Sound designer Paula Fairfield on creating White Walker and dragon sound effects


The actors and directors get all the press, but it takes a village to make a show as complex as Game of Thrones. Several of the unsung heroes of the show were rewarded this past weekend at the Creative Arts Emmys, the more technically-oriented pre-primetime Emmy awards show. Honorees included Nina Gold, the show’s casting czar; Steve Kullback, the visual effects producers responsible for bringing Drogon to life in “The Dance of Dragons”; and Paula Fairfield, a sound designer who helped create the oral landscape for the Massacre at Hardhome.

CBC News out of Nova Scotia has a write-up honoring Fairfield (she hails from the area). In the past, Fairfield has revealed how she creates the otherworldly noises made by some of the show’s fictional creatures, and her comments pull back the curtain on a hugely important part of the show that doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves.

Apparently, Fairfield does not use synthesizes in her work, but only mixes “real found sound.” That doesn’t change when it comes to creating sounds for things that don’t exist in the real world. To create the roar of a young dragon, Fairfield combined the noises made from ten different real-life animals. As the dragons grew, she mixed in more.

Unfortunately, Fairfield didn’t say exactly which animals she’d mixed together, but I’m guessing there are at least one or two birds of prey in there, with their high-pitched screeches, and maybe a lion’s roar or something as Drogon got older and meaner.

When it comes to designing sounds for the White Walkers, Fairfield has an interesting approach. “They’re just so cold they freeze everything around them,” she said. “Sometimes sound design is about removing sound, not adding.”

You can see this philosophy at work in the scene from “Hardhome” where Jon fights and kills the bearded White Walker. Notice how everything goes eerily quiet—the music cuts out, and all we hear is the clang of weapon on weapon, Jon’s groans, and an occasional light footfall from the White Walker. It really does seem like the White Walker drained the sound from the area around it. That contributes to how creepy and nail-bitingly tense the sequence is, so this seems like a great idea on Fairfield’s part.

“I always say my job is to bring people to the threshold of believability,” Fairfield told CBC’s Mainstreet a while back. “If you have something on screen that’s already not real, you have to find some way to ground it in something real so we as a viewer can relate to it.” Thus far, I’d say Fairfield is doing a terrific job of carrying out this mission. The only unfortunate thing is that if she does her job well, we probably won’t even notice she’s doing it, but we shouldn’t forget that she and the other members of the technical staff play a huge role in making Game of Thrones as involving as it is.

Next: Kristian Nairn (Hodor) is glad Jon Snow died