Game of Thrones sound designer Paula Fairfield talks bringing the dragons and White Walkers to life


The 2018 FMX conference allows visual and sound professional to meet and discuss “cutting edge achievements, state of the art tools and pipelines, fascinating real time technologies, spectacular immersive experiences, innovative business models and more.” The latest conference was held in Stuttgart, Germany in late April. Game of Thrones sound designer Paula Fairfield, who’s always informative and entertaining, was there. She spoke with Animation World Network about how she creates the unique sound effects for the show, including those for the White Walkers and Dany’s dragons.

Fairfield, who’s been working on Thrones since season 3, says the dragons are interesting because their sound has had to grow up with them. With each new season, Fairfield has had to make the sounds for the dragons bigger, but it isn’t as simple as that. “It’s also introducing new elements that, you know, indicate largeness, indicate more of an adult kind of stance.”

To help her imagine what a growing dragon would sound like, Fairfield creates stories that help create an “emotional character for the dragons. But, each dragon for me has a personality.”

"So Drogon — who was named after Khaleesi’s very hot husband from season1, Khal Drogo…I see him as the reincarnation of Drogo, which leads to a very sensual, almost sexual relationship between the two. And when you listen to the sounds…it’s like before Battle of the Bastards she walks up and gets on top of Drogon and they go and burn things down, you hear him almost…it’s not a whistle but it’s a little purr, and it’s a thing for her because they have that relationship, and it makes it very intimate and it makes it very very special."

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I will never look at Dany and Drogon riding into battle the same way again. Fairfield also refers to Dany’s other dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, as “Beavis and Butthead” because “they’re very goofy.” Paula Fairfield is my new favorite person.

Fairfield recalls the moment from “The Children” where Dany locks Rhaegal and Viserion in the underground chamber in Meereen as an emotional moment for the two dragons, something she expressed with the sounds they made when they realized they were chained and Dany was leaving them behind. “Listening for the emotional content in all animals and picking little bits and pieces to form this mystical creature that no one has ever heard before is kind of my approach.”

As for the White Walkers, Fairfield says there was a language developed for them initially, but it just didn’t work. “It felt like the White Walkers were above language, so I kind of came up with the idea that as they walk, they freeze everything in their path and they control the forces of nature. So when they arrive, before you see them, you hear them in the…twisting of the mountains and the universe. You hear this insane power that sounds very atmosphere, but in my mind it’s them controlling all these forces, making them very formidable without ever speaking.”

Having an undead dragon on the show presents a whole new set of challenges for Fairfield, as she had to figure out what to do with the sound emitting from Viserion’s blue flame. “I came up with a very unique kind of approach to it that is very distinct…sounds very distinctly different than normal fire breathing.”

"The story I told myself with that was that the dragon’s screams on the blue fire were the souls of the dead army. There’s this one shot where they’re all standing there and they’re mute with their dead eyes, and the dragon is blowing the Wall down with the blue fire, and that shot for me was about that he was speaking on behalf of them."

The sound of Viserion’s blue fire was very memorable, and now I know why.

What’s Fairfield’s process when working on the show? It sounds like she sees the season when it’s strung together in a very rough cut, complete with animations and pre-visualizations. So she hasn’t seen season 8 yet, but she has hopes. “[I]n my wildest dreams, it’s going to be the Battle of Fire and Ice, and frankly, I’m sure Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] will come up with something more crazy than that.”

Next: Emilia Clarke dazzles at the Met Gala, tries to avoid spoiling Game of Thrones season 8

For those interested in how Fairfield got into sound design, she talks about that below:

If you want to see Fairfield in person, she’s appearing at Con of Thrones later this month in Houston! You can get tickets here.

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