Thrones visual effects team profiled in recent articles
By Winter Is Coming on in Press.
The Wall: Before and After

The Wall: Before and After via Animation World Network

The visual effects team that worked on Game of Thrones has been profiled in a couple of recent articles. The company, called BlueBolt, is a London-based visual effects studio. They are a newly formed studio, but their founders have years of experience on big time Hollywood films such as Harry Potter, X-Men and The Chronicles of Narnia.

These two recent interviews, one with Below the Line and the other with Animation World Network, give us a bit of insight into how these artists created the sweeping vistas and other computer-generated effects for Game of Thrones. Some notable excerpts after the break, click the links for the full articles (and more before/after photos like the one above). Beware of season one spoilers in both of these links!


On the differences between working in film and TV:

The show’s FX supe, Angela Barson, also parses the differences between features and episodic: “One of the big differences between working on a TV series vs a feature film is the hierarchy of people who need to give approval on shots. On a feature film we would usually get approval from the VFX supervisor and then the director. On this we had about 10 different levels of producers, co-producers, exec-producers, etc. who all had to give approval.” But the extra hoops didn’t affect the quality of the work, since, she adds, “a good thing about working on an HBO TV series is that the standard of VFX work expected is of exactly the same high quality as with feature film work.”

“The budget was tight for VFX, but not for television,” Taylor continues. “It was ambitious from the start. We had to take an early call on the approach to certain shots, what was a 3D build, what was a 2D matte painting, etc. However, in advance, BlueBolt realized that if they did some simple builds on certain key environments which were only ever going to be matte paintings it would help further down the line. These simple builds allowed us to move the actual buildings around (Red Keep, The Twins) to get the layout working on the individual shots with the lighting working on the original plates. Our element shoot provided of lots of blood spurts, snow, breath, which became invaluable in post for all the VFX houses. Violence presented no problems; there appeared to be no limits to how graphic we could be in depicting the horror.”

On creating the Wall:

“When the rangers exit into the North we see for the first time some idea of the sheer scale of the Wall,” he continues. “This was created by matte painting to extend a physically snowed up area around the live action. Our aim was to create something that had a hint of man-made structure about it and had to appear completely insurmountable or unscalable as it was built to defend from the creatures of the North. The edge of the forest was introduced using stills of snowy pines and atmospheric mist and snow composited in to create depth and movement.

On creating the Eyrie:

Another significant feature of the series is the Eyrie. This is an impenetrable fortress high up on a rock base. “We went through a number of iterations of the concept on this being one of the most fantastical pieces of the series,” McInnes says. “There were several options considered as to how the access should work in conjunction with the practicalities and location of shooting the arrival of Catelyn and her entourage. Ultimately, we opted for them rounding a bend on the edge of a gorge where we see the Eyrie perched in the distance only accessible via a guarded rock arch bridge.”

“…The Eyrie was always based on being an impenetrable castle on top of a high rock and originally we were going to use the Zhangjiajie Mountains in China, but due to the base plates being shot in Ireland, it was better for us to use the rock formations from Meteora in Greece.”

On the books’ influence in designing the effects:

Did Martin’s book have any additional influence on the “look” of the effects? Barson notes that “we were only given the scripts, but myself and many members of the team also read the books which gave us an even broader understanding. It could sometimes be useful to know where things were heading in later series as this would influence our designs.”

“I always felt,” McIness adds, “there was a definite leaning to and attention paid to how it was in the book tempered with the practicalities of locations and shooting.”


30 Comments

  1. DawnWielder
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Pretty impressive, i think it’s pretty clear that this show has some of the best CGI ever seen on television!

  2. gofalcons
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    My only quibble so far has been that we’ve gotten no sense of the size of the khalasar. A couple dozen guys riding single file doesn’t hold the same impact that an aerial shot of 40,000+ CGI warriors would or even somebody spying them in the distance as they came into/left Pentos and Vaes Dothrak.

  3. Martin E
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Great articles – thanks for putting the links up.

    It’s an area of great interest for me, I’ve done a fair bit of modelling work, both via work and for games – so it’s really interesting to see the comparison pieces.

    What would be really great, would be to see some of the concept artwork, and shots of the models used before the final composites to really get a handle on the creative process involved.

    I can hardly wait to see what they do with the dragons – and to get their views on how the direwolves could be implemented via CGI/enhancement without the traditional ‘floatyness’ that often makes some organic (and furry) forms look unconvincing.

  4. Fish
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    While it looks ok, it’s certainly not the best i have seen in tv … most sc-fi shows have much more and better (Stargate / Star Trek, ect) and no where near the best (BSG, john adams, ect comes to mind) … and the lack of people (the dothraki “horde”, people at the tournament, ect) CGIed in is just … sill y is the world i’m looking for i guess … still waiting to see the dragons for the final judgment

  5. Tayleron
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Holy crap, wow! – My exact reaction when I saw that.

  6. jellydonut
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    SPOILER SPOILER

    Highly looking forward to the dragons.

  7. Team Sansa
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    jellydonut,

    The Twins! I hope that becomes part of the intro credit map.

  8. Knurk
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Yeah, after I saw the Boardwalk Empire en John Adams vfx-videos I was also hoping for bigger digital crowds, I’m wondering if someone can give us some insight in how hard it is to do?

    The CGI they did though looks really great. Although I don’t like their interpretation of the Eyrie, it does look good.

  9. bgrahambo
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Love that before/after picture at the wall

  10. DawnWielder
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  11. Martin E
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Well, I can see why they haven’t gone with a lot more CGI: CGI = Time + Money

    Not sure how the timescales compared to BE, but filming started in July, finished in December, with broadcast 4 months later. That seems a pretty tight turn-around and would certainly have limited the development time for CGI.

    They appear to have blended more reality with the CGI/Mattes than other shows, and the article also points out that this was to reduce the extent of modelling required to save time. A side-benefit of that (IMO) is that it beds the visuals in reality far more, somehow everything is more anchored.

    Boardwalk Empire for eg. seemed to build entire sets via CGI with minimal physical set work involved in a lot of the boardwalk shots. For me, the visuals weren’t entirely convincing either, they retained something of a cartoon feel with the lighting (maybe that’s just because I’m more used to Irish drizzle than Atlantic City sunshine).

  12. Damphair
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    DawnWielder:
    A new parody is out on Ep.5 check it out lol

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlNJTMVRdSU&feature=channel_video_title

    That parody was hideous. Never link such tripe again, please.

    I wonder how much of the budget will be allotted to VFX in the 2nd season now that the show is established and doing well. Perhaps we will get to see a crazy ass ship battle after all. One can hope at least.

  13. koinosuke
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Damphair,

    Actually, that parody was a lot better than I expected. Animation isn’t fantastic and the voices aren’t the best, but I like the humor.

  14. sjwenings
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    DawnWielder: A new parody is out on Ep.5 check it out lol
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlNJTMVRdSU&feature=channel_video_title

    Way the best of these so far. Actually chuckled on several occations.

  15. john
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Fish:
    While it looks ok, it’s certainly not the best i have seen in tv … most sc-fi shows have much more and better (Stargate / Star Trek, ect) and no where near the best (BSG, john adams, ect comes to mind) … and the lack of people (the dothraki “horde”, people at the tournament, ect) CGIed in is just … sill y is the world i’m looking for i guess … still waiting to see the dragons for the final judgment

    Making space-ship battles and sci-fi environments is way easier than making CGI that actually looks real and fit in a non-scfi world.

    I think they intentionally opted to use as little CGI as they possibly could. And I for one am glad they went that route. The CGI they have used have been really good.

  16. Tulse
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    My only quibble so far has been that we’ve gotten no sense of the size of the khalasar.

    And the lack of sense of scale for King’s Landing. And Pentos. And the tiny crowds at the tourney, despite the fact that the influx of people was supposedly putting the entire city of King’s Landing into chaos.

    The CGI is great, the sets and costumes are great — generally, the production is top-notch. But it really is missing scenes that give a better sense of the physical context. That lack gives the series a somewhat “stagey” feel, as if everything is happening on a soundstage.

  17. FilliamHMuffman
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    After seeing thousands of French soldiers sweep across Italy on The Borgias, there is no excuse for Game of Thrones reducing the Dothraki “horde” to 50 men crossing a field. Landscape shots on Game of Thrones have been spectacular, but crowd scenes have been very disappointing.

  18. Petter Kristian Vikestad
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Tulse,

    I agree with the scale of KL and Pentos, even though I feel Pentos isn’t as important. In the tourney there were about 1500 people there CGI’d in that one wide shot.

  19. Oi!
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure that when it’ll come to larger scale warfare there will be more men on screen , the problem with the Dothrakis is that they ride down realistic narrow roads and the khalasar is probably several miles long.

    Like here for example, one of the fewer chances to depict the size of the horde.

    The link wont show :/

  20. Knurk
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    GRRM’s latest blog-post has me utterly baffled, what the hell is he trying to say?

  21. Harry Hogg
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Two big moments to judge them on the hatching of the dragons and their growth over the coming seasons and the battle on the battle for King’s Landing

  22. Lex
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Damphair: That parody was hideous. Never link such tripe again, please.

    Tripe? Someone needs to get off their high horse.

    That was funny. So was their parody of Episode 2. I like the animation style myself, and the voices are pretty good.

  23. nixterida
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    DawnWielder,

    This is excellent stuff guys, really funny! Keep them coming.

  24. clemintine
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Lex: Damphair: That parody was hideous. Never link such tripe again, please.

    Tripe? Someone needs to get off their high horse.

    That was funny. So was their parody of Episode 2. I like the animation style myself, and the voices are pretty good.

    I’m with Damphair on this one. Their comedic timing is really, really off. (some good ideas, but bad delivery)

  25. Damphair
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    clemintine: I’m with Damphair on this one. Their comedic timing is really, really off. (some good ideas, but bad delivery)

    Thank you. The jokes are really obvious, poor timing and delivery, and it’s not even real parody – it’s just some dudes using game of thrones mechanics to retell the story with some poor attempts at humor.

    I appreciate the effort that went into these, I know it’s not easy to create something. But that doesn’t ensure praise, quality or substance.

    Back to the real topic – I agree with comments on the lacking of scope with the crowd scenes. Here’s hoping Season 1′s big moment isn’t also just 20 people heckling Joff and Co. Oh well, it’s not a huge gripe, but we’ll see.

  26. George DW
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Fish:
    While it looks ok, it’s certainly not the best i have seen in tv … most sc-fi shows have much more and better (Stargate / Star Trek, ect) and no where near the best (BSG, john adams, ect comes to mind) … and the lack of people (the dothraki “horde”, people at the tournament, ect) CGIed in is just … sill y is the world i’m looking for i guess … still waiting to see the dragons for the final judgment

    The Stargates and Star Treks have had *more* CG, but not better. Stargate Universe and later episodes of Atlantis look just about convincing, but CG in older episodes, and pretty much anything from Star Trek, look extremely cheesy. BSG did have incredible effects, but keep in mind it’s easier to make spaceships look realistic than creatures. John Adams did have the best VFX I’ve ever seen on TV, I have to agree with you on that. I wouldn’t even know it had any if I hadn’t seen the features on it.

  27. Sleeky
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    FilliamHMuffman:
    After seeing thousands of French soldiers sweep across Italy on The Borgias, there is no excuse for Game of Thrones reducing the Dothraki “horde” to 50 men crossing a field.Landscape shots on Game of Thrones have been spectacular, but crowd scenes have been very disappointing.

    Yes. Some friends and I were just talking about this today. And it’s not like there needed to be a bunch of close-up CGI either. A couple distance shots of the Dothraki horde would have been quite sufficient.

    I’m wondering if we will get acouple of distance shots (even matte paintings) of the Battle of the Trident. Even just distance shots, then we can zoom in on Tyrion’s perspective and have a fight of maybe 20 guys. :/

  28. The DarkStar
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    OT: I love the parodies. WiC links to otakuASSEMBLE every week for his 20-30 minute reviews of each episode(which I look forward to) and whether you dig them or not, He’s definitely adding something to the ASOIAF community(just look at his video views). These paradies are like 3 minutes long, the art is great, and even if you don’t like the humor, they are at least worth 3 minutes of your time(maybe not yours Damphair, or clemintine) but calling them tripe sounds like TSK getting upset over a bark. WOOF!

    .

  29. Rimshot
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    They did extend the crowd at the Tourney with CGI. They had us all (about 200) stand at one end of the ground and filmed us cheering. They then moved us all up a number of yards and repeated the process. We did that about 5 times until we were at the other end. I imagine the 5 shots were knit together in VFX for that one big wide shot.

  30. Knurk
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Rimshot,

    interesting that if they went that route why they didn’t add even more people to make it look like it was actually a big event.


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