Production

The best CGI …

… is the CGI you never even notice.

In the style of HBO’s John Adams VFX video, the Game of Thrones FX wizards from BlueBolt gave us a real treat:

You Tube link: Spoiler ~ Visual Effects created by BlueBolt for the first season of Game of Thrones (HBO)

Fire and Blood: There aren’t enough words of praise I can think to say. Simply fantastic. Give them the bloody Emmy already; the nominated team of Adam McInnes, Angela Barson, Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, Raf Morant, Henry Badgett, Damien Mace, Stuart Brisdon, and Graham Hills have earned themselves a sweet little statue, as far as I’m concerned. They could face some competition by HBO’s own Boardwalk Empire (courtesy of Robert Stromberg, who, ironically, was signed on to do the VFX for the Game of Thrones‘ pilot) (along with our old friend Julia Frey); the VFX on Showtimes’ The Borgias looked plastic at times, and AMC’s The Walking Dead seemed to rely more heavily on makeup.

And none of them have dragons.

But award or no award—the greatest thank-you we can give them is right here. We’re the ones they aim to please. And we are entertained! Take a bow, ‘Bolt!

74 Comments

  • What i’d like to see is the before/after of the dragon daenerys is holding ! Cause that dragon, man, it’s a beauty ..

  • They did such a spectacular job throughout the whole show. There was never something that looked fake or out of place, and I didn’t realize than some of those things were CGI at all (damnit, I’ve been telling all my friends that dragons really exist!).
    Thanks for the fantastic work, BlueBolt!

  • I was just reading some of the comments on youtube about this link. Ugh, some people really annoy me, to mention a few:

    “Why couldn’t they do the big battle if they had this many visual effects? That is my biggest dissapointment on season 1, they didn’t show the battles!!!! =(“
    – – you have no idea the difference in hours and costing between adding environment work to a show and doing battle sequences, the budget would have to be doubled.

    “Looks shopped.”
    – -YOU KNOW NOTHING, JON SNOW! Photoshop would have been used for textures (maybe) and nothing more :P

    “Game of Thrones sucks, but I’d fuck the blonde girl.”
    – -OK, this guy’s just a dick. Why bother selecting a link of a show you’re not interested in?

  • Fantastic video, even much bigger VFX studios would proudly show this to promote themselves!

    The only thing that allways seemed a bit off to me was the Castle Black side of the Wall, as it was easy to see that it was actually a rock face, but other than that they produced very natually-looking vistas. (and I say that as an amateur photographer who gets the shivers at the sight of landscape images that have only the slightest hint of HDR/tone mapping) So good job BlueBolt, you were great!

  • This is truly fascinating. BlueBolt did such a wonderful job and I’m glad we get to see a tiny snippet of the many many hours they spent working on the show. They by far deserve the Emmy; no other television show comes close to the special effects on Game of Thrones. It’s one thing to add weather or resurface some buildings. Or even to turn people into monsters. It’s another to create castles, entire cities, massive Walls of ice, and well…dragons!

  • Winter Is Coming,

    and it’s a shame, but rumour has it BlueBolt won’t be working on season 2 :( it’s going to be a company in Germany instead, something to do with tax brakes vs. filming locations.

  • Wow, that was just brilliant. While watching shows, you rarely realise just how much work goes into all those amazing backdrops. I really want them to win the Emmy, but I haven’t seen some of the other nominated shows (guess I’m just extremely biased).

    ChristinaMM,
    Youtube comments always make me temporarily lose faith in humanity. It’s the cesspool of the internet.

  • ChristinaMM: something to do with tax brakes vs. filming locations.

    Didn’t we read about that about two weeks ago here? I seem to remember the reason for changing companies is that BlueBolt is simply too small to take on the effects needed for season 2, but as often, my memory could be letting me down. And economics rule today’s world, so wouldn’t be surprized if it is as you say…

  • Tar Kidho,

    ah, I didn’t read that :) but company size doesn’t effect these things much, they would usually spread it out between the other post-production houses in Soho (London) or outsource. But my source is trustworthy (I can say no more!). :P

  • ChristinaMM, yeah, in an interview with Westeros.org Ainsworth-Taylor said they wouldn’t be back for season two as it requires much more complex CGI work (fur, fire and water) and that they just don’t have the manpower to get it done in the short amount of time necessary. Although that might just be what they’re telling people as saying “We cost too much” is probably not something HBO would like shared.

    I would love to hear who they have lined up for season two though and it sounds like you might have some inside knowledge there. Feel free to drop me an email at winteriscomingblog (at) gmail (dot) com and I can work to confirm what you have heard and get HBO to make it official. :)

  • Brilliant seeing landscapes and sites I know being transformed into the Westeros locations! Well done – and the dragons were awesome!

  • Great video, Blue Bolt did an amazing job. Even KNOWING some of that stuff was filmed in front of a green screen, it was still incredible to watch and completely realistic.

  • Awesome!!! Cannot believe! They did fantastic job! Of course I new the Wall was not real as well as the Sky Cells but I thought that the Winterfell was real! :D hahahah

  • silverjaime: Brilliant seeing landscapes and sites I know being transformed into the Westeros

    Yeah, that must be amazing! On the other hand, didn’t it sometimes pull you out of the story a bit when you recognized (part of) a scenery from real life?

  • Love video clips like this. It really helps you appreciate all the hard work that goes into the show.

    1) I knew most of Winterfell wasn’t really there but seeing it in this clip really brings it home! I thought there was more than there actually was ;)

    2) Dragons! Nuff said!

    3) Strangely one of my favourites (close second to the Dragons) are the Twins. They really fitted into the landscape with the setting sun. Thought they were fantastic even when I knew they didn’t exist!

    Great stuff BlueBolt and HBO. Sorry to hear they’re not involved in season 2 but can’t wait to see what the new company can do. They’ve got big shoes to fill and quite a challenge coming up!

  • One of the best things you can say about digital effects is that you had no idea they were digital effects. Not once during the show was I drawn to the CG enviroments shown above and thought it was fake, it was just ‘there’, the same as a physical set or location. Of course in the back of your mind you know that there is no Winterfell or Wall but they did an outstanding job of convincing us otherwise. Truely impressive work.

  • Did Bluebolt do the animated intro? I think that HBO used their CGI dollars very wisely! Great vid!!

  • Sometimes I hate watching stuff like this because it takes away the illusion for me. I don’t want to know how they did it, I’d rather just believe it’s all real, real, REAL! :)

  • They really deserved the nomination, just for the dragons alone. After the last episode I let out a breath and yelled out “Oh my god they did it!” My roommate was like “What, you didn’t think they would end it like this?” I said “No! Dragons on a TV budget! They actually did it!”

    Congrats to BlueBolt. Fantastic job.

  • I don’t know what sort of criteria the emmy voters use when voting for vfx, but I’m pretty sure that as spectacular as the landscape and building work looks, it is the creatures that are the most difficult and time consuming effects to make look realistic. That being said, I personally think that Game of Thrones’ toughest competition should be Stargate Universe. Here is a clip from the nominated episode of SGU.

  • A stunning montage.
    Even though I knew that most locations don’t exist as shown in the show, I’m still surprised at just how much CGI was used, and how superbly and seamlessly it was done.
    Tyrion looking down over the edge of the sky-cell scares the c*** out of me every time…

    (And a large knit-picky grumble… I thought dragons had arms as well as wings, and had a reality-check shock with the last scenes)

  • It never looked fake at all exept on a very few occations. I guess the biggest compliment you could give to an fx company is to say that you never noticed or thought about the effects.

    Looking at the Attilla documentary fx from the clip above makes me wanna cry a bit for lack of battles in GOTs first season, though. That CANNOT have cost much, yet they look pretty awesome. If D&D and the others have taken their time planning a certain battle in season 2 and have explored a lot of possibilities, they should come up with something equally good and massive.

  • Porcupine Tree: (And a large knit-picky grumble… I thought dragons had arms as well as wings, and had a reality-check shock with the last scenes)

    George has always maintained that his dragons had four limbs (two legs, two arm/wings). More like a bat than a lizard with wings.

  • I always wondered where on Malta they filmed the Kings Landing view, now I know it’s actually Valletta… :-)

    And yes, great work BlueBolt!

  • True art. So beautiful! The only quip I have is one few second scene in episode 1 where Bran is climbing the wall and it was obviously green-screened. But other than that, seamless work. I couldn’t see where the original began and the CGI took over.

  • Lies! The dragons were real!

    :)

    Absolutely amazing, particularly the buildings. You really can’t see the transition from real to CGI.

  • Fantastic job! I really didn’t realize how seamlessly the effects were added in to make the locations look epic. And those are no small effects, that is some crazy stuff they did.

    Well done!

  • ChristinaMM:
    I was just reading some of the comments on youtube about this link.Ugh, some people really annoy me, to mention a few:

    “Why couldn’t they do the big battle if they had this many visual effects? That is my biggest dissapointment on season 1, they didn’t show the battles!!!! =(“– – you have no idea the difference in hours and costing between adding environment work to a show and doing battle sequences, the budget would have to be doubled.

    “Looks shopped.”
    – -YOU KNOW NOTHING, JON SNOW! Photoshop would have been used for textures (maybe) and nothing more :P

    “Game of Thrones sucks, but I’d fuck the blonde girl.”
    – -OK, this guy’s just a dick.Why bother selecting a link of a show you’re not interested in?

    Youtube is like that unfortunately =/

    About the video, wow simply amazing. Chills!! I confess I was fooled in certain situations because I thought they actually built the place and didn’t use CGI. I don’t mean the huge castles =p but I mean some walls and some buildings. However everything seemed so real that I’d like to believe it really exists. It took a great ammount of time, control and dedication. Thankyou!!!

  • Impressed by the CGI just like everyone else here. I didn’t notice any of it even knowing it was there until the end. I always love these videos, I love seeing the behind the scenes work that went into the show.

  • Sixskins,

    same here, I was wondering where they took those shots.. must be Upper Barraka Gardens, right? The Kings Landing entrance was clearly Mdina, I think they didn’t even change it one bit for the show.. :-)

    Amazing CGI, didn’t realize it wasn’t real in many scenes!!

  • Kid,

    Very cool looking. Hopefully he can help make the battles epic.

    At the same time, Atilla the Hun was one hourlong episode. It took 5 months to do the effects. You cannot spend 5 months on the effects of one episode when you have to make 10. Here we get into all the discussion of why 10 episodes and not 12, or even more. Besides the shooting schedule, the effects take time too, and the quality will drop substantially if they have less time to do effects for each ep.

    Even worse, the battle happens late in the season, so if they are filming more or less chronologically, which makes more sense from an actors perspective, they can’t even begin the battle effects until later this year, giving not much time at all.

    I will say that as impressive as the effects for season 1 were, I do think they are a bit cheap. Not cheap looking, but for the most part not very complex shots. The show comes off a little stiff because of the lack of freedom of the DP since they had to always be aware of making the effects work without making them difficult to pull off.

    I think most of the budget went to all of the location filming and actors, horses, using real castles, etc. Which is fine I think, special effects for me are overrated.

  • I agree everything is outstanding (well I like the Eyrie less but this is the only “down side”) be it what is clear CGI like the dragons (real not over the top work there) or the whole world. I can’t thank Bluebolt enough

  • saluk: At the same time, Atilla the Hun was one hourlong episode. It took 5 months to do the effects. You cannot spend 5 months on the effects of one episode when you have to make 10.

    Obviously, you can. It’s just a matter of how many people are “on it”. While one team works on battle on the blackwater for 5 months, another team works on the dragons/wolves at the same time. And the rest can concentrate on the easier effects for the rest of the season.

    This was the problem they had with the first season. Not enough people working on it – too small a studio. For this season they are gonna use a different studio and more people.

  • LOL!! At the :59 second mark, the entire Army is running at like 50 miles an hour!!! HAAAAXXX!!!

    Kid:
    Sure they’ve made a great job, but have you seen this one?
    Attila the Hun Trailer & Visual Effects Breakdowns

    Guess this guy (Gareth Edwards) might help with battle scenes. After this one, made on notebook by one person, i can’t see why such a famous and professional studio cant make a really huge battle for a second episode of season 2.

  • Jackie MacPherson: 3) Strangely one of my favourites (close second to the Dragons) are the Twins. They really fitted into the landscape with the setting sun. Thought they were fantastic even when I knew they didn’t exist!

    Have to agree the Twins (for the few shots we had of them) probably looked the most “real” of the Castles.

  • I just want to echo the sentiments of everyone else. The FX that I knew about were amazing, and there were so many more that I didn’t even realize. In my head I knew that the castles didn’t exist as shot, but I had no clue what was real and what was added. An amazing job!

  • Nice to see the dragon sequences!

    So many great visuals in Season One but my favorites will always be our first look at the wall and the shots with the Twins.

    Here’s to BlueBolt getting the nomination and hopefully the win as well. Good luck!

  • I really must be a tragic human being, or hormonal in an entirely topsy-turvy way, because I cried in that vid! Ridiculous!

    They better bloody win the Emmy!

    If you ever read this, thank you BlueBolt, it is a tragedy of monumental proportions that you are not working on S2!

  • Very good CGIs. There are lots of blue screens though, for some reason I was thinking that if I was an actress I’d be really put off with it!

    The only dodgy CGI I can remember in the show was in the first episode, when Bran was standing on top of a tower and he spied the royal family in the distance making their way to Winterfell. The background when he was climbing down looked obviously fake.

  • Kid: but have you seen this one?
    Attila the Hun Trailer & Visual Effects Breakdowns

    Incredible fx!
    I didn´t know… The Hound… is Attila the Hun? (hun-hound?)

    Blue Bolt work is beautiful!

  • AWESOME. It’s just like the John Adams video we all watched so many times!

    What’s shocking to me is how well (and seemingly easily) they are able to insert CGI backgrounds. The stone, brick, and wooden textures look SO real! If it’s this easy to create backgrounds (especially of stone, etc.) I expect more and more of this in major Hollywood movies, rather than using full sets.

  • Mwoimp:
    I don’t know what sort of criteria the emmy voters use when voting for vfx, but I’m pretty sure that as spectacular as the landscape and building work looks, it is the creatures that are the most difficult and time consuming effects to make look realistic. That being said, I personally think that Game of Thrones’ toughest competition should be Stargate Universe. Here is a clip from the nominated episode of SGU.

    SGU (I still mourn its passing) did have really good effects, especially for a non-premium cable show, but I don’t think it holds a candle to GoT.

  • The only dodgy CGI I can remember in the show was in the first episode, when Bran was standing on top of a tower and he spied the royal family in the distance making their way to Winterfell. The background when he was climbing down looked obviously fake.

    Yeah, I just think they got the perspective and green-screening wrong there, the edge of the wall was wrong and the angle of the ground didn’t match up, made it look too close.

  • Great video…the dragon stuff was amazing. Interesting that they scanned in Emilia Clarke as well; some of her must have been digital in that scene, which I hadn’t realized (although it makes sense for realism purposes).

    I vote Boardwalk Empire for the Emmy (unfortunately, I really don’t like BE). Scorsese, plus gangsters, plus Steve Buscemi, plus Terence Winter (of Sopranos fame) = it will clean up at the Emmys. If GoT wins it’ll be the dragons, since BE has nothing as impressive.

  • WOW!
    (It’s either gush on & on about each part, or just summarize with “Wow!” for the whole.) LOVED the fades back & forth between original base footage and the finished images.
    WOW!

  • If anyone else was wondering what the shoot site for King’s Landing was (before the digital stuff, that is), it’s Valletta, Malta.