual Effects and Nature Footage
The team invests in VFX technology which is visible not only in the creation of heroes, but also in the design of the locations: the lake on which John Snow’s expedition team battles with zombies unfolds is not computer graphics and is not quite natural: in fact, it is a quarry filled with concrete, painted and decorated with frozen ice smooth surface
Interestingly enough, a large number of visual effects sometimes prevent the actors from getting into the role. Emilia Clark, who plays Daenerys Targaryen in the series, complained that it was difficult to regain her emotions while sitting on a swinging bright mock-up of the green dragon.
The scenes with the Wall are always epic, in fact, when John Snow looks from the 200-meter-long Wall, the actor stands on a small slightly raised platform, peering at the green screen.
The combination of field shooting and visual effects is clearly visible on the video where the Battle of Winterfell was shot. During the shooting, real horses were used, but much less than the plot needed, plus no one wanted to kill real animals for the sake of authenticity, so some of the horses in the frame are real, but most are computer generated.
Game of Drones
Many bird’s eye view shots appeared in the series thanks to drones. Scenes such as the Battle of Meirin or the approach of the Stannis Baratheon fleet to the Royal Harbor were filmed with their help. Drones are used to create the effect of a quick camera span. A spidercam system, which is a cable stretched between two construction cranes, on which a camera sliding on rollers is hung, can also be used to achieve this effect.
In season 7, the team resorted to the help of FlyCam, which provided mini-helicopter drones for filming. They are useful because they can carry the camera over the terrain at high speed with good image stabilization (simulating, for example, the flight of a dragon). This drone was used in the episode with the battle between the army of Daenerys and the army of the Lannisters:
Both the series itself and the advertisement for it are filmed with the help of drones such as the promo for season 5 for Sky, which Skynamic has been doing.
Not all drones are equally useful. Amateur drones, which are launched over the filming grounds to get some exclusive information about the actors, the plot, etc., interfere with the shooting. Security firm G4S, which guards the film set during filming in Ireland, acknowledged that someone else’s drones on the site were a real problem. In order to confuse the authors of illegal shooting and photographing, the actors, according to Keith Harrington (John Snow), even participated in filming fake scenes.
The final word
There you go! The world of Game of Thrones is a heady mixture of history and fantasy. We’ve only covered a few notable technologies in the series but would welcome your suggestions.